With an election in Seattle fast approaching, we are honored to share this conversation with Jon Grant, running for Seattle City Council Position 8. A big thank you to my friend Nigel Weiss, who assisted me with these questions.

DD Greetings Jon! Thanks for stopping by Disco Droppings for this conversation. How are you?

JG Doing well! We’re in the final two weeks of the primary campaign and feeling good heading into August 1.

DD Growing up, did you envision yourself on a path like the one you’re on now?

JG Not really no! I’ve always had a passion for housing justice though, so in a way it makes sense. When I was a teenager, I produced a zine called “Section 8” that was mostly about punk music with some political articles sprinkled in. As an adult, I’ve focused my career on housing justice. In 2015, I ran because we needed a progressive to replace Tim Burgess. Now, with the Democracy Voucher program, my campaign is even more focused on elevating the voices of Seattle’s most marginalized communities.

DD How has 2017 been so far in your eyes, in terms of Seattle and nationally?

JG It’s been a challenging year obviously, but yet, I think in the face of a despotic national government, we’re seeing an amazing resurgence of local activism. It’s clear to me and many others that we can’t count on the federal government to protect us. Instead, it’s going to be cities like Seattle that set the standard for progressive policy.

DD What and/or who are your main influences, inside and outside of political activism?

JG In Seattle, I was first inspired to run for office by Nick Licata. We talk now about having a progressive bloc on the council; for many years, it was just Nick holding it down. Locally, I’ve also always been impressed with Tim Harris, who founded Real Change. On housing issues, I’ve been influenced by Peter Marcuse, a political thinker and urban planner and Randy Shaw from the Tenderloin Housing Law Clinic. Outside of housing, my social justice values are influenced by writers like Michelle Alexander and Lindy West.

DD You have many views that would be substantially different in some ways from the current direction of Seattle City Council. What is your approach to engaging with that? What are your thoughts on working as a team in such an environment, versus staking out principled disagreements?

JG What I’m hoping to accomplish with my campaign is to build a progressive voting block on the city council. Right now, we’ve seen a number of votes that fall 6-3, with Kshama Sawant, Mike O’Brien and Lisa Herbold representing the minority. I believe that if I get elected, it will be a lot easier to find common ground to win that 5th vote on issues like immigration, housing affordability and tenants rights. My goal once elected is to pass bold legislation, not just taking protest votes. I’m confident that by partnering with community groups on specific issues, we can work with the council at large to pass policy.

DD I first met you DJ’ing one of your house party events. How have those been going?

JG Great! We’ve raised tens of thousands of dollars just from people getting their friends together in a living room and talking local politics. We’re a people powered campaign and house parties are one way we build that power. And thank you for DJing an awesome set!

DD You’ve mentioned being the first to qualify for the Democracy Voucher Program. Can you explain why the vouchers are important for Seattle?

JG The Democracy Vouchers are changing the game in local politics and I hope they eventually change the game for state and national politics too. Last time I ran, our campaign was outspent 8:1 by big money who backed our opponent. This time around, we’re actually leading in fundraising and 90% of our money comes from vouchers. The vouchers are hugely important in a city-wide race but I think we’re going to see them have a big impact in district elections and especially in the mayor’s race next cycle. Anybody who is organized, who can build support in the community will be competitive with the voucher program.

DD In a state like Washington, and city like Seattle, we are surrounded by and immersed in so much beautiful nature. How much importance do we put on protecting the environment around here, from your perspective? What is your campaign focused on in regards to climate justice? And, what can people do in their own personal worlds to make a positive impact?

JG Climate justice is a central part of my platform and it’s clear that it is at the forefront of many people in Seattle. Back in February, I wrote an op-ed in the South Seattle Emerald asking the City of Seattle to end business with Wells Fargo, because of their support of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Later, I met with local native organizers Matt Remle and Rachel Heaton and asked how our campaign could support the No DAPL movement. They invited our campaign to participate in a city-wide action against Chase Bank, to urge Chase to divest from DAPL and me and one of our volunteers got arrested in that action. I would encourage anyone who wants to protect our natural environment to get involved with local environmental organizations like 350 Seattle and Rising Tide who are working to keep Seattle beautiful and equitable.

