Art, activism and Vanishing Seattle

Cynthia Brothers

Cynthia Brothers uses photography and political organizing to fight displacement. (Photo courtesy of Cynthia Brothers)

Cynthia Brothers reflects on the politics of art and the art of politics

by George Howland Jr, Contributing Writer

Cynthia Brothers, 36, is an artist and an activist.

The main outlet for her art is Vanishing Seattle, a social media feed of photographs that documents what is being lost as redevelopment tears through the city. Since Vanishing Seattle started two years ago, it has attracted an extraordinary 25,000 followers combined from Instagram and Facebook.

Her main activist project is being part of the Chinatown International District Coalition (CID Coalition), aka Humbows Not Hotels. The CID Coalition is a collective that is fighting to stop the unique Asian American Seattle neighborhood being stripped of its inhabitants and its cultural identity. The CID Coalition is just one year old and has around 15-20 core members, but its community meetings have drawn over 100 people.

In December, I interviewed Brothers about both projects—their significance, their relationship to one another and what the future holds for them. Brothers has a dynamic, articulate understanding of what is happening to Seattle’s communities of color during the Amazon boom. While Brothers is modest about her own achievements, she is clearly a grassroots leader and artistic spark plug in the fight against displacement and gentrification.

George Howland (GH): Please talk about the relationship between Vanishing Seattle and the CID Coalition.

Cynthia Brothers (CB): They are related in a lot of ways. I use a very similar lens with both Vanishing Seattle and CID Coalition—i.e. anti-displacement. With Vanishing Seattle, I am approaching it with a documentation, arts and storytelling perspective. The CID Coalition is doing anti-displacement organizing. There are a lot of similar themes.

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Posted in Affordable Housing, City Hall, Density, Displacement, Gentrification, George Howland articles, Housing Preservation, Neighborhoods, Politics, Protest, racial justice, Upzoning

What is our new mayor’s plan to address police brutality?


Mayor Durkan inherits a police department under federal supervision for the unconstitutional use of excessive force. (Photo: Durkan campaign)

Durkan must choose a new police chief and address the ongoing problems of excessive force and racism

By Cliff Cawthon, Contributing Writer

Now that the election is over and Mayor Jenny Durkan has settled in, what can we expect the new administration to do about police brutality? Every day across the country, new examples of police misconduct are coming to light. Here in Seattle, in 2011, the United States Justice Department found that the Seattle Police Department had engaged in the unconstitutional practice of using excessive force. In 2012, city hall entered in a consent decree with the federal government to eliminate the unconstitutional practices. That process is ongoing. All this has cast Seattle’s “progressive cred” into question.

When asked directly about how far the mayor would go to reform the Seattle Police Department (SPD), Durkan’s spokesperson Kamaria Hightower says, “[T]he reforms required by the consent decree created a foundation for lasting change, [though] the job of reform is never ending.” Part of that reform, according to Durkan, was her recent executive order that mandated a review of the city’s Race and Social Justice Initiative because of the “reality that policing has a disparate impact on people of color.”

In July, that disparate impact was all too evident when SPD officers murdered Charleena Lyles, a pregnant, a 5-foot 3-inch tall, 100-pound, African American mother-of-four. As The Guardian wrote, the SPD “treated a victim as a suspect.”

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Posted in City Hall, Cliff Cawthon articles, Neighborhoods, police accountability, Politics, racial justice



Rebekah and her mom on Alcatraz Island, the former federal penitentiary (Photo courtesy of Rebekah Demirel


An excerpt from her new book: “Nothing’s for Nothing” (Rose Hip Press)

by Rebekah Demirel, Contributing Writer

They were kept separate from society, banished to an island, where they would pay for their crimes. Humans instinctively know that the worst kind of punishment is isolation, because it dehumanizes both the captive and the captors. At Alcatraz, you were not supposed to feel human. You’d lost that right.

In 1989, Mom and I made a rare trip together to visit my sister Nora in the San Francisco Bay area. I was working for the ambulance service and also in college, studying sciences, thinking of becoming a chiropractor.

Traveling with my Mom to see my sister seemed like such a “normal” thing for us to do together and now we were all going on a little excursion. For an outing on our first day there, Nora suggested a “nice boat trip,” which Mom was excited about. Mom loved boat rides. It’d be grand.

With the sun shining and wind blowing in our hair, our boat approached the island.

Alcatraz loomed, ominous and menacing, just like in the movies. My guts churned, my neck prickled and I tried to stuff down a strange and growing dread by crunching on a couple of Chicklets from my purse.

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Posted in Healing, Rebekah Demirel articles

Durkan’s team: Despite some good people, it’s business as usual

Screenshot 2017-12-12 at 11.35.45 AM

Durkan announces her transition team including (left to right) Paul Lambros, Ron Sims, and Shefali Ranganathan

Missing from Durkan’s team; leaders from Seattle’s diverse neighborhood and community council movement and housing and homeless advocates 

  • Reprinted from our Outside City Hall column appearing monthly in City Living and other Pacific Publishing newspapers – by Carolee Colter and John V. Fox

Last month Mayor-elect Jenny Durkan announced her transition team, a 61-member body she described as “the best of Seattle”. But a closer look at the team shows that it tips heavily towards the status quo and suggests more of the same.

