Offering daily news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

SIFF Documentary Reviews: “Afghan Cycles” and “The Poetess” tell the stories of groundbreaking women in the Middle East

“We are the role models for other girls, showing them that they can live free,” says Frozan, a member of the Women’s National Cycling Team of Afghanistan.

She is one of a small group of brave young women in Kabul who risk their lives by riding bicycles in a country where the large influence of the Taliban creates dangers for all, but especially for women. Their lives are very restricted by extremists bent on enforcing their ideals, with violence if necessary.

Frozan and other women cyclists are the inspiring subjects of “Afghan Cycles“, directed by Seattle local Sarah Menzies. The film had its U.S. premiere at The Seattle International Film Festival on May 20th.

I asked Menzies how she first learned about these trail-blazing women.

“A friend and colleague of mine, Shannon Galpin, originally told me about the National Team in Kabul,” Menzies said. “She had been doing different types of aid work in Afghanistan and was interested in shifting her focus toward supporting the groundswell of cyclists that was just beginning to gain momentum. That was back in 2013. That spring we went to Kabul to meet the women that made up the team and see if there was a story there.”

Menzies was originally planning on making a short film, but she realized almost immediately that there was a much bigger story to be told.  “Thus began our 5 year production of Afghan Cycles,” she said.

Frozan and the other members of the time face many challenges to pursuing cycling. The Taliban still controls much of Afghanistan, and even in those areas where there is not a strong Taliban presence, the influence of their extremism is still felt.

Women’s bodies must be fully covered, so the team members train in long sleeves, pants, and with their headscarves under their helmets.

But even so, some people still find what they are wearing to be inappropriate and what they are doing indecent.

“Afghanistan is one of the most difficult countries in the world for women, there’s no question about that,” says Heather Barr, a senior researcher for Human Rights Watch featured in the film. She says there are large rural areas, controlled by the Taliban, where women don’t even leave their home.

Even in less-conservative Kabul and Northern parts of the country, women must have the permission of their father or husband to go anywhere.

Bamiyan also has a women’s cycling team, but one member had to quit because her brother did not approve of her being on the team. But despite the challenges, these brave women are determined to continue in their sport, not just for themselves but to break down barriers for women in their country.

Says Frozan: “We want to bring a biking culture to all girls, so they are able to use the bicycle to go to school, university, the city, the market, to get groceries by themselves.”

Frozan’s mother remembers when there was peace in Afghanistan. It was a democracy and women had freedom to wear and do what they wanted.

She hopes things will change and be stable again.

“My hope is not only for my daughter, but for all the people of Afghanistan, especially for the girls and the women, to be able to stand on their own feet.”

When I asked Menzies if she thought things in Afghanistan are getting better or worse right now, she was not optimistic.

“Unfortunately things are getting worse,” she said.

“It’s been very difficult to be so far away promoting this film knowing that many of our characters are still there living in constant fear.”

I also Menzies if she worried about her safety while she was in Afghanistan making the film.

“Being in Afghanistan certainly has an inherent risk that I don’t want to downplay. However much of my time there was spent in more progressive areas where women are able to get on bicycles for the most part. In other parts of the country where the Taliban is the governing force, a woman on a bicycle would be a death sentence. While my experience was relatively sheltered, I certainly kept my eyes open and remained focused on my surroundings. Things happen, you can easily be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Afghans know that reality all too well.”

Yet the women of the cycle team face the risks every day and to blaze a trail for all the women of Afghanistan.

Follow the film on Facebook to find out about their upcoming screenings.

Another very difficult country for women is Saudi Arabia. It is the home country of Hissa Hilal, who in 2010 became known throughout the Middle East, and indeed the world, not just for being a woman breaking ground in an arena dominated by men, but for directly calling out religious extremism while doing it.

Her story is the subject of another film featured at SIFF this year, “The Poetess.”

On screen for almost the entire film, we never see more than her eyes and the skin just around them, as she wears a niqab, a type of covering not just for her head but her face as well. Women in Saudi Arabia must remain covered at all times when outside the home, or face arrest from the extremist religious forces empowered by the King to control education, culture, and the media.

To even leave the home, women must have permission from their husbands.

In “Million’s Poet,” a show made in the United Arab Emirates and immensely popular throughout the Arab world, Hilal was the first woman to advance to the finals. Called the “American Idol” of poetry, contestants on the show read the poems they have composed in the traditional Nabati style.

Judges on the show praised Hilal for her impressive skill in this respected Arab art form. While a few other women had been on the show before, Hilal was clearly the most talented and advanced further than any women had in previous seasons of the show. But what made her achievement even more amazing was the topics she addressed in her poems.

She spoke of the relationship between men and women, and their roles in Saudi society. In the third round of the competition, her poem, titled “Fatwas”, attacked the repressive edicts issued by religious leaders. It was after a journalist wrote an article about Hilal and this poem that, in Hilal’s words, “everything exploded.”

Media from all over the world were interviewing her and doing stories on her and the show. While Hilal, who describes herself as a moderate Muslim woman, used the interviews as a vehicle to continue to speak out against religious extremism, she also started receiving many threats.

“If they kill me, I am a martyr for humanity,” said Hilal.

Countering the threats, Hilal was also contacted by Arabs and Muslims around that world who thanked her for speaking out and to voice their support for her.

Hilal said that the fatwas and rules imposed by religious extremists are not true Islam, but “political religion.” She notes the history of women’s attire such as burqas, which made sense when Bedoin women wore them to protect themselves from the dust and sun of the desert, but which extremists started forcing women to wear as they gained power in the early 1980s.

There aren’t just strict rules on women’s dress, but on social interacted between the sexes. Women and men cannot gather in the same place in Saudi Arabia, and the rules are so rigid that a woman cannot even walk into a room and greet her male relatives.

