The most current edition of The Tacoma Weekly informs us via its lead story that our modest village is currently the hottest housing market in the United States. The reasons given for this refer to nearby Seattle, where there are so many “highly paid” persons in the tech industry and other fields, that people are forced to look elsewhere for homes. While this is a customary way of viewing things through a business lense, it could be reframed as a shortage of housing caused by prices too high for most people to afford. This puts the finger on the pulse of the real issue, which is as familiar as it is unacceptable: housing is not produced for human need and use, but for profit.
As one of countless people who used to live in Seattle–more than a cumulative 20 years, over the span of 3 separate segments of my life–I recall how life was easy and affordable in that city. There were places in the University District where cats sat in the window, the owner/clerk was the same person, and familiar customers loitered there, talking with her. In Pioneer Square there was a bookstore where you could sit and read any of the books, undisturbed, with never pressure to purchase anything; that store later moved to another part of the city, when its steady business allowed it to step up to a more lucrative location. Those places are long gone.
Now Seattle is a “world-class city,” which is 1% parlance for a place to do business. Corporate chains predominate, facades are shinier and bigger, and everything is priced higher. To a certain kind of mentality, this suggests success and success equates to better; to those of us who respond more to a human scale of activity and interaction, it is a step away, an erosion of community. But there is a genuine bright spot in Seattle, one that needs to be replicated everywhere else, as soon as possible.
Resistance to the destruction of community, reducing all human interactions to ones indirectly and nakedly commercial, is personified in the presence of Kshama Sawant on Seattle’s City Council. She spearheaded the effort to levy a tax on businesses grossing at least $20 million in taxable revenue per annum. Initially successful, this was reversed when Democrats on the City Council gave in to pressure from business, reversing their decision. Sawant has been a nonstop advocate for affordable housing, recognizing that a “hot” market for a place to live generates dire outcomes for countless individuals and families.
Now, a huge war chest is being assembled by 1% movers and shakers to push Sawant out of her Council seat. They know it won’t be easy, though, as she is a proven vote-getter, a reliable champion for the majority of Seattleites who can count on her to look out for their interests, not those of the wealthy and powerful.
What is happening in Seattle is an example of “look local, see global.” As with “hot” housing markets in that city and Tacoma, the warming is not one of better living standards and ease of availability of desired services in a community of neighbors, but a relentless pressure to make available resources ever-harder to come by, reserving them for fewer and fewer, prices driving an ever-greater number of people away from standards of living previously available to them. Globally, our planet is itself being made less habitable, literally a market that is steadily heating beyond human endurance. The same forces, the same systematic greed and stupidity that accounts for driving people to look in desperation for a place to live, is driving us all–all of us–to the limit of livability itself.
The system is called capitalism, and it requires elected officials and far more than elections, to stop the insane destruction of society and life itself. Our planet is burning, and the 1% are holding the torch; we must take it from their hands!