The Blogful of Salt

A sitdown with Lisa Brown

by Alyssa MacKay, Steering Committee Member Tuesday, May 23, 2017 | 7:19pm | Comment on this

I had the privilege of sitting down and interviewing former Washington State Senate majority leader, and our keynote speaker for our Head, Heart & Hands luncheon, Lisa Brown.

You’ve been a champion of vulnerable populations for quite some time and in your past work in the legislature. How did you get started down the path of wanting to help people?

“I would have to say that it probably related to growing up Catholic and being exposed to the social justice aspect of Catholicism. I think in many ways that was the root. I would add that I also had an amazing high school teacher. My hometown in rural Illinois appeared to me to be all white and I was growing up, in essence, during the civil rights movement, so I decided to do an independent study on civil rights. My teacher gave me an amazing reading list. I started reading  an autobiography on Malcom X and Soul on Ice by Eldridge Cleaver so it really covered a wide spectrum. I think that the combination of my education and the religious piece is what first got me on that path. Where it really came together even more is when I started being a part of a study group on Central America in graduate school. We were studying what was happening in Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and what was happening to Bishop Oscar Romero and the nuns that were killed there, etc. So, those pieces sort of came together and it’s always been an interest of mine since then.”

How did you end up in politics? Was there a defining moment that you remember?

 “I saw myself more of an activist and an advocate and not as an elected official when I moved to Spokane. When I came here and started teaching part-time at Eastern, I was still working on my dissertation on women in the workforce issues. I got involved with a group of women who helped organized the first Take Back the Night march in Spokane for women to speak up about domestic violence and became engaged in a variety of other things. People started to say, ‘You should run for office’ and I would sort of shake my head like, ‘No, that doesn’t make sense; I don’t see myself doing that.’ Now there is literature which shows, particularly for women, that they have to be asked to run for office an average of three times and I think that actually happened! People started to suggest it and that’s when it started to seem more like a possibility for me. Then, during filing week in 1992, the week before candidates filed for office, my friends and I were notified that the state Senator at the time, Lois Stratton, who is the mother of Karen Stratton, was going to step down. We knew that one of the two House members were going to run for the Senate seat and there would be an open House seat. And so literally, my friends and I decided the week before filing that we would do this as a project and that I would be the candidate. As we sat around my dining room table and I had my 6 month old son, Lucas, I said, ‘Should we do this? Could we do this? How would we do this?’ and that’s how it happened.”

When you won, how did you feel?

 “We didn’t have any polls, and we knew that the 3rd district tended to vote Democrat as it does today, although the year I won a Republican was elected to the Senate in the 3rd district. We knew that, for the most part, the primary was going to be the race. I was not the party’s choice so the local party had another person in mind that they favored. In those days it was a party primary, not like it is today. It wasn’t the top two; it was the top Democrat and the top Republican that advanced to the general. If they met certain criteria the third parties could go, too, like a Libertarian, and/or someone from a Green party. The whole primary system has changed, so now you could get two Democrats as the top two, but back then that wasn’t going to be the case. The night of the primary we were at the hotel, which probably would have been the Ridpath, and we were standing around, waiting for the results, and we had no idea what was going to happen. Then they announced that I had won the primary, which pretty much meant I was very, very likely to win the general election. So that’s when we knew. It was a very exciting moment for me and for all of my friends because we had sort of put this thing together on a shoe string. We did it with signs and making copies of pamphlets. This was somewhat pre-current technologies. We didn’t have social media. We went door to door. We would do yard sign Saturdays where we would meet together, often with our kids in strollers, and pick arterials and neighborhoods to go doorbell, then get back together and have ice cream at the end of the morning. It was very grassroots.”

Having gone through the journey to where you are now, and with our political climate being so dark, how do you find the light and stay grounded?

