What Real Change's move to Pioneer Square means
May 26, 2010, Vol: 17, No: 22
I remember the first time I set eyes on 2129 Second Avenue. I’d been in Seattle about two weeks and was walking up the street toward the women’s emergency shelter Noel House. There was a storefront that had a bunch of signs in the window. One said, “The radical is in.”
“Guess I better go see him,” I thought.
The radical turned out to be John Reese. John ran a tiny environmental business out of a small office inside, but mostly he worked for free with the Seattle Displacement Coalition, organizing street kids and fighting the Sidran ordinance.
Also inside was a small church called the Micah Community. They did an urban ministry and held services on Sundays. Food Not Bombs prepared meals and stored food in the space without a permit, and an anarchist collective led by a street kid with a White Sox tattoo did something called CopWatch. Packed into one tiny room was Vagrom Video, who taped a radical news show on Saturdays.
It was 1994. The space had recently been Jim McDermott’s campaign office. Apparently, The People had taken over in his absence.
John said I could have the corner by the door and could pay when I had money. An unused door went across some bookshelves to form a desk. John found me a chair.
A revered man, now long gone from Archdiocesan Housing Authority, said he would cover expenses up to $500 if I gave him receipts. That was the limit for which he could write reimbursement checks without higher-ups noticing something off in the budget. That meant a phone.
By day, I organized. By night, I telemarketed for the Great Expectations video dating service. There, I learned that sales and organizing are the same.
Build rapport. Listen. Create a vision that people will buy into. Generate excitement. Meet objections. Create commitment. Close.
When I asked around about who I should talk to, all roads led to Joe Martin, a Hobbit-like social worker at Pike Place Medical Clinic. The first meeting didn’t go well. “How do I know you’re not FBI?” he asked. My answer was unsatisfactory.
Still, the bearded round guy said something brilliant. My idea for a name was Reality Check. I loved the idea of people yelling that on the street.
“Too cute by half,” said Joe. “How about Real Change?”
Over the years, the newspaper grew. As others moved out, we expanded. After eight years, we gutted the entire space and rebuilt. By 2008, there wasn’t enough room, but we kept growing anyway. This month, we moved.
Tonight, our first meeting was held in the new space, at First Avenue and Main Street in Pioneer Square. Eleven board members sat in the second floor conference room, charting a safe course through rough water. The durable green fabric chairs, purchased from a church at $40 each, looked fabulous against the old red brick. Through the doorway was a small new kitchen. The countertop, still to be installed, leaned heavily against the wall. There were empty spaces where the refrigerator and dishwasher would go.
Around the corner toward the door sits the curved reception desk from which the office manager will impose order. Outside the conference room to the other side is the copier, and beyond that is an open corral, future home to the social media intern and bookkeeper. Across the hall is an actual office, with a large, arched antique window that grandly looks out onto a gray wall across the alley. Here will be the operations and development directors.
At the end of the hall sits editorial. A row of windows overlooks the first floor, where vendor services sits. There are five large cubicles, where an editor, two reporters, a production intern, and a mystery volunteer can all talk on phones at the same time without hearing every word that the others say.
Nearby is a small room with lots of boxes that blink and cables running down the wall. All this stuff has all been upgraded to work reliably.
Downstairs, four vendor services staff will operate out of two offices that border a large room. One has a large window and counter and looks out over the Michael Garcia Vendor Services area. Here, more than 18,000 papers a week will be sold to about 400 Real Change vendors a month.
Out on the floor are tables and chairs. The front of the shop is all windows. There is light. The linoleum looks far more like the wood flooring it was meant to simulate than any of us dared think possible. Two newly constructed industrial-grade bathrooms sit near the front door. Around the corner, tucked away off to the side, is the Robert Hansen Computer Learning Center, where new computers are available for vendor use.
Behind vendor services toward the back is more office space for an organizer and a volunteer manager. Nearby is a brick-walled windowless room that is roughly three times the size of a neighboring closet. This is where my office is, near the vendors. I have clearly arrived. And so has Real Change.
None of this could have happened without the love that the people of Seattle have shown. Last year, more than 1,300 people supported our work. Grassroots donations made up 67 percent of our budget. Most of the rest came from newspaper sales. Our vendors feel the love everyday.
Michael Grabham, who owns The Finishing Company, is just one of our amazing friends. Michael and his partner Patti Dunn teamed up with us last year for two winter survival gear give-aways. The first of these will always be remembered as the Thanksgiving Day Riot. Demand radically exceeded supply, and we didn’t plan for the desperation we found. The second, held less than a month later, gave away more gear to more people and ran like a Swiss watch.
When we asked about the remodel, Michael didn’t hesitate for a second. “Well, of course we’ll help,” he said.
Real Change attracts amazing people. Together, we do things that people think can’t be done.
We create hope, opportunity, and community. We organize to make things better for the poor and show that they’re not so powerless after all. We win awards for our journalism and reach more people every year. And we’re here to stay.
This is the year where we see that Real Change has what we need to thrive. We must raise $200,000 by June 30 to stay on track with our plans. Since April 1, 350 people have done their part to get us to $92,200. That’s a lot of friends, and a lot of money. Thank you.
You can help take the Spring Fund Drive to the top. Please visit our website at http://www.realchangenews.org to make a secure donation today, or mail your gift to our new address, 219 First Avenue South, #220, Seattle WA 98104. Your support of our work makes it all possible.
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