DD Affordability is on people’s minds more every day in Seattle, and you’ve got some big plans to address that problem. Can you talk about some of your ideas to support people who are struggling to stay in the city, and what are your thoughts about a long-term solution to the high costs of everything in Seattle? Also, when a building has a certain percent affordable housing, how much cheaper is it?

JG I’m presenting the boldest housing platform of anyone in my race. Our campaign is calling for 25% of new development to be affordable to working people (up from the 2-7% the city has passed so far), giving renters the right to collectively bargain their rents, creating an Office of the Tenant Advocate and raising the top B&O tax rate (while raising the exemption for small businesses) to build thousands of new units of deeply subsidized and low-income housing. It’s critical that we add tens of thousands of new units of affordable housing, in addition to preserving what we have already from displacement, to keep costs down long-term. Buildings that are covered under the 25% mandatory housing affordability requirement usually have affordable units targeted to people making about $40,000-$50,000/year. That’s why my housing plan also calls for constructing new housing that will be affordable to people making less than $40,0000.

DD You’ve been a big supporter of alternatives to policing and incarceration so far, in particular you’ve been vocal in support of No New Youth Jail and the Block the Bunker movement to prevent the city from building a new police precinct in North Seattle. Overall, what do you think city has done well in terms of criminal justice and policing, and what would you like to see changed?

JG One program that I’d like to see kept and expanded is the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program. The LEAD program provides caseworkers to chronically homeless individuals, low-level drug dealers and users, and sex workers, instead of pushing those people into the criminal justice system. The LEAD program has reduced criminal recidivism rates by up to 60% among the population it serves. We should expand the LEAD program citywide to better serve our communities.

We should invest in rebuilding the Community Service Officer (CSO) program, which places unarmed Seattle Police Department employees in communities to respond to low-level calls like property crimes and landlord-tenant disputes. The CSO program was dismantled in 2004; it’s time to bring it back. CSOs could play an important role in working with houseless people and individuals dealing with drug addiction by connecting people to services instead of routing them into the criminal justice system. Instead of investing in 200 new police officers, the city should direct funding to expanding the CSO program.

I also support alternative forms of accountability for crimes of poverty like loitering/disturbing the peace and driving with a suspended license and crimes like DUIs, sex work, drug-related offenses and any offenses that take place in public schools or public educational facilities. Arrests for these types of offenses funnel vulnerable populations like undocumented immigrants, people of color, transgender and queer people, and the homeless into the criminal justice system. Identifying alternatives to arrests and incarceration is a crucial immigration, racial and social justice issue.

DD You’re running as a Democratic Socialist for this campaign and not a Democrat. What led to this, and how do the Democratic Socialists of America tie into your campaign?

JG I wanted to make it very clear to Seattle voters my views on the relationship between the market and public benefits. We’re in a housing crisis and yet our elected officials are focused on relying on the market to provide a basic good like a roof over your head. I believe we need more people in office who recognize that the government has a role to provide for people’s basic needs. I am a member of Seattle Democratic Socialists of America and have been endorsed by SDSA. I’m happy that SDSA has played an active role in recruiting volunteers for our campaign.

DD What problems in Seattle deserve more attention in your eyes, and how does your campaign address those areas?

JG Some big issues I believe we need to address are expanding municipal broadband, gender pay equity, stopping the sweeps of homeless people, and protecting immigrants in our community from ICE. These are all issues featured on my platform.

DD Who makes up your team, and how much time do you spend working on your campaign and areas connected to it? What’s the balance between how much work you do, and the assistance that you get from staff, volunteers etc?

JG We have three full-time staff (our campaign manager Kate, our field director Manya and our field organizer Shaun) and two part-time staff (Erin, who runs communications and Deyland, our field canvasser). Right now, I’m working full-time on the campaign. My focus is on talking directly to voters, whether that’s going to a community meeting, a candidate forum or hitting the doors.

DD How can people help you out, whether in Seattle or outside?

JG First, vote! You should have gotten a ballot last week. Please get it in as soon as possible. Second, donate your Democracy Vouchers to the campaign. You can mail them to People for Jon Grant, PO Box 21551, Seattle WA 98111. Finally, we’re up against some big money in this election. Big business has already spent almost $100,000 to back my opponent. We’re asking people to donate just $22 to help us stay competitive. You can donate at electjongrant.com/donate

– JJ