“When you isolate women, you isolate the soul of the whole society,” said Hilal.

While Hilal did not win “Million’s Poet”, she placed higher than any woman ever had, and drew great support and attention to the fight against religious extremism in Saudi Arabia and throughout the Middle East.

It is noted at the end of the film that in 2016, the King stripped the religious authorities of power, so they can no longer arrest individuals for things like violating the dress code.

However, women still must get permission from their husbands to do things like work or travel. If more women like Hilal (and men, too!) start to stand up, speak out, and push back against religious extremism, more significant progress can be made towards full freedom for women and all members of Arab society.

Hilal and the women cyclists of Afghanistan are truly passionate, brave, and dedicated women who were inspiring subjects for these excellent documentaries.

Tim Eyman’s I-940 legal challenge is another gambit to weaponize the initiative power

This afternoon, the Washington State Supreme Court will hear oral argument in Eyman v. Wyman, a legal challenge that disgraced initiative promoter Tim Eyman filed against the Washington State Legislature several months ago following the Legislature’s adoption of De-Escalate Washington’s groundbreaking Initiative I-940 and a successor bill intended to improve the measure’s provisions.

I-940, which public opinion research has shown is extremely popular with Washingtonians, sought to change the standard that prosecutors have to meet when considering when charges against a police officer for improper use of deadly force would be warranted. (Under the old standard, the state had to prove that a police officer acted without malice, which was basically impossible.)

I-940 is not an Eyman initiative, but that didn’t stop the self-serving huckster from launching a legal crusade to invalidate the Legislature’s hard work.

Thurston County Superior Court Judge Christine Schaller handed Eyman a partial victory at the trial court level when she issued a ruling ordering I-940 to be placed on the November 2018 ballot. The State of Washington promptly appealed her decision, joined by De-Escalate Washington, the measure’s sponsors.

The case is now before the Supreme Court, which, as mentioned, is hearing oral arguments from the parties today and will render a final verdict soon.

The Court has been asked to resolve the matter prior to August 31st so that preparations for the November 2018 election are not delayed.

Eyman is arguing that the Legislature violated the Washington State Constitution by adopting legislation that modifies Initiative 940 as well as Initiative 940 itself… specifically, Article II, Section 1a, which lays out the initiative power:

(a) Initiative: The first power reserved by the people is the initiative. Every such petition shall include the full text of the measure so proposed. In the case of initiatives to the legislature and initiatives to the people, the number of valid signatures of legal voters required shall be equal to eight percent of the votes cast for the office of governor at the last gubernatorial election preceding the initial filing of the text of the initiative measure with the secretary of state.

  • Initiative petitions shall be filed with the secretary of state not less than four months before the election at which they are to be voted upon, or not less than ten days before any regular session of the legislature.
  • If filed at least four months before the election at which they are to be voted upon, he shall submit the same to the vote of the people at the said election.
  • If such petitions are filed not less than ten days before any regular session of the legislature, he shall certify the results within forty days of the filing.
  • If certification is not complete by the date that the legislature convenes, he shall provisionally certify the measure pending final certification of the measure.
  • Such initiative measures, whether certified or provisionally certified, shall take precedence over all other measures in the legislature except appropriation bills and shall be either enacted or rejected without change or amendment by the legislature before the end of such regular session.
  • If any such initiative measures shall be enacted by the legislature it shall be subject to the referendum petition, or it may be enacted and referred by the legislature to the people for approval or rejection at the next regular election.
  • If it is rejected or if no action is taken upon it by the legislature before the end of such regular session, the secretary of state shall submit it to the people for approval or rejection at the next ensuing regular general election.
  • The legislature may reject any measure so proposed by initiative petition and propose a different one dealing with the same subject, and in such event both measures shall be submitted by the secretary of state to the people for approval or rejection at the next ensuing regular general election.
  • When conflicting measures are submitted to the people the ballots shall be so printed that a voter can express separately by making one cross (X) for each, two preferences, first, as between either measure and neither, and secondly, as between one and the other.
  • If the majority of those voting on the first issue is for neither, both fail, but in that case the votes on the second issue shall nevertheless be carefully counted and made public.
  • If a majority voting on the first issue is for either, then the measure receiving a majority of the votes on the second issue shall be law.

[For the sake of readability, each sentence following the preamble of Section 1(a) has been given its own bullet in the blockquoted text above. These bullets and line breaks do not appear in the text of the Constitution.]

Eyman and Mike Padden (and their attorneys Joel Ard and David DeWolf) say that by adopting I-940 and a successor bill, ESSB 3003, the Legislature impermissibly did an an end-run around the provisions of Article II, Section 1(a).

“To adopt an initiative, the Legislature must do so without change or amendment,” Ard and DeWolf argue in their brief. “But prior to voting on I-940, the Legislature first amended it by the act of both chambers voting in favor of ESHB 3003. When, later in time, it purported to adopt I-940, it did not do so without change or amendment, because earlier in time it had amended I-940.”

Essentially, they’re arguing the Legislature’s consideration and adoption of I-940 and ESHB 3003 were not separate acts because the Legislature lost its power to inedependently adopt a bill concerning the same issue once I-940 came before it.

To say that argument is problematic would be an understatement.

“An overly broad construction of the phrase ‘same subject’ in article II, section 1(a) would effectively hamstring legislative authority to address a topic,” notes Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s reply brief on behalf of the Washington State Legislature.

“An initiative petition requires the signatures of voters numbering eight percent of the votes cast for governor. Const. art. II, § 1(a). If Mr. Eyman was right, the signatures of that number of registered voters could annually deprive the Legislature of authority to act on a topic. This Court has previously cautioned against construing the initiative power to deprive the Legislature of its authority.”

