When we created the cover for this issue, it was to illustrate the sleight-of-hand in play by a city government that gives the appearance of due diligence on large real estate developments without transparency in their actual approval process. While we were referring specifically to West Bay Yards, the luxury condominiums planned for one of Olympia’s most beautiful inlets, the metaphor is also apt for this month’s theme: what’s been revealed by the pandemic.
If you’ve ever been played in a shell game, you know things move very fast. You think you know where the hidden object will be when the shells stop moving, but you almost never do. Sometimes, there’s nothing under any of the shells.
In this month’s Perspective column, we look at SB5010, a promising bill introduced to curb racist practices in the insurance industry like using credit scores to determine rates. The bill was gutted by insurance lobbyists – more proof that a financial shell game still largely dictates where, how and if relief comes for those already on the lowest rungs of society. Our review of the book Homewreckers also makes this painfully clear.
Another indicator of financial disparity underscored by the pandemic is the lack of updated safety and health regulations for America’s laborers. Lin Nelson explores the renewed resolve of a coalition working to create an Essential Workers Bill of Rights, and other vital measures that would protect and improve conditions and wages for them.
Workers rights are also explored in Eleanor Steinhagen’s piece on the elimination of sick leave for tech workers at nine Providence health care locations. Steinhagen documents numerous other ways worker rights are being whittled away and the valiant efforts of UFCW 21 to negotiate fair deals for employees (with a corporation that recently received over $2.5 billion in pandemic stimulus funding.)
People experiencing homelessness are among the most vulnerable in Olympia and the recent police action against protestors at Red Lion Inn downtown is yet another example of the city’s questionable responses. As Mary Jo Dolis points out, while the unsheltered endure conditions that serve to spread a viral pandemic, owners of several new residential properties in town enjoy over $10 million in property tax exemptions. Dolis suggests several ways Olympia could create permanent solutions to begin addressing the houseless epidemic, like adopting a model from Austin, Texas in which a significant portion of the annual police budget is being diverted to create new, permanent homes.
The pandemic has also revealed how pharmaceutical giants manipulate the flow of information to consumers by using a classic shell game to maximize profits. Lori Lively and Bruce Larson shed light on an affordable, safe, effective treatment for Covid-19 that’s all but absent from public discussion.
Even as the pandemic reveals uncomfortable truths about who is cared for and who is not in our society, bold, creative people are demonstrating what can happen when we collectively reject corporate and government shell games. The stories in this issue remind us of the many ways to resist the ruse: humor like Toby’s that highlights the absurdity of designer toilets in new developments even as raw sewage runs through encampments a few miles away, art like the soulful protest music of the late Anne Feeny, direct action by committed groups like Oly Housing Now, and legal steps taken by watchdogs like OlyEcoSystems. Talk about your game changers.
Jerome Johnson 1961–2021
Jerome Johnson, a civil rights activist and leader who lived most of his life in the SW Olympia neighborhood, was one of the founders of Works in Progress. He was a dedicated soldier/writer for the paper for many years. He appeared on the cover of WiP in 1994, alongside Senator Cal Anderson and Governor Mike Lowry, as a member of a panel on anti-discrimination. He was also a Star Trek/NASA fan, and a radio host.
Jerome wrote “Farewell to Thurgood Marshall,” for the February 1993 issue of WIP. His words then serve as a farewell to him today. In the article, he wrote that when his mother phoned him at work with the sad news of Marshall’s death, that led to them reflecting on the fact that Jerome was the first black child to attend Garfield Elementary in Olympia in 1966. Jerome’s article ends with a thanks, and here I’ve inserted his name: “Thank you Jerome. You said you did the best you could with what you had, and you accomplished truly great things. Rest well and in peace, my friend.”
About the cover
First there was a project: Developers presented their West Bay Yards project to city staff at a “presubmission conference” last May.
Then there wasn’t: Instead, there was a “Development Agreement” that the Community Planning and Development (CP&D) staff said was a “non-project.” The Hearing Examiner agreed—there could be no project since there was a “Development Agreement application.”
Then there was: Thurston Economic Development Council touts the West Bay Yards Development Project proposed by Brandon Smith and Ron Newman, sending you to a glowing project overview at the project attorney website.
So what does the Development Agreement—a binding contract between the city and the developer fixing the terms that govern the—what? The project? There is no project. Oh, wait, there is a project: CP&D talking points say “the Development Agreement vests a future project at the site of the former Hardel Mutual Plywood facility…” Can you guess what cup the project is under?