 “That is a really great question and it’s really important to me. I am a little bit of a natural optimist so that could just be personality and temperament that I was born with. But, I also have a sense of hope about how we make progress in social justice. I believe that it comes from the movements and the movements have to connect with elected leaders who can then move things forward in their realm. But the elected leaders, so to speak, don’t really lead, in a sense because in a two party system, they are pulled like a black hole to the middle and when they capture the middle they get to move their agenda under certain circumstances. But, where the political center is, is all about the grassroots movement. The political center on the women’s movement changed because of women’s movements. The political center on marriage equality has changed so much over 20 years (and obviously elections and laws were a part of that), but

a lot of it was a movement that re-defined the way people think about LGBT issues, and re-defined that space. Then I, as an elected official, was able to sponsor bills, and we were able to create legislation. So, I think it’s all about social movements. If you look at social movements, there is a history of them, and they ebb and flow. They change the possibility, not just in the United States, but all over the world, for democratic processes, and they change the possibility within the electoral system for laws and policies to pass. What I love about the state level of politics is that we have been able to do things in the health care arena and in the human service arena that aren’t true around the country. States can be laboratories of change. We have initiatives and referenda. I grew up in Illinois and they don’t have the same kind of process where you can just direct vote for something, like legalization of cannabis or raising the minimum wage. That can be directly voted on by the people here. Now, when I was in the legislature, a lot of times initiatives would pass that I didn’t agree with, and that would eventually get modified, but the first few years after an initiative passes, it takes a supermajority to change it. After a period of time, it’s just like any other law and you can modify it with a simple majority. So, it’s kind of ironic that when I was in the legislature I ended up modifying certain initiatives. For example: much of my time in the legislature we worked under a Tim Eyeman sponsored initiative which required a supermajority to raise taxes. I felt that was unconstitutional. I tried to challenge its constitutionality but we didn’t succeed with the Supreme Court when I was there. After I left it was challenged again, and the Supreme Court ruled it was unconstitutional. Much of my time I was under a whole different set of rules, but that’s our process. It’s that balance with the legislative branch, the judicial branch, and the executive branch, and then we actually have, in some ways, a fourth branch of government. It’s the direct initiative referendum process.”

 Has your approach and strategy to advocacy changed with time?

“When I first came into the legislature, I found it difficult to believe that I could work with people from other parties. I really saw what we differed on more than I saw anything we had in common. I thought, ‘Whoa, we are in such different universes of paradigms of understanding.’ But I learned over time that there were many people on the other side of the aisle that I could work on certain issues with, and that it could be a very productive thing. You don’t move forward in Washington State on a transportation package without people from the House, the Senate, the Democrats, and the Republicans, all working on things. For example, one of my first bills was a bill on bicycle and pedestrian safety. It ended up being called the Cooper Jones bill named after Cooper who was a boy that died in bike accident in Cheney. I met his parents and we worked on this together, and we named the bill after him. That bill is not inherently about Democrats or Republicans. You can work on both sides of the aisle to make things happen. I learned during my time in the legislature to try really hard not to burn bridges with people even though we might very stridently disagree on many other issues, because there might be some issue that we can work on together. I learned this by observing as well as personal experience. I’d like to give another example: former Senator Bob McCaslin, not the current representative, but his father, worked with Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles who represented Queen Anne, Seattle, and they worked together on creating options for universities to study cannabis and it’s potential health benefits for cancer and people who had cancer. They didn’t agree on much of anything, but they came together on that issue. Senator McCaslin’s wife had died of cancer and Senator Kohl-Welles had the University of Washington in her district, a research university, so they worked together. I watched this happen and I realized that you might disagree on eight or nine out of ten things, but if you keep a bridge open for at least dialogue and respectful conversation, you might find some common ground that you can work together on.”

What was your greatest fear when you started?

 “Honestly, because I was a single mom with an infant child, I was worried that I was going to be out of the loop. I worked a normal schedule and then I would go pick up Lucas at childcare. The first few weeks my mom was there with me but after that he was in a childcare situation and I would go home and pick him up after work. There were all these breakfast meetings, dinners, receptions, and in those days, a fair amount of that going on with lobbyists and interest groups. I thought, ‘I’m really going to be out of the loop if I’m not at all of those extracurricular meetings.’ It actually turned out to be one of the best things because I would go home at night with my son and I got to think about what happened during the day. There is a way in which when you are elected to office, people start to treat you differently, that you are special, kind of like, ‘Hello Representative Brown, how are you today?’ and you start to think, ‘Oh, I guess I am kind of special!’ But I think I had an opportunity. You don’t feel quite as special when you’re at home and your child is spitting up on you. It keeps you more grounded, and I think that actually ended up being a good thing for me. I didn’t need to worry. It didn’t hold me back from being effective, like I worried about in the beginning.