“Construing article II, section 1(a) to broadly preclude any legislation on the “same subject” as a pending initiative to the legislature would allow eight percent of the voters to similarly deal a death of a thousand cuts to legislative authority by repeatedly proposing initiatives on a particular topic year by year,” the brief adds. “The constitution is drafted more narrowly to preclude this result by specifying that only ‘conflicting measures’ be treated as alternatives.”

By adopting ESHB 3003, the Legislature was demonstrating that it was capable of taking action and responding to a petition for a redress of grievances by the people of the State of Washington. For once, the legislative process was employed to improve an idea proposed through the initiative process in a way that was acceptable to both proponents and opponents of the original initiative.

Everyone won.

Well, that is, everyone except for people like Tim Eyman who are interested in weaponizing the initiative power to advance their own harmful agenda.

The Framers of the Seventh Amendment, which added the powers of initiative and referendum to the Washington State Constitution in 1912, aren’t around to tell us what they think of Eyman’s arguments and his problematic interpretations of what today is known as Article II, Section 1(a) of our state’s plan of government.

But although they have passed on, their written views remain with us.

A few years ago, NPI asked the State Archives if any materials survived from the 1911-1912 campaign to pass the Seventh Amendment. The State Archives said yes and sent over (among other documents), a copy of a pamphlet published by the Direct Legislation League advocating for what became the Seventh Amendment.

The pamphlet, which runs several pages, makes it very clear that the initiative and referendum powers are not meant to replace or supplant the legislative process, but rather to complement the representative plan of government approved at statehood in 1889 by a convention of mostly Republican delegates.

The pamphlet reads, in part:

Of course, it is not proposed that the people shall do much of the law making, for all have their private affairs to attend to and do not wish to be unduly bothered with these matters.

We shall always need the services of trained legislators, and so long as they give us faithful, disinterested and reasonably wise service, we shall not interfere. But we seldom get such service, and we many times need the power of Direct Legislation so that we may lock the barn before the horse is stolen. Without these powers we are not truly self-governing, but merely elect other men to govern us who have, for the most part, been selected by party bosses and machines.

Under our present system the sole law-making power is vested in the legislature. The great store of integrity and political wisdom that rests in the mass of the people is lost because we allow a few legislators, often controlled by corporate and other selfish interests, to dictate the whole policy of the state. The legislature should advise and lead, but when that body misleads we must have the power to stop it. When this power is once vested in the people, the legislature acts in such a way as to almost obviate the necessity of its use.

Emphasis is theirs.

In a later passage, the Direct Legislation League returns to this argument again, declaring that the initiative, referendum, and recall will provide for “representative government with a people’s check on misrepresentative government.”

The fact that the Seventh Amendment provides for initiatives to the Legislature — as opposed to just initiatives to the people, the only kind most other western states have — is perhaps the best evidence of all that the Framers didn’t intend to abrogate or take away the Legislature’s lawmaking powers.

As their materials make clear, their aim was to give more power to the people, not to take away power from the people’s duly elected representatives.

Taking away power from the people’s duly elected representatives is what the respondents in Eyman v. Wyman want our courts to do, however.

When an initiative to the Legislature is submitted, the respondents want the Legislature’s lawmaking powers on that topic to be frozen in deference to the three prescribed constitutional outcomes for initiatives to the Legislature.

If the Framers had wanted that kind of restriction, it stands to reason they would have included it in the Seventh Amendment. But they didn’t.

Their agenda wasn’t to sabotage representative democracy. They believed in representative democracy, despite its flaws and faults.

Adoption of the Seventh Amendment, they argued, would “make it easier to elect good men and to keep them good after they are elected.”

With this legal challenge, the Legislature is being attacked for having — of all things — listened to all sides of an issue and coming up with a plan to thoughtfully address the concerns raised instead of simply punting the matter to the ballot for the voters to decide… which is what many observers were expecting.

Judging by the briefs he and his attorneys have filed, Eyman doesn’t believe in initiatives to the Legislature. Rather, he believes in initiatives that tie the hands of the Legislature. Accordingly, Eyman is inviting the Supreme Court to pave the way for the initiative power to be further weaponized, so that down the road, it can be used by him and others for all sorts of malicious and destructive hostage-taking schemes.

The Supreme Court should say no to Eyman’s invitation.

The justices should, however, feel free to remind Eyman and Senator Mike Padden that anyone upset with the Legislature’s adoption of I-940 and ESSB 3003 could have arranged for a public vote simply by filing a referendum petition and collecting 129,811 valid signatures within ninety days of the Legislature’s adjournment.

It is ironic that Eyman launched a legal challenge instead of filing a referendum against Initiative 940. If he and Padden truly wanted a public vote, they could have gotten one by securing the resources to mount a successful signature drive.

But then, a public vote isn’t what they’re really after. They are right wing extremists living in a state governed by progressive Democrats — a state where Republicans are currently out of power, and likely to continue to be for the foreseeable future. This legal challenge is a gambit to score a constitutional interpretation the right wing can use to tie the hands of Democratic legislative majorities for years to come.

LIVE from Wenatchee: Candidates address the Washington State Democratic Convention

Good morning again from Wenatchee.

The 2018 Washington State Democratic Convention continues here at the Stanley Civic Center in the heart of the Apple Capital of the World.

Following the opening ceremonies, Temporary Convention Chair Manka Dhinga (D-45th District) recognized candidates running for legislative and other electoral positions to speak for a few minutes each. More than a dozen candidates lined up in front of the stage to speak to the delegates, alternates, and guests.

Many spoke of the need for better education funding.

Valerie Sarratt is a middle school teacher running for the 12th Legislative District (for Position #2). She said: “I expect to get into the House and work for full funding for education, voter rights, and to create communities where we are working together and have a strong economy.”

