Organizer Emily McArthur noticed from a very early age that her family didn’t match stereotypical representations of poor people as lazy. She grew up in Norfolk, Virginia, with two parents who worked four jobs. She got involved in Socialist Alternative when she was in college in Boston. In 2016, when Kshama Sawant was re-elected for Seattle City Council, she drove crosscountry with whatever would fit in her car and decided to stay. She loves the political excitement of Seattle and that we seem to set the tone for other cities. Emily works with Socialist Alternative to organize working-class people around social justice causes.
What’s the focus of your work with Socialist Alternative?
Right now my main focus is on housing. Our housing model is based on some clear-cut demands we have, such as rent control, taxing big business to get affordable housing and more public housing. These are broad demands that we’ve been fighting for a long time, but whenever there’s a breakthrough, we throw our energy and power behind it as much as possible. As far as the fight last year during the budget for a head tax and stopping the sweeps … [Socialist Alternative is] 200 people, and we can get out there, but as socialists we pay attention to the policies and the fights that are really engaging and exciting people. This fall, it felt like stopping the sweeps and winning $25 million was possible. People showed up, and they occupied City Hall.
What’s your organizing model?
I would say our organizing model is showing up and putting forward bold demands for [the opposite of] business-as-usual tactics. Not necessarily having a polite conversation with a politician or a nonprofit, but mobilizing people power. We don’t have a logo that you put at the bottom of a letter and people know we have power. No, we mobilize. There are a lot of us, and we want things to change.
What’s your approach to collaborating with and supporting communities of color? How should White and housed people be held accountable in this work?
Most importantly, supporting communities of color is listening to the things they’re fighting for. For example, the Stepping Forward fight [affected] the most hard-up people in this city, East African single moms and other women of color. Yes we thought Seattle Housing Authority raising rents 500 percent was awful, but there were people who were experiencing it. We put forward demands, but there were people doing this work on the ground and giving them the space to speak at City Hall and using our resources to give them the strongest possible organizing model. They were already knocking on their neighbors’ doors, but that’s an incredibly important piece. Giving them the space at City Hall at the podium where all these journalists and politicians have to listen to them. Finding and connecting them with other activist organizations and putting that power behind them. They won their fight and helped us against Carl Haglund rent hikes as well. It’s not like they won and went home. They saw these other fights and they showed up to support them too. And with accountability, you build a reputation out in the world and it has to be on a case-by-case basis. When you’re in a coalition, is there space, is there prioritization of [marginalized] communities? When you’re occupying City Hall, are you just being your own loud, vicious radical, or are you making space for homeless people or for the displaced communities and making them part of the voice? Are you making speaking slots for just City Council and nonprofits but real people? And it’s a daily test. It’s not something you accomplish once then check off.
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