There was a late night session that was called at the last minute and especially in those days without a lot of warning; it was quite common. I went across the street to the childcare center, picked up Lucas, brought him back and was just hanging out with him in the wings outside the House floor while the debate was going on, and on, and on. I sat at my desk, in my chair, and in the House you just push a button to vote yes or no (the green or the red button) and I was sitting there, waiting for the debate to conclude and to vote. There was a phone light at my desk and this lit up which I thought was weird, so I pick it up and it’s the chief clerk. He said, ‘nobody is allowed on the House floor when we’re in session except members.’ (They also had a special little table for the press.) He told me nobody else was allowed so my son would have to leave. Lucas wasn’t crying or anything, but someone had come and taken a picture of us. I had heard a little flurry, and I think there were legislators concerned that somehow I was going to get some good press coverage out of it or something. But I heard that someone had complained to the chief clerk and asked him to enforce the rule. I told my leadership I would have to leave with Lucas and they called the previous question, which is the parliamentary maneuver to force the vote, and we voted, and then they called an end to the evening. But, one of my good friends, Julia Patterson, who was a representative from SeaTac, went out and told the press what had happened and they started calling me. It got to be a big statewide story: ‘Representative kicked off the floor’ and headlines like, ‘Leave Lucas alone’ It didn’t turn out the way they had thought. In fact, because of that incident, the House created a Children’s Day where once a year they invite everyone to bring children and grandchildren on the floor and they conduct a morning session with all of the kids running around. I think they wanted to make it a point to commemorate this by actually doing it, and it was done in a positive light. I believe next year will be the 25th anniversary of when Lucas got kicked off the House floor! People still say, ‘Are you that kid that got kicked out of the House?’”

What is one thing you’ve never forgotten and what is one thing we should never forget?

“There are two things that I’ve never forgotten, which kind of connects back to feeling good in dark times. My first year in the legislature I voted for a bill that said we shouldn’t have discrimination based on sexual orientation. It passed the House overwhelmingly, but it didn’t get brought up for a vote in the Senate. Year after year that bill did not pass the legislature. When I got to the Senate, it was my goal to help bring it forward for a vote, and the first time we brought it forward it lost by one vote. Over the summer a Republican changed his mind and announced that he was going to vote yes on the issue, and then the next year it passed by one vote. I will never forget that. It’s kind of that thing that everybody always says, but you wonder about: one vote matters. One vote absolutely matters. It’s also a testament to how long sometimes it takes. To make this relevant specifically to the Peace and Justice Action League: I know that it’s been a core tenant of their work as long as I have known the organization to be opposed to the death penalty. You know, it could be that people could get discouraged and say, ‘that’s just never going to happen.’ But, look at what did happen. We now have a governor that signed an executive order so we’re not implementing the death penalty right now in Washington State. I think there’s actually bi-partisan conversation about making changes to it. If and when that happens, it would have been a 30 year journey. So, you don’t get to the end of that journey without the steps along the way. To me that’s hopeful. To some people that might be a discouraging message that it can take so long to make the change happen when it’s obvious to them that it should. Change often happens more slowly than that. I haven’t forgotten this and I hope people connected to PJALS don’t forget it, either. “

What is one piece of advice that you were once given, and what is one piece of advice that you would give to young people starting in activism?

 “One piece of advice I was given fairly early on was to not be too quick to respond, but to listen. Like, people would come up to you and ask you to do this or to do that, and this leader in the legislature that I sat by when we went into the minority (we had a lot of time on our hands) said, ‘Just listen. Just listen. Keep listening. Let the person keep talking. They may tell you both the reasons why you want to do this and they may start to tell you the reasons you might not.’ It cautioned me to keep listening which is really important. It’s easy to feel like you understand that issue, especially in the legislature, where you’ve dealt with something five times in a row, and it’s easy to think ‘Oh we’ve already tried that’ or ‘that can’t happen’ but it’s important to keep listening.