Sylvia Hammond is running in the 13th LD, a district that’s been deeply red for thirty years. Sylvia thinks Democrats have the momentum to turn the district blue. Like Sarratt, a top priority for her is strengthening Washington’s public schools.

A recurring theme of the speeches was the need for women to run “to nurture and heal our country and state.” (Women are woefully underrepresented at almost every level of government in our country, from local and state to federal.)

Multiple candidates touched on the importance of supporting the party’s standard bearers in rural areas, including Karen Hardy, the party’s 7th LD Senate hopeful. A democracy like the United States shouldn’t have so many uncontested elections, Hardy said, declaring that she’s tired of seeing only Republicans on her ballot.

“Russia gets ballots with one name, Libya gets ballots with one name,” she said. “Washington State will not continue to get ballots with one name on them.” She finished by thanking the crowd and declaring, “Keep it up! Work, work, work!”

Carolyn Long, running for the 3rd Congressional District against entrenched Republican incumbent Jaime Herrera-Beutler, was the next to receive a warm reception from the Convention. She’s a political science professor at Washington State University’s Vancouver branch. Like Manka Dhingra, she says she was inspired to run after Democrats lost the 2016 presidential elections. She said she’s particularly disturbed by the continued polarization of our politics and wants to see a Democratic Congress exercise its oversight powers to rein in the Trump regime.

Tirzah Idahosa, a candidate for the Washington State Senate in the 30th Legislative district, told the Convention: “I am a mother, union member, military brat, disabled, and a care provider.” She explained that she has raised over fifty children in foster care and helped start Democrats for Diversity & Inclusion.

The Washington State Senate has not had any black women members since Rosa Franklin retired several years ago, and Idahosa hopes to change that this year.

Everett Maroon, a 16th LD hopeful and a member of the state party’s Advocacy Committee, described how he took a struggling nonprofit that supported people with HIV and turned it into a $500,000/year organization. He added that he would be the first transgender person in the Washington State Legislature.

Candidates running in the 12th, 3rd, 13th, 6th and 35th Legislative Districts are also here at the Convention, as well as candidates for Spokane County Clerk and Jefferson County Commissioner.

LIVE from Wenatchee: 2018 State Democratic Convention kicks off with patriotic celebration

Good morning from Wenatchee!

This weekend, the Washington State Democratic Party is holding its 2018 Convention, the last event in the party’s biannual caucus and convention cycle, at the Wenatchee Convention Center in the Apple Capital of the World.

As we have in years past, NPI is offering live coverage of the goings-on at the Convention. Today’s general session just got underway a short time ago after being called to order by State Party Chair Tina Podlodowski.

In keeping with last night’s declaration by East Wenatchee City Councilmember that Democrats are proud patriots who love their country and want to take it forward, the convention’s first moments were filled with pageantry.

Delegates participated in both the Pledge of Allegiance and a moment of silence. The moment of silence was offered for the purpose of reflecting on the meaning of the Allegiance and the need to eliminate ongoing violence and injustice in the United States. Delegates held up #JusticeForAll signs during and after the Pledge of Allegiance, emphasizing the final words of the patriotic pledge.

Delegates were also treated to a stirring rendition of America the Beautiful by local artist, Michael Carlos.

Following the pageantry, the delegates were welcomed to Wenatchee by Chelan County Democrats Chair Bill Miller, Douglas Country Chair Karen Keieman, and 12th LD Democrats Chair Dan Maher. “We welcome you to North Central Washington and hope you come back often. Go out and do good work”, Keieman said.

State Senator Manka Dhingra (D-45th District) was appointed Temporary Chair of the Convention and will preside until a Permanent Chair is elected.

Following the appointment, representatives from the Caldwell Confederate Tribe and the Yakima Nation stood up and asked to be recognized.

Although Podlodowski requested that the convention stay on time and stick to the schedule, Dhingra allowed them a moment to speak. The representatives sang a traditional song of the Caldwell Native Americans that spoke of love, unity, and strength. It was a powerful and fitting way to kick off the Convention.

Next, candidates currently running for office were asked to come up to the stage to introduce themselves and the positions they’re running for.

These Democratic candidates are teachers, CPAs, firefighters, healthcare professionals, union representative, current representatives, nonprofit leaders, and military veterans who are running for legislative and congressional offices.

Credentials Co-Chairs Javier Valdez and our very own Andrew Villeneuve then took the stage to deliver the Final Report of the Convention Credentials Committee.

Javier and Andrew reported that four hundred and sixty-nine delegates have signed in thus far, with sixty-nine alternates signed in. Forty-nine alternates are eligible to be seated. If all alternates are seated, then the total number of eligible voters who may vote here in the hall would rise to five hundred and twelve.

Next, the ceremonial roll call of the counties and legislative districts of Washington State was conducted by Rob Dolin, one of NPI’s founding boardmembers. Rob asked each delegation to describe themselves in just three words.

Responses to this difficult task were a mix of humor and Democratic sentiment.

Some of the three-word phrases included “We can count”, “Keeping it blue”, “Vote for Brown”, “Let’s go Mariners”, “Rise and run”, “Healthcare for all”, “Keep families together”, “Lock him up”, and “Flip the 8th”. Others did not abide by the three word limit, offering up longer responses such as “we pick the best apples”.

Many delegations simply cheered as their districts and counties were called.

Upon the completion of the roll call, more Democratic candidates were recognized to address the assembled delegates and alternates.

The first was congressional candidate for the 4th District, Christine Brown.

Brown opened her remarks by stating that she is “running to take a big table to Washington, D.C. with a seat for all of you”.

She reiterated the importance of ensuring every voice is heard with an especially loud and urgent call for comprehensive immigration reform. Brown also touched on issues of environmental policy and doubling down on renewable resources. She asked Democrats all over the country to get involved, canvass, and advocate for Democrats running in competitive districts in Eastern Washington.

