KJ Moon had a dramatic shift in his career trajectory. He moved to Seattle to work in the financial industry at Capital One but was compelled to participate in economic justice movements. Since his revelation, he has dedicated his time to organizing for transportation and housing justice with the Transit Riders Union (TRU).
Tell me about your transition from software engineer to organizer for TRU.
I went to college at UNC Chapel Hill, and I eventually picked computer science. I got a job at a bank as a software engineer. I had this naïve idea that if I work for a bank, maybe I can make banks a little less evil.
Yeah. I shifted focus and explored doing tech for nonprofits. I did a lot of volunteering. One of the things was the coordinated entry system. But the longer I worked on it and the more I talked to people and service providers, I realized tech can’t actually solve these issues.
It seems like one thing was more important to you. Yes, tech work pays the bills, but where did you really want to be?
I liked programming, but these issues aren’t going to be fixed by programming [but] by some other means. That put me in a pretty distraught place because I didn’t know what that other thing was. Then the Trump-Proof Seattle kickoff happened. I’ve always wondered why we don’t have an income tax. I put my name as a volunteer on the website. A month later someone called me. I went [to an outreach event] and met Scott Myers from TRU. We were on the street talking to people about why we need an income tax, and seeing the shift of people’s viewpoint … [from] skeptical into believing that this is a great idea made me realize this is effective. This is going to change stuff. Scott brought me to the happy hour the same day with Katie Wilson, which is where I met her and a bunch of other people from TRU, including Carol Isaac. I realized that this is where I need to be, that if I want to get more involved in this work I have to choose one life or the other. I gotta leave [tech]. Katie and Scott offered me a stipend position and I had already quit my job. That’s what happened. Not a very dramatic or exciting story.
No, that’s super dramatic and exciting.
I think about it now and I’m like, had you told me three years ago that I would quit my job and work as a community organizer on a housing campaign, I would be like “Get off that, whatever you’re taking.”
We’re glad that you did. Could you tell me more about what you do at TRU?
Transit Riders Union seeks to expand, preserve and improve access to public transit. We want to fund transit to its fullest capacity. But that requires property and sales taxes in our current system. That idea was born from [how] we don’t want poor people paying a higher rate for something they should be provided by society. Once we got an income tax campaign, we worked with Real Change, share/wheel, service providers, and people who are houseless or without shelter. It was obvious the next big issue we could tackle is housing, right? It relates to public housing in that the more people get displaced from Seattle, the more they have to commute by car. We don’t have good public transit in Snohomish County. So the more people we can keep here who are working-class, the better our public transit system is. We have [fewer cars] on the road too.
What’s an issue besides housing that’s near and dear to you?
Sean Smith from share told me it’s important to have one issue to keep to your core that really guides you. I haven’t found that yet because all of these issues are important. I think just more equity in society, especially in terms of race. The fact is that people of color are not at the table when decisions are made. I’d like to see society be more equitable in that regard. Take the income tax coalition. It’s a great coalition but it lacked diversity. We worked hard to reach out to folks. But at the end of the day the room was full of White [people]. Also, one goal I want to work towards is public ownership of most things. …that sounds a little communist but good public housing, free public transportation and good sense of community.
What ways would you like to see people get involved?
Paying attention is a start. I have friends in the tech world that just don’t pay attention. Have conversations with people, and from that, use your skills for the better good. Another quick thing they could do is come to an action meeting, where you can do something as innocuous as sign-making. You can interact with people and bring your friends. That’s the immediate ask. We’ll rope them in from there.
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