A piece of advice that I would give to young people in particular is the lyrics of a folk song I like by the Indigo girls. One of their lyrics goes, ‘every five years or so I look back on my life and I have a good laugh.’ I think that’s very appropriate because when I first got elected to the legislature, if I would have looked at my life five years earlier that would have seemed hilarious. At different points in my life I certainly had no idea what I was going to do five years from then and so, to me, some of the decisions you have to make when you’re young seem like, ‘Oh my God, if I do this, everything will be changed forever. If I choose this over that, then THAT will never be an option again.’ That has not been my experience. My experience has been that if it’s an important part of who you are, or something you want, or something you need to be part of, it will come back around as an option to you at a certain point. Keep open. It’s always good to have a game plan, but don’t be so attached to it that you don’t take advantage of opportunities that come along, to maybe be moved to do something different. Sometimes, and this can be hard to believe when it’s happening to you, the really bad things which happen become very positive over time in terms of the lessons learned. When I had Lucas I didn’t plan that I was going to be a single parent. His dad lives in Spokane and we’re good friends, and Lucas has a good relationship with both of us, but when I initially understood, ‘Oh wow, I’m not living that dream, that married life’ it was pretty devastating information. And, as it turned out, it was very instrumental to me understanding my strengths as a person. For women, and I’m sure it’s true for men too, that whole thing about what you decide to do for your child– It really brings out the best of you. It also helps you understand who you want to be for yourself, too, which is very important. That’s why I always felt so sad about the substance abuse issues that can really disrupt the parent-child bond, and wanted to work in the legislature on things that could help try to preserve that bond because it’s just a strong, powerful bond for healing someone.”

Did you see any progress with those issues when you were there?

“We created some great programs, most of which were pilots and insufficiently funded, but we created something called the Parent Child Assistance Program. There were some home visiting programs and a lot of the early work on early learning. You know, I’m really proud of the person who took my place in the Senate, Andy Billig, because he’s really been a champion for early learning, and as he puts it, ‘going more and more upstream to understand how you can have a big impact on life the earlier you’re engaged.’ I agree with that. I think a lot of the progress in that arena started to build momentum right as I was leaving the legislature. But, I’m still really proud of being a part of laying the groundwork for the early parts of it.”

Who is the greatest hero we have never heard of?

 “Well, a lot of people have heard of her, but they may not know the Spokane connection and that is Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, who was also known as the Rebel Girl. She was a labor agitator and an activist. In the early part of the 1900s across Washington and the West, there were a lot of movements going on for workers in the mines. This time was also known for the free speech movement. The Spokane City Council actually passed a resolution against speaking on the street to try to calm down some of the agitating that was going on. Elizabeth Gurley Flynn came to Spokane and spoke on behalf on the workers and the free speech movement. It was an interesting story in labor history. People got arrested, they filled up the jails, and the Industrial Workers of the World, the Wobblies, were involved in it. I would say that I’ve always been inspired by people who stood up and said what they thought was right and made a difference. Imagine, you wouldn’t pass a bill now, you hope, saying you that you can’t speak or speak out publicly.”

Have you heard about the anti-free speech bills popping up all over the country? What do you think about this?

“I know a little bit about it and it’s a fascinating issue on college campuses. I just tend to come down very much on the side of civil liberties, and utilizing them to the maximum extent possible as educational opportunities versus trying to keep people from saying what they say. Now, don’t get me wrong, when I was at the University of Colorado they brought Gordon Liddy, who had been one of the Watergate co-conspirators. I definitely stood outside the building protesting him, but my goal wasn’t actually to make him not speak. My goal was to help people understand the controversial nature of his speech. I think it’s really interesting what’s going on now with those issues. There were some students at WSU that built a Trump wall and there were some students who said the university should have prevented them from building it. I thought the President handled it appropriately when he said that we should hear from everybody who disagrees with it, and let’s have a dialogue about it.”

If someone were to promise you that whatever you wanted to change in the world would happen the next day, what would it be?

 “The thing that’s pretty close to me is this issue of providing the maximum positive environment for children and their parents from the moment they are born. I feel like there’s so much potential. One of the things we’re learning is that kids who have these adverse childhood experiences of trauma in their early years have a disruption to their learning capacity and their physical health in later years. So, I really support the movement to the upstream, you know. We should be supporting the parents, married or not, and giving them options to provide a safe, nurturing environment for their children. I think that’s the most significant thing we could invest. It would have the biggest payoff over time in all of those downstream things that happen, such as crime, etc.

I’m also really torn on the issue of thinking differently about substance abuse. I think there’s a lot of criminalization of drug use, etc, but we’re learning about what it means in your brain to become addicted or dependent on a substance and to be able to figure out how to create strategies for really disrupting that. Sending someone to jail isn’t really a strategy, and I have a lot of admiration for the Smart Justice projects that are currently going on.”

What made you want to go from politics to Chancellor at WSU?