“We want to turn Eastern Washington Brown“, she concluded, vocalizing Democratic support for both herself and her Democratic colleague, Lisa Brown, running in the 5th Congressional District against Cathy McMorris Rodgers.

Stay tuned for more news and analysis coming to you live from the Washington State Democratic Convention in Wenatchee.

Coke, Pepsi pour more money into Initiative 1634; measure now has $2.9 million behind it

A torrent of money from Big Soda is causing the coffers of the campaign to qualify Initiative 1634 to the November 2018 ballot to fizz over, newly filed reports submitted to Washington State’s Public Disclosure Commission show.

I-1634 is a measure backed by Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Dr Pepper Snapple Group, and Red Bull to prohibit any local jurisdictions (aside from Seattle, that is) from levying taxes on the sale of the unhealthy, sugary beverages that their bottlers manufacture, and which they market for consumption around the globe.

The quartet got the I-1634 effort rolling last month with $1.9 million in seed money. In May, they poured another $1 million into the campaign’s war chest. It has now raised a total of $2.9 million, with most coming from Coke and Pepsi.

The Washington Food Industry Association, which represents independent and family owned grocers, has also contributed $20,000. Take a look:

Contributions to Initiative 1634 (so far)


$2,311,088.48 of the $2,960,000 has already been spent.

A veritable army of consultants, lobbyists, lawyers, and public relations specialists are doing work from the campaign, from Perkins Coie (legal) to Bluefront Strategies (marketing, campaign planning) to the Dewey Square Group and its subcontractors (signature gathering and assorted other services).

The campaign is being marketed as “Yes for Affordable Groceries”, but a more honest name would be “Yes to Cheap High Fructose Corn Syrup in a Bottle!”

NPI anticipates that Big Soda will sink at least $8 million more into the campaign to pass I-1634 — and possibly much more.

Coke, Pepsi, Dr Pepper Snapple Group, and Red Bull all make sugary beverages (including their eponymous products as well as Sprite, Mountain Dew, Fanta, Gatorade, etc.) and have a vested interest in keeping the prices of their sugary products low so as to encourage people to continue buying them.

And that’s despite the fact that Coke and Pepsi have already diversified their product lines so as to be less dependent on soda. As most readers probably know, Coke and Pepsi are also in the business of selling bottled water in single use containers, which is environmentally destructive. It’s a business they’ve invested a lot of money in creating, as Annie Leonard explains in The Story of Bottled Water:

NPI has taken a position opposing Initiative 1634. Although it is destined to appear on the November ballot thanks to the big money behind it, we urge you to decline to sign the measure if asked, and to vote NO this November. Cities and counties shouldn’t be precluded from raising money for public health needs just because Big Soda wants to keep prices of unhealthy sugary beverages as low as possible.

Book Review: Barbara Ehrenreich is old enough to die, but still has plenty to say

Barbara Ehrenreich’s Natural Causes is a short, solid piece of prose about what it means to suffer from age, accepting the reality of death, and the sorts of things a person ought to consider when weighing both.

Natural Causes by Barbara Ehrenreich

Natural Causes by Barbara Ehrenreich (Hardcover, TwelveBooks)

At seventy-six, the journalist and political activist says she’s realized that she’s now “old enough to die”, that is, her death will no longer be a surprise anyone or require any explanation beyond “natural causes”.

Therefore, she isn’t going to waste what time she has left on doctors visits, checkups, and examinations that have only a dubious relationship to longevity and certainly not to enjoyable longevity.

This realization serves as a jumping-off point for her to explore — mostly critically — all sorts of topics related to medicine, aging, and death.

The subtitle is “An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying, and Killing Ourselves to Live Longer”, but that doesn’t come close to fully describing her scope.

Ehrenreich is likely known to most people for her 2001 book Nickel and Dimed, and around that time was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Had she actually been living off of Wal-Mart wages and its related healthcare restrictions instead of investigating what it’s like, she might not have discovered the cancer then or survived it. But, as she says, calculations about how one ought to spend their time change from your late-50s to your mid-70s.

I also read this shortly after two studies of inequality and mortality rates received more publicity by way of a Washington Post analysis, most provocatively titled “Seniors Are More Conservative Because the Poor Don’t Survive to Become Seniors” when shared by New York Magazine.

This book also is not about that aspect of death and dying, although Ehrenreich touches on these related issues occasionally. Instead, it’s highly personal and particular to its author, suffering no shortcomings for that. Ehrenreich is very good at what she does, and writes with the confidence of someone who knows it.

She’s engaging and easy-to-follow even as she explains complicated concepts like cellular immunology — the field for which she originally earned her PhD—or when providing context to literary references, from Philip Roth to Shakespeare.

She knows she’s getting older but still has worthwhile things to say, and if she ever did tip-toe around saying them, she certainly isn’t going to waste time doing it now. This is two hundred and seven pages of pithy, burly prose.

Taken as a whole, though, Natural Causes comes across a bit like a writer who had a notebook full of subjects she was interested in, and rather than pick one to focus on depth, she dumped them all into her next contractural project.

It reads as a series of essays loosely grouped much more than the sequential chapters as labeled and vaguely segued.

Ultimately, I suspect Ehrenreich followed her own advice.

This is in no way slapdash, but the amount of extra work it would have required to turn this into a more coherent, polished product wouldn’t have elevated it that much more, and it wasn’t likely to push any of her earlier life’s accomplishments out of their place in the “obituary resume”, in any case.

