Perhaps it was the music club setting, but King County Executive Dow Constantine and Seattle Mayor Ed Murray were as comfortable and animated as I’ve ever seen either of them. Constantine stalked the stage like a preacher urging the crowd at Neumos on Capitol Hill last night to “Free Yourself!” And Murray, typically awkward and stiff, gave a relative barn burner, concluding—“Yes! on equity. Yes! on livability. Yes! on affordability.”
It was the the kickoff event for “Mass Transit Now,” the campaign that’s stumping for this November’s $54 billion regional ballot measure to build out light rail to Everett, downtown Redmond and Issaquah, Tacoma, and add two new lines in Seattle, from West Seattle and Ballard respectively to downtown.
Constantine, the chair of the Sound Transit board, is a bona fide mass transit zealot (and his expected gubernatorial run four years from now would certainly be formidable if he had a regional transit program on his resume). He was talking about “freeing yourself” from gridlock and joked about the current Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Bryant’s answer—building another freeway lane on I-5. “That’s a joke, that’s a marginally bigger parking lot,” Constantine told the crowd to rowdy laughs and applause, pointing out that one light rail line carries 16,000 people total an hour in each direction while a general purpose freeway lane, which can only go one way, moves just 2,000 cars per hour.
While Constantine hyped the significant practical benefits of the project—noting the payoffs for business and his “brothers and sisters” in labor—Murray talked in grander terms saying that “when we’re talking about Sound Transit 3, we’re talking about about equity and affordability,” lamenting the plight of East African immigrants and African Americans who are stuck in long highway commutes to low-wage jobs. (It was a little off message, though, that he specifically frowned on buses, which are certainly a worthwhile investment.) Putting a bow on his intersectionality speech, he said the city’s big investment in affordable housing “will not work without a major investment in transit.”
Intersectionality, a fancy word for the common interests that emerge between superficially disparate social justice movements, was, in fact, on full display last night—as it has been in recent years as mass transit campaigns, such as the recent $930 million Move Seattle levy, gear up. The overlap between progressive movements for workers’ rights, racial justice, affordable housing, and the environment, all seem to come together in transit campaigns with super clarity. (It’s kind of a perfect metaphor too, given that mass transit systems are literally networks.)
I’m lingering on this point because it was actually the other main speakers last night—Alex Hudson, Sarah Anne Lloyd, and Hanna Brooks Olsen, the three women who run the local progressive news site Seattlish, Rebecca Saldaña, executive director of the social justice group Puget Sound Sage, and Transportation Choices Coalition staffer-turned-Mass Transit Now campaign manager Abigail Doerr—all young women, who truly connected with the young enthusiastic crowd (there was also a pop act on the bill, Sisters.) These women— much more convincingly than the white dude politicians—represented the urgent need for $54 billion investment in the future.
The Seattlish women were raucous, hilarious, and loaded with facts (somebody give these local celebs a podcast now) as they made the case for ST3 with one-liners and stats (congestion costs our region $3.2 billion, about $990 per resident.) Seattlish’s Alex Hudson made arguably the wittiest and frankly best rejoinder I’ve heard to date to the anti-ST3 gripe that the project isn’t coming online for 30 years. “It’s gonna be 2045 one day either way, and we can have transit or not.”
And Saldaña—whose Puget Sound Sage colleague, program director Ubax Gardheere, has already emerged as one of the most eloquent ST3 spokespeople in town—put the transit network symbolism into practical terms by arguing that the region’s “history of racism and segregation” would be broken down by a system that reconnects us.
Doerr made the campaign pitch, asking people to volunteer and donate and made the playful, but on-point claim, that “even you drunk people upstairs” (Neumos has a hipster balcony section…that was packed) should volunteer because mass transit definitely serves people who like to go out drinking at clubs.
I’ll close my sanguine, idealistic report with a reality check. Mayor Murray claimed that ST3 was “not Seattle versus the suburbs” arguing that the suburbs faced the same challenges that the city did and that he “believed Seattle and the region will say yes.” But some of his other remarks actually raised a question about that prediction.
In noting how our region was setting an example as a leader for the rest of the country, he ticked off recent local votes for pre-k funding, the housing levy, 2015's Move Seattle transportation levy, and 2014's bus levy. The problem, of course, is that those were all Seattle votes. In particular, the Metro levy was a Seattle-only rejoinder in November 2014 to an earlier April 2014 county wide Metro measure that failed.