“I had the great opportunity to be the Senate majority leader and to be the Chairwoman of the Ways and Means Committee, but it just seemed like it was time for another chapter. I felt very connected to what could happen with the university. The university had just said Spokane was going to be the health science campus for the university, and it seemed like a great opportunity to be home. I spent 20 years going back and forth between Spokane and Olympia. As a leader I was also spending a lot of time in Seattle, as you can imagine, talking to interest groups, so it seemed like a great opportunity to focus on one thing. And, I figured it would also help me figure out if I did want to go back into politics at some point. It would be easier to do that from a position of having worked on other projects.”

Any plans to go back into politics?

 “Stay tuned! Medical school starts in August and we’re going to have what’s called the White Coat ceremony which is a big deal. Students will be initiated into their field as a physician and get their white coat. We’re going to do that downtown at the Fox Theater for 60 students and their families, with community leaders. I will be staying on until then. After that stay tuned for future developments!”

What is the legacy you want to leave or something you are most proud of?

“Legacy is too big of a word for me. I really like being a part of things that make other things happen. It’s never really done without a lot of people, many whose actions are never known or recorded. I feel very strongly not just about the people whose names are known but about it being more than that. To that extent it was being apart of many good things that happened, particularly for Spokane, this region and seeking our identity. I would say when I came to Spokane in the 1980’s it felt like there was a lot of defensiveness around what Spokane wasn’t and not a lot of what we are or what we can be. And I’m starting to feel a bigger sense of our own identity as a place, and I like it. It’s great. I feel like I have been a part of it—as an activist, as a university professor, and being in the legislature.”

What one word describes you?

“I don’t know what my friends would say. I think probably optimistic.”

It’s hard to be optimistic sometimes, especially in our current situation.

“It’s kind of grounded in the long view. Because I study economics and business cycles where things go up and down, I guess I tend to be a little bit like that, thinking about those cycles. I think ultimately things go in the right direction. It’s like what Martin Luther King Jr said: the arch of justice bends towards justice. The arch of history bends toward justice.”

So you’re optimistic that all of this is going to turn out good?

“I think so, I do! Crazy, but I really do!”

Peace and War: Supporting the Troops, Part 22

by Rusty Nelson Monday, May 15, 2017 | 6:18pm | Comment on this

Peace and War, March 2017

Supporting the Troops, Part 22

If you were asked for a practical solution to end war, where would you begin? If you had a solution to one of the most troubling problems of 21st Century America, how would you bring it to the attention of an authority with the resources and connections to implement it?

For me, with decades of involvement in PJALS and Veterans for Peace, these questions are not simple, overwhelming or rhetorical. In fact, I’m planning to burden you with some of the answers and ask for your help in finding more answers and more action.

Consider the “Marines United” scandal. Many of the Marines and former Marines involved in this boys-will-be-boys mass cyber-rape are undoubtedly among the loudest and most enthusiastic supporters of “the troops.” A few ring-leaders have lost government-related jobs, but it’s likely that a military investigation will fail to make anyone understand what the exposed women face as they try to recover from a profound and public humiliation. After all, why would a public accustomed to the horrors of war, and casual attitudes about objectification of women be outraged by these macho pranks? One could hardly expect our Commander-in-Chief to find anything wrong with war-weary Marines having a little locker room fun.

A recent New York Times commentary suggested having men and women Marines go through boot camp together would mitigate this flap, but that ignores the fact that more men than women are sexually assaulted in the military. Besides, boot camp is the first official time for military recruits to be totally stripped of dignity and dehumanized in order that they will follow instructions and commit acts outside previous moral boundaries. For most veterans, boot camp was the first injection of the Traumatic Stress virus.

Any genuine investigation of “Marines United” will uncover a multitude of problems for any apologist for the U.S. military establishment. Most distressing will be connectors to the worst nightmares of the dedicated flag-waver: Rape, known euphemistically as Military Sexual Trauma; Suicide, and; Post Traumatic Stress…disorder is officially added to this term to postpone the widespread understanding that PTS is not a disorder, at all. It is an injury that may be incurred by a civilian of any age or class through accident, natural disaster, or domestic violence, but is certain to be inflicted in military training and/or combat.

These problems are ours. They affect us as a nation and as individuals, whether or not we ever isolate or identify them as concerns of politics, security, health care, or economics. It’s not surprising that we observe, even study, some of these problems without recognizing them as such. Most Americans fail to recognize executions as murder, or counter-terrorism as terrorism. We have been taught to see the actions of our own government as benign, at worst, and the actions of our designated enemies as threatening, at best. This is a major building block of the scourge of PTS.