Instead we got an entertaining look at some of her current concerns late in life:

  • the disregard of modern medicine for patients as people and disregard for women’s pain in particular;
  • the relative merits of New Age quackery and similarity of established medicine to ritual behavior;
  • exercise as a form of exerting control over something in a mad world and how smoking cigarettes provides a similar function for low-wage workers;
  • the agency of macrophages in fighting infection but also spreading cancers;
  • how the sense of consciousness that evolved to be useful also turns against us;
  • and how ego-destroying hallucinogens can help make death less frightening.

She has a mind that’s not predictable, so you’re never sure just where she’s about to go or will end up.

If you squint, there’s a through-line in there, but it’s a meandering one.

Natural Causes is delightful, sometimes disgusting, often disquieting, and always thought-provoking whenever Ehrenreich is on the attack, which is her default. When it comes to solutions, she definitely has something that works for her, at the age and place she is in life.

I don’t know how applicable it will be for others, but she also seems not to care to convince you of anything in particular at this point in her life.

SIFF Documentary Review: “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” Come for the nostalgia, stay for the uplifting truth about Mister Rogers

“Love is at the root of everything… love or the lack of it.” Fred Rogers stares directly into the camera, looking slightly melancholy as he finishes his thought.

Rogers, better known to generations of American children as Mr. Rogers from his public television show “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood”, seemed to do everything with great love. This was clear from all the footage of Rogers and interviews with friends and family in the new documentary “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” which I viewed as part of the Seattle International Film Festival.

The film opens in theaters this week.

It was his particular love and care for children that fueled him to write and star in 895 episodes of the show over the course of 32 years, from 1968 to 2001.

Rogers initially retired from the show in December 2000, but after the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001, he was asked to come back and do some more episodes to help children and parents cope with the tragedy.

In “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” we also learn that Rogers actually had a television show before “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood”. In 1954, he was fascinated by the potential power of the new medium of television and delayed his plans of going to Presbyterian seminary to instead start a program called “The Children’s Corner.”

After a while he became unsatisfied with that show and went to seminary. He also spent a lot of time in the 1950’s learning from many people at the University of Pittsburgh that were doing a lot of groundbreaking research on early childhood education and child psychology.

“Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” was what Rogers created based on everything he had learned about child development and from his previous TV work, and was impassioned to do it all with a sense of ministry. “Television has a chance of building a real community of the whole country,” he said.

One thing that really made his show unique was that they would address real issues on the show, it wasn’t just all fun and fast-paced like many children’s shows were and are. Things that were happening in the Neighborhood of Make Believe often mirrored things that were happening in real life.

In one episode, Rogers invites the character of Officer Clemmons, played by Francois Clemmons, who is African American, to take a break and join Rogers, who is sitting in his yard with his feet in a children’s pool.

Rogers was incredibly bold to make a statement like this in 1969, when public pools were one of many locales currently embroiled in the segregation debate.

The show also often focused on emotions and feelings. Rogers firmly believed that “children have deep feelings, just the way everybody does” and that adults need to share with children that “feelings are manageable and mentionable.”

In one episode, Daniel Striped Tiger sings a song called “Sometimes I Wonder if I’m a Mistake,” in which he essentially talks about being insecure.

He feels weak, scared, and like he is a fake. Lady Aberlin tried to reassure him that he is fine as he is, that he is her best friend and she likes him.

Now most shows, if they even had a song or dialogue as deep as the words to “Sometimes I Wonder if I’m a Mistake,” would at this point have Daniel accept Lady Aberlin’s comfort and feel better, and everything moves along all Happily Ever After.

But not Mister Rogers.

Daniel and Lady Aberlin each simultaneously sing their verses again, then Daniel presses her further, asking if she really likes him as he is.

Daniel continuing to doubt himself and to struggling to believe that Lady Aberlin really cares for him the way he is shows how normal it is for people to feel that way, and how hard it is to overcome doubt.

It was at this point in the press screening of the film that I heard some gasping noises from the man next to me. I tentatively turned and looked past the empty seat in between us, and realized that he was crying.

This is why Mister Rogers was so important.

He helped young children (and adults!) understand and deal with their emotions, and let them know that having strong feelings is not just ok, but normal.

Talking about what he does, Rogers said: “I give an expression of care each day to each child.”

He wanted every child to know that they are special, that each person is valuable, “that you don’t ever have to do anything sensational for people to love you.”

Rogers was sensational, and he was loved by generations of American children.

I highly recommend seeing “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” to gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for Rogers and his work, and perhaps be uplifted and inspired to live a more mission-driven life yourself.

Voters still want to bolster funding for public schools with a capital gains tax, NPI poll finds

The McCleary case may have come to an end today, but Washington voters continue to believe public schools are underfunded, and support has grown while opposition has fallen for levying a capital gains tax on the wealthy to ensure our state meets its paramount duty of providing an amply funded education for all children residing within its borders, NPI’s most recent statewide survey has found.

58% of six hundred and seventy-five likely 2018 Washington voters surveyed by Public Policy Polling last month said they support a capital gains tax to fund education, up from 57% one year ago. 37% said they opposed it, down by four points from one year ago. 40% expressed strong support for a capital gains tax.

Respondents were asked:

Do you strongly support, somewhat support, somewhat oppose or strongly oppose taxing the capital gains of wealthy individuals to help pay for public schools, colleges and universities?

Answers were as follows:

  • Support: 58%
    • Strongly support: 40%
    • Somewhat support: 18%
  • Oppose: 37%
    • Somewhat oppose: 10%
    • Strongly oppose: 27%
  • Not sure: 5%

Our survey of six hundred and seventy-five likely 2018 Washington State voters was in the field May 22nd-23rd, 2018. The survey used a blended methodology with automated phone calls to landlines and online interviews of cell phone only respondents. The poll was conducted by Public Policy Polling for NPI, and has a margin of error of +/- 3.8% at the 95% confidence level.

