Best known for her community organizing and advocacy work, Nikkita Oliver is now running for Seattle mayor in this year’s city elections.
Oliver said her decision to challenge Seattle Mayor Ed Murray came after the formation of the People’s Party after the November election. A group of community organizers had started meeting, she said, to discuss where they could be most effective.
“I think, in some ways, the way you fix a broken system is to propose an effective solution,” Oliver said.
As the People’s Party continued discussing its philosophy, values and how marginalized people are unable to access the electoral system, Oliver said, the best way to build the party’s political power was determined to be by changing the system from within.
“After months and months of us building and developing what our community non-negotiables would look like, I thought that was what I would do,” she said.
A Washington Middle School teacher who also holds a law degree and provides pro-bono work, Oliver said she will rely on her community organizing skills to develop a campaign platform that represents the desires of the people.
“I think that the mayor’s office has brought forward and suggested some progressive ideas,” Oliver said, adding that doesn’t always lead to progressive action. “I think the mayor’s office is very disconnected from the people they purport to serve.”
Oliver said policies are introduced to communities without first seeking feedback, and is not a good practice for gaining support or promoting community leadership.
When asked about the city’s tax structure, Oliver said the People’s Party will hold a number of community conversations before releasing more substantive policy proposals on April 2. She said even Seattle residents living in wealthier neighborhoods are being hit hard by property tax increases, and finding alternative funding sources will be part of the community conversations being planned.
“I think that’s what our current city government fails to do, is to get into those communities” and hear what is affecting them, Oliver said.
The middle school teacher said she had to move out of her Central District apartment because her rent rose too high and too fast. While the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda was well intentioned, she said, the right people were not at the table when recommendations were being developed.
“If the housing’s not affordable for the people that need it most, it’s just not really a great policy,” she said.
Oliver said she’s not convinced proposals to upzone Seattle neighborhoods under the Mandatory Affordable Housing program will actually result in an increase in available housing for low-income residents, though it will increase density. Developers will have the option of either adding affordable housing into new developments or paying into a fund for the city to construct its own. Oliver said the one-time fee should be more, as the amount of affordable housing to come out of the MHA program won’t be comparable to the profits developers will make.
Oliver also said neither the sweeping of homeless encampments, nor the resources being made available to sanctioned encampments have been effective in curbing the homelessness crisis Murray declared in late 2015.
Oliver has been front-and-center as an opposition leader to the construction of the $210 million Children and Family Justice Center in the Central District. Also a case manager for Creative Justice, a 4Culture Public Art initiative that offers art-based alternatives to youth detention, Oliver advocates for restorative justice programs.
She said the city should take recommendations coming from the Community Police Commission more seriously, and create a form of civilian review for police actions. Murray introduced police accountability reform legislation to the city council last month, which proposes to boost civilian oversight.
Seattle has been under a consent decree with the Department of Justice since 2012, following an investigation that found a pattern of excessive force and discriminatory policing.
Oliver said “black, brown and cash-poor young people” need to be included in conversations about what community policing should look like. While youth detention is down in King County, racial disparity is up. Black youth incarcerations accounted for about 50 percent of the youth detention population in 2015. The county and city have committed to addressing this issue.
“In a city that’s 70.4 percent white, we should not have that level of racial disparity,” Oliver said.
Find out more about at seattlepeoplesparty.com.