On behalf of Spokane Veterans for Peace, I invite you to join us in making five demands for supporting the troops and securing the future of our country and its people by reforming key elements of our military culture. Larry Shook, one of our own members, has helped us understand the challenge faced by our country and by those who suffer with moral wounds from military sources. His research, his work as an investigative reporter, and his personal struggle over the past half-century have helped him envision a way forward to benefit everyone:

  1. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) policy of treatment must be reformed in terms of reporting and benefits given to victims.
  2. Military Sexual Trauma (MST) policy must be reformed in terms of reporting and benefits given to victims.
  3. Reported PTSD and MST must be replied to and ruled upon within 30 days.
  4. Upon exit from the military, all personnel must be trained for the return to civilian life and considered for lifelong support.
  5. The draft or conscription must be reinstated and reformed to include all American citizens. Drafted persons holding positions of pacifism or forms of conscientious objection must be given non-combat options within the military.

Some of us have reservations about reinstating the draft, specific ideas for integrating differently-abled, voiceless, and privileged recruits, and caveats about lifelong support. However, we affirm this list as a profound and achievable improvement for a country muscle-bound by its military spending and clueless about real national strength. And I can confide in PJALS people that we fully intend to undermine public, political, and corporate support for war, the primary contributor to most of the world’s ills. (Larry and I have both written about other ways to end our country’s dependence upon war as its default foreign policy.)

Not surprisingly, this plan has been dismissed by Sen. Patty Murray. Almost any member of Congress would find it difficult to comprehend this as something to make our country safer and stronger. Elected officials universally declare their unwavering support for military members and veterans of U.S. armed forces, but when faced with changing violent, sexist, and racist government cultures, or even saving hundreds of millions of dollars, they follow the military dictum, CYA. That doesn’t mean, “Cover Your Allies.”

We are making our demands public to gain attention and respect from status quo lovers in Congress, the VA and Defense Department. Here’s where you come in. Help us mount a compelling social media campaign. Mary Kay McCollum, an emerging voice in this struggle whom you may know from our workshop at PEJAC, will be blogging on her story of MST and stories from other victims and survivors. VFP will have other reports and commentaries to spread. We need your suggestions for placement and correspondence, as well as your messages to our congressional delegation and contacts with their own stories about being set up for failure by the military juggernaut.

You may be ready to act, or you may wish to gather more information or start reading Mary Kay’s blog. Alert! Do not read her blog if you wish to maintain the popular, sanitized image of a U.S. military lovingly staffed by self-sacrificing heroes who have no personal ambition beyond the protection of our diverse and grateful population and carrying out the wishes of our flawless government. Otherwise, feel free to ask any member of Spokane VFP. We have a one-page rationale for the five reforms, resources for a closer look at policies and practices on PTSD and MST, and articles and books we think everyone touched by PTSD should read.

Spokane VFP #035 is a small group, but we cannot afford to think small. We are no longer willing to kill or injure anyone, but we are fighting for our lives and for others who don’t know, yet, what hit them. Most of us support PJALS and other social justice organizations and insist upon having a good time, even if we are saving the world. Find us at or on facebook at SpokaneVeteransForPeace#35.

Besides this project and preparing to release our second book, Vet Lit 2: So It Goes, around Memorial Day, we are trying to attract new people, veteran and associate members.  We just barely avoid the spectre of being a bunch of old white men, but we’re grateful for members of every demographic, whether they show up every time or faithfully support our efforts from home.  Membership is through, headquartered in St. Louis.   – RN

Tax Day March & Rally Impact Report

by Christina Walden Sunday, May 7, 2017 | 11:23pm | Comment on this

On Saturday, April 15th, I participated in the Reject Trump’s Budget: Tax Day March, Rally & Teach-In as a peacekeeper. This was my first experience as a peacekeeper at a PJALS event. I really enjoyed talking to many different marchers as we gathered together, but didn’t know what to expect throughout the event as we had discussed many types of scenarios that could occur in the training. I was pleasantly surprised that we had no real problems from those not involved. We had a wonderful group of people that respectfully engaged with bystanders and invited them to join us. This event really goes to show the great attitude of PJALS members. We had many passersbys who gave our group encouraging shouts, honks, and thumbs-ups. I enjoyed the fact that many Spokanites do care about the issues we were marching for and they were in support of our peaceful demonstrations. I look forward to being involved in many more, both as a participant and as a peacekeeper.