In fact, much of her team reminds us of former Mayor Ed Murray’s Housing, Affordability, and Livability Agenda (HALA) Advisory Committee. Appointed in the first year of his term, that committee went on to recommend an aggressive plan to upzone, remove regulations, and give more tax breaks to developers–recommendations City Hall is now trying to ram though over widespread community objections.

By and large Durkan’s team is chock full of big business types, developers (both for-profits and non-profits), big labor poobahs, and a smattering of more mainstream human service providers. And is there any city citizens committee that David Rolf (SEIU Local 775), Paul Lambros (Plymouth Housing Group), and Maud Daudon (Downtown Chamber CEO) don’t get appointed to? And what blue ribbon committee would be worth its salt without a former Mayor or councilmember to guarantee “continuity”?

And we can say the same thing about Durkan’s recently announced choices to staff her office. She has filled these positions with insiders, folks tied to pro-development and developer interests, and past department heads going back to the Royer administration from decades ago–folks skilled at ensuring business as usual.

With the exception of a handful representing civil rights, racial justice, and immigrant rights groups (great people, we might add), the bulk of Durkan’s transition team is a pretty good reflection of Seattle current power structure. Continue reading

Posted in Affordable Housing, City Hall, Election 2017, Homelessness, Neighborhoods, Politics

My oldest brother

Baby Rebekah with David 1962-1

(Photo courtesy of Rebekah Demirel)

An excerpt from her new book: “Nothing’s for Nothing” (Rose Hip Press)

by Rebekah Demirel, Contributing Writer

My brother David wasn’t around by the time I was born. He was eighteen years older than me, and from the time he was sixteen, my brother was in jail and he would be in jail for most of his life. I don’t know what David did, but from a young age I’d hear that he was someone who “couldn’t stay out of trouble.” That’s what my dad would say about him.

David was very angry, that was for sure. I remember not seeing him for years at a time, then our front door would suddenly get busted down and he’d storm in and yell at my dad. My other brother, Michael, and I would sit silently, hoping our big brother wouldn’t notice us on the couch. Often though, in a fit of rage and exasperation, usually because my dad wouldn’t give him money, my brother would pick me up, then seeing the terror in my dad’s eyes, threaten to throw me through the window if he didn’t get what he was demanding.

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Posted in Addiction, Healing, Personal Essays, Rebekah Demirel articles

Parking, affordability and transit

phinney flats

Should Phinney Flats, a proposed 4-story, 52-Small-Efficiency-Dwelling-Unit building, with zero parking require no-car leases? (Drawing by Skidmore Janette courtesy of Johnson & Carr)

A neighborhood fight over tiny apartments with no parking leads to city hall proposing a Seattle-wide law to help developers

By George Howland Jr, Contributing Writer

On Phinney Ridge, the issues of parking, affordability and transit have collided.

The site of the crash was Phinney Flats, a proposed 4-story, 52-Small-Efficiency-Dwelling-Unit (SEDU—pronounced “see do”) building with zero parking. Livable Phinney, its neighborhood opponents, appealed the proposed building’s permit and won, most significantly over inadequate transit service.

Now city hall wants to pass a new law that will change the rules going forward so that developers can more easily build multi-family housing without parking. Livable Phinney wants city hall to consider another approach: the no-car lease.

Early next year, the Seattle City Council will take up the issues.

SEDUs are a popular new form of multi-family housing. In a September study, Colliers’ Seattle Multifamily Team projects that 2,271 SEDUs will be developed next year. In comparison, last year 8,300 new residences were built in Seattle, mostly apartments. SEDUs are self-contained, tiny, apartments between 220 and 300 square feet, and the buildings don’t provide parking. According to Colliers, SEDUs’ rents average $1275—significantly cheaper than studio apartments, which average $1546. Colliers also notes that SEDUs are more profitable to build.

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Posted in Affordable Housing, City Hall, Density, George Howland articles, Neighborhoods, Politics, Transportation, Upzoning

City cuts funding for urban rest stops, shelter, and transitional housing: advocates say the move means more homelessness


Urban Rest Stops like this one in downtown and others in Ballard and U-District face funding cuts in favor of voucher system untested on city-wide scale

Millions in funding for homeless programs are being moved from shelter and tested services to ‘rapid rehousing’.  Advocates say only calls to electeds can stop a ‘colossal mistake’

Immediately following the budget process, outgoing ‘placeholder’ Mayor Tim Burgess held a press event, flanked by Catherine Lester, head of the City’s Human Services Department (HSD) to announce deep cuts in funding for the city’s homeless urban rest stops, shelter, and transitional housing programs.  

The move, according to housing and homeless advocates, virtually guarantees a dramatic rise in the number of homeless on our streets.  It grows out of a unilateral decision by Burgess, Lester, and other HSD officials to shift millions of dollars from these essential survival services to a system of rent vouchers, dubbed ‘rapid rehousing’.   

What’s especially troubling to both providers and homeless advocates, these officials intentionally waited until after the budget process to ensure there were no hearings, evaluations, or opportunity for dialogue between decision-makers and agencies running the affected programs or the homeless themselves.  They and their advocates had no opportunity to show how effective these programs have been and no opportunity to ask electeds to step in and prevent these cuts.

“Go ahead test the value of programs like rapid rehousing but on a small scale ” advocates argue.  When it’s done at the expense of existing proven and basic survival services, however, it’s “simply a case of moving the deck chairs around while tossing overboard those who made it into the life-rafts. “

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Posted in Affordable Housing, Budget, City Hall, Homelessness, Politics