NPI began asking Washingtonians about their views on a capital gains tax in 2015, finding 55% in support then, with 43% strongly supportive.

Our 2018 finding continues to show support above this baseline, demonstrating voters still want to see the wealthy step up and pay their fair share to support our public schools, colleges, and universities.

One year after legislators increased property taxes in urban and suburban school districts at the insistence of Republicans, voters continue to believe a capital gains tax is an appropriate solution to ongoing funding problems in our public schools.

In the 2018 short session, House Democrats once again proposed a capital gains tax to fund public education, and it received a key committee vote.

Despite strong support among Senate Democrats, the proposal, championed by retiring Representative Kris Lytton, did not make it out of the Legislature.

But our research shows voters remain enthusiastic about this idea. They want a capital gains tax to be included in the Legislature’s 2019 agenda.

Our survey also found that voters across the state continue to believe new revenue is needed to support public education, despite the state’s briefs claiming they have complied with the Constitution’s paramount duty clause (Article IX, Section 1).

Respondents were asked:

Do you strongly agree, somewhat agree, somewhat disagree or strongly disagree with the following statement: Washington’s public schools are underfunded, and we need to raise state revenue to fully fund them?

61% of respondents said they agreed with that statement, while only 37% disagreed. Answers in each category were as follows:

  • Agree: 61%
    • Strongly agree: 37%
    • Somewhat agree: 24%
  • Disagree: 34%
    • Somewhat disagree: 18%
    • Strongly disagree: 16%
  • Not sure: 5%

Last year, the Legislature adopted an education funding plan designed to comply with the Supreme Court’s orders in the McCleary case. Justices found that lawmakers’ work was incomplete, and last fall ordered them to come up with another $1 billion in funding, which legislators delivered in the 2018 session.

Many parents, teachers, and school administrators believe the new funding is still insufficient to meet the needs of students in the classroom.

The Olympian editorialized several weeks ago that the “state is not done fixing K-12 school funding,” noting that gaps in essential funding persist, and school districts are facing another funding cliff next year.

The consistent support found in NPI’s polling for new, progressive revenue to fund public schools should give legislators all the confidence they need to pursue reforms that will not just amply provide for the education of all youth as our Constitution requires, but do it in a way that is just, responsible, and equitable.

Gavin Newsom and Dianne Feinstein secure top spots in California’s marquee contests

California was one of eight states that held elections yesterday in what was the largest day of voting so far this midterm election cycle.

Like Washington, California operates under a chaotic, highly problematic Top Two system, where only the top two candidates, regardless of party affiliation, advance to the general election in November.

In the race to replace Jerry Brown as Governor of California, Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom cruised to a first place victory, securing 33.4% of the vote in a field littered with a whopping twenty-seven candidates. (Brown, who remains popular, cannot seek reelection to a third term due to term limits.)

Newsom, also the former mayor of San Francisco, was heavily favored to claim the top spot. The more interesting race, however, was not who would place first, but who would prevail for second place to compete against Newsom.

Prior to the election, the primary contenders for that second spot were thought to be Democrat Antonio Villaraigosa, a former mayor of Los Angeles, and Republican businessman John Cox, whom Donald Trump endorsed last month.

Due to California’s Top Two system, there was a possibility that Republicans could be completely shut out of the governor’s race altogether.

However, much to the Republican Party’s and Newsom’s relief, Antonio Villaraigosa did not secure enough votes Tuesday to make it to the general election. Instead, John Cox won the second spot with 26.2% of the statewide vote.

It is now very likely that Newsom will win the governor’s race with ease because California is overwhelmingly Democratic.

In the state’s other marquee race, however, Democrats are assured of victory. That’s because two Democrats are currently in the lead for the office of United States Senator, a position currently held by Dianne Feinstein.

Feinstein, who is serving her fifth term, had no trouble scoring a decisive first place finish on Tuesday, as most observers expected she would.

Feinstein will face fellow Democrat Kevin de León, the Democratic Leader in the California State Senate, who secured the number two spot.

At the California Democratic annual convention in February, the state Democratic Party failed to endorse either de León or Feinstein.

They did, however, come close to backing de León. He received fifty-four percent of the delegate vote compared to Feinstein’s thirty-seven percent.

Activists in California may be fired up about de Leon, but he’s still facing an uphill battle. With high name recognition, a loyal California Democratic following, and with Barack Obama’s endorsement, it will be hard for any Democrat — even one as progressive and well-liked as de León — to unseat Feinstein in November.

That said, Feinstein is running well under fifty percent in this preliminary round, which is a worrying sign for any incumbent. (Feinstein currently has 43.8% of the vote statewide, while De León has 11.3%.) De Leon will definitely benefit in November from being Feinstein’s only opponent.

“I’m running for the United States Senate to protect California in what are difficult and contentious times,” Feinstein said in a video message released following the closing of the polls.”This means standing up for our values as your United States Senator as well as working to pass legislation important to us in California.”

“This include a commitment to universal health care, to economic opportunity for all, to the protection and preservation of our environment, to raising the federal minimum wage to $15, to solving the water problem which is tough, to civil rights, voting rights, LGBT rights and to a woman’s right to choose.”

“It also means protecting our Dreamers from Donald Trump’s immigration policies, ending the forced separation of immigrant children from their families. The enactment of common-sense gun law is also long overdue.”

“Together, in this election, we must dedicate ourselves to those values, because they have made California a great state, ending the one-party control of our federal government and moving our nation away from division and polarization.”

“Again, thanks so much for your support and for your faith in me. I’m not going to let you down. Now it’s on to November!”

De León, meanwhile, sent out an email thanking his supporters for helping propel him to a second place finish, allowing him to advance to the second round.