Advice for someone just getting involved – and for myself!

by pjals Thursday, Apr 27, 2017 | 4:16pm | Comment on this


By Liz Moore

For best results, read this in your head — or out loud! — in David Letterman style.


10. Trust Women. Trust Workers. Trust People of Color. Trust Trans Folks. Trust Black Women. Trust Immigrants. Trust Young People. Trust the 99%.

9. Invest in the Long-Term. Be conscious of how much energy you put into what’s urgent instead of what’s strategic.

8. Love Yourself. Love yourself. Love yourself. Love yourself. Love yourself. Love yourself. Love yourself. Love yourself. Love yourself. Love yourself. Love yourself. Love yourself.

7. Unlearn Oppression of All Kinds. How do you use internalized oppression against yourself? How do you use internalized privilege or superiority against others? Does class oppression tell you that you must “produce” in order to be worthy? Does internalized sexism tell you that you should be nice? Does internalized privilege tell you that you know better than someone with life experience?

6. Cultivate Your Consciousness of Power. How does power operate in your community? Who has power? Who doesn’t? How have those arrangements been maintained? Look inward as well as outward. Cultivate a consciousness of power in all directions & situations.

5. Do a Landscape Analysis. Once you know your passion, look around & do your research about who’s already working on that, what’s worked or not worked in the past, and why things are the way they are now. Don’t assume you need to launch a new effort or organization.

4. Listen. Nurture relationships. Use the “2-ears-1-mouth” rule: listen twice as much as you talk.

3. Be authentic. People can tell if you’re shining them on, and they don’t like it.

2. Practice Pro-Active Solidarity. Be consistent; develop a track record that makes you someone trustworthy. Show up, then show up again, then show up again.

And my number one piece of advice: 

1. Think of yourself as an organizer, instead of as an activist. An activist is someone who is themselves active – but an organizer is someone who moves others to act!


Cue the band!


With thanks to Rachel Dorfman and the Washington Labor Education Resource Center for inviting me to part of the Spokane Regional Labor Council’s Labor Education & Activism Program, and to my fellow panelists on the Community Activism for Working People: Rick Cologne, Sandy Williams, and Jim Dawson.

8 steps to take that don’t involve raining missiles on Syria

by pjals Friday, Apr 7, 2017 | 2:14pm | One comment.

What to do instead of sending Tomahawk missiles:

1. Ascertain who was responsible for the horrifying chemical weapons attack. The U.S. should fully support the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons’ ongoing investigation of the chemical weapons attack and work with the international community to bring the perpetrators to justice.

2. Reject the false choice that says “accountability” can only be found at the tip of an American bomb.

3. Use international law: Prosecution for violations of international law on chemical weapons belong in the International Criminal Court. The US must support this structure! And, military action without an international mandate violates international law.

4. Abide by our Constitution: Congress must debate and vote before US military escalation. As President Obama did in 2013, President Trump must turn the decision to Congress.

5. Support refugees & civilians! The U.S. must promptly resume resettlement of Syrian refugees and increase humanitarian aid to the region. Caring for Syrian children MUST welcome and support refugee children!

6. Recognize there is no military solution. DON’T ESCALATE the war — US involvement is a provocation for ISIS recruitment and escalation. Instead, STABILIZE by supporting asylum & increasing aid for refugees & civilians and investing in multi-party diplomatic talks. The Trump administration must immediately meet with Russia, Iran, and the Gulf States to revive international negotiations that will lead to a diplomatic solution.

7. Consider President Trump’s track record on human rights as a mountain-size grain of salt in hearing his justification for these missiles and any further escalation. Why would we start following or trusting now?

8. Don’t fall silent! In this country, wars and lead-ups to war have very often been used to silence critique and dissent. In the 11 weeks of Trump’s presidency, grassroots voices have been loud and persistent and have won some significant victories. We must not let war silence our critical thinking and our speaking out!

Read more »

From Vietnam to Syria

by pjals Friday, Apr 7, 2017 | 11:11am | Comment on this

By Whitman Neruda, written Nov 23, 2016

I first became aware of the Vietnam War as a boy on the brink of adolescence in 1965. Now, fifty-two years later, yet another even wider conflagration of war engulfs the Mid-East because of American racism and greed. War, either overt or covert, has never ceased in my lifetime.

When I think of the madness of more than 5 years of war in Syria, my mind goes to that image of the shell-shocked 4 year old boy covered in dust and sitting in the back of an ambulance. Or the image of the toddler washed up on the shore, face down and drowned, in a failed attempt to escape the holocaust of war with family and neighbors. As in Vietnam, we are destroying the cherished institutions of family and village/town life with airstrikes and drones not just in Syria but throughout the Mid-East either directly or through our support of “allies” and dictatorial regimes. As in Vietnam, and in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “Now there is little to build on, save bitterness.” 

No one in my lifetime, none of our so-called leaders, has ever spoken out against the evils of war more eloquently than Dr. King. “We are always on the verge of being mesmerized by uncertainty; but we must move on.” His speech, Beyond Vietnam, given in the spring of 1967 in New York, stands as the moral calculus of peace and justice work. He had reached the point where he realized silence is betrayal, that the war, though far from his original focus on civil rights, had to be ended.

“Somehow this madness must cease. We must stop now. I speak as a child of God and brother to the suffering poor of Vietnam. I speak for those whose land is being laid waste, whose homes are being destroyed, whose culture is being subverted. I speak for the poor of America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home, and death and corruption in Vietnam. I speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken. I speak as one who loves America, to the leaders of our own nation: The great initiative in this war is ours; the initiative to stop it must be ours. Read more »

Time to Break Silence

by pjals Friday, Apr 7, 2017 | 11:11am | Comment on this

By Whitman Neruda

Because April 4 marked the 50th anniversary of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s speech Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence, we gathered at the Community Building to listen to excerpts of that watershed moment in America history, a speech that proved prophetic while sealing Dr. King’s fate as a slain martyr. PJALS director Liz Moore moderated a panel discussion composed of Sandy Williams, publisher of the Black Lens news and Pastor Walter Kendricks of Morning Star Baptist Church and president of the Spokane Ministers Fellowship.

King was calling for an expansion of the civil rights movement to include the dismantling of what he called the three evils of American life: militarism, racism and poverty. He called for a moral stance that reached beyond national allegiances and the importance of speaking for the weak and the voiceless, to respond in compassion not just for the soldiers on either side but for those living under the curse of war. The Vietnam war was a symptom of a deeper sickness in American life.

Referencing the liberation movements of the 60’s in Third World countries, he recalled a quote from President John F. Kennedy: “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible, will make violent revolution inevitable.” What we needed, he said, was a “radical revolution of values.” Non-violence is always a choice; “a beautiful symphony of brotherhood” is possible to achieve. Read more »

NO Religious Registry in Spokane!

by Shar Lichty, Organizer Friday, Mar 3, 2017 | 11:23pm | Comment on this

In response to Trump’s Muslim Ban, Spokane came out strong to support refugees and religious freedom. On Sunday, January 29 th , hundreds gathered, with only a few hours notice, to rally in support of our refugee and Muslim neighbors. On Monday, January 30 th , City Council presented an emergency ordinance prohibiting city employees from participating in any religious registry. This was a preemptive action to one of Trump’s many extremist campaign promises—creating a Muslim registry. It passed 7-0. As I prepared to leave for the City Council meeting and give my testimony in support of the ordinance, I felt a sense of dread. I envisioned another long night at City Hall listening to a slew of racist and hateful testimony. It was another long night at City Hall BUT it was full of love, compassion, and support for our fellow humans. Only three individuals testified in opposition to the ordinance. There was a record turnout with nearly 300 individuals filling the council chambers and the gallery—many testifying, others signing in to show support for the ordinance. This strong representation of everything I love about Spokane—people coming together for the benefit of all—rejuvenated my spirit. The most powerful part of the evening for me was being a part of those who stood in support of testimony given. Watching so many stand up over and over again, for hours, reminded me of Spokane’s history of standing up against hate and discrimination. Spokane passed anti-laws stronger than the State’s in the 90’s, we come out in large numbers when our neighbors are under attack, 1000’s enjoy the Unity March and Pride Parade each year, we defended the freedom to marry, and we consistently fill council chambers to have our voices heard. Spokane also has a long history of racism. Sometimes the racist, hateful voices seem “louder” than ours. During the days ahead, as attacks on one group or another come, let us not forget that Spokane is best when we come together in solidarity not division, love not hate. Our voices are actually louder. We are the majority. Our wall of solidarity can tear down the walls of division they create. Let’s Rise Up, Resist, & Persist together.