“I’m humbled, proud, and so thankful to let you know that because of your efforts, I’ll be advancing to the general election to challenge Senator Dianne Feinstein,” his campaign wrote. “In yesterday’s [Top Two] elections, the overwhelming majority of voters called for a referendum on a broken establishment in Washington D.C. that has stopped working for the people of California.”

“It’s time for a new approach. This nation was built on the promise that anyone willing to risk it all to come here – regardless of who they are or where they came from – could have a fair shot at a hard day’s work, afford a roof over their head, affordable healthcare, and an equal opportunity to succeed.”

“It’s time Californians had a United States Senator committed to making good on that promise. Voters deserve a spirited debate in the coming months on the issues they care about most and the challenges facing our state. I look forward to engaging my opponent on the debate stage as we face-off in November.”

“And most importantly, I look forward to continuing this fight with you. It’s this team that made our win last night possible. And it’s this team that will advance our progressive vision forward in November. Today, we celebrate. Tomorrow, we get back to work on bringing our California values to Washington, D.C.”

The fight for net neutrality isn’t over yet

Net neutrality ceases to be the law of the land in the U.S. as of June 11th.

In less than two weeks, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) like AT&T, Verizon and Comcast will be free to undermine an essential principle of Internet freedom: equal treatment of all traffic, regardless of who’s on either end.

Since 2015, net neutrality has been codified as a set of Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulations that require Internet Service Providers (ISPs) like AT&T, Verizon and Comcast to treat all online platforms, content and users equally.

Without net neutrality, ISPs will be allowed to charge for access to different platforms and content. This preferential treatment will turn a level playing field into one that heavily favors the immensely powerful ISPs and those who are connected enough or wealthy enough to obtain that preferential treatment.

The effects will be devastating.

While casual conversations focus on whether we’ll have to pay more for Netflix, that’s a minor concern compared to what’s really at stake.

The loss of net neutrality is a threat to innovation, to small businesses, to startups, to schools, to nonprofits like NPI, to people in rural areas, and to low income families. And it’s no exaggeration to say that it’s a threat to democracy.

In the Pacific Northwest, two ISPs dominate most markets: Comcast and CenturyLink. For many businesses and households there’s effectively just one option. This lack of competition limits incentive for innovation and creates a dangerous consolidation of power in a couple large, out-of-state corporations.

Imagine if those ISPs weren’t required to treat all traffic equally.

Not only could they charge more for services like Netflix, they could give preferential treatment based on political and religious viewpoints.

Executives running your ISP could decide to provide unlimited access to some platforms and content, while charging for access to others.

Do you want to pay extra to access Gmail because your ISP owns Yahoo? Would you like to pay more for access to CNN than you would for Fox?

Don’t laugh. Such schemes may sound farfetched, but they become real possibilities in a world without net neutrality.

The threat is becoming more ominous given the consolidation and vertical integration that’s been taking place, combining control of network traffic with control over the media and content that travel across those networks. Comcast is leading this trend, having already acquired full ownership of NBCUniversal in 2013.

Imagine the effect this would have on low-income households. Comcast’s bad practices, including traffic shaping, could influence which news outlets they visit.

And what about innovation and startups?

Our Northwest economy has benefited immensely from new companies entering the marketplace and competing with established players.

Companies like Redfin, which is making great strides to improve the cost and efficiency of home sales, might never have taken flight without net neutrality.

So far, votes in Washington, D.C. and state capitals have broken mostly on party lines, with Democrats backing net neutrality and Republicans backing Ajit Pai’s effort to allow the likes of Comcast to dictate what happens to the Internet.

But earlier this month, the United States Senate voted to reinstate FCC’s 2015 Open Internet Order. Tipping the scales were three Republicans who voted with Democrats and independents to restore net neutrality.

This is promising, as it suggests some Republicans are willing to stand up to Pai. But the battle to protect a free and open Internet is far from over.

Take Action!

We need a concerted effort, on multiple levels, to win this fight.

We cannot assume the House will follow the Senate’s lead and it’s unclear what would happen should the resolution reach Trump’s desk.

Here’s what you can do:

  1. Send a message to your U.S. Representative asking them to support net neutrality, regardless of their position. Then, consider helping those in Republican-held congressional districts (like WA-08) convince their elected representatives that net neutrality is best for everyone and deserves to be supported regardless of one’s party affiliation or ideology.
  2. Use social media to ensure the people you know and interact with understand what’s at stake, and encourage them to act.
  3. Contact your state and local representatives and push for action at the state and local level. This past session, Washington’s Legislature approved its own net neutrality law. Other states should now do likewise.

We all ought to be able to agree that a free and open Internet is worth having.

Large companies in the business of providing Internet access cannot be allowed to engage in discriminatory business practices. Each of us ought to be able to freely choose the shows we watch, the voices we hear, or the stories we read without having to pay extra or put up with a slower connection.

SIFF Documentary Review: “The Most Dangerous Year” highlights the urgency of the fight for transgender rights

Faced with the challenge of making a film on a topic that was so personal to her family, Vlada Knowlton knew that she had no choice but to push through.

The Most Dangerous Year

The Most Dangerous Year
Director: Vlada Knowlton
Release Year: 2018
Running time: 90 minutes
Watch trailer

“There are personal topics that are simply inspirational and then there are personal topics that are also matters of life and death. And this one, unfortunately, more closely fit the latter category.”

“The Most Dangerous Year”, premiering at SIFF 2018 next week, gets its title from a report issued by the Human Rights Campaign that warned that 2016 was going to be the most dangerous year for transgender Americans.

The film chronicles the fight in Washington over so-called “bathroom bills” through the stories of a number of families, including Knowlton’s, with a transgender child.

Knowlton and her husband have two daughters and one son. Their youngest daughter was born with a body typically associated with being male, and thus they were raising her as a boy. But at age three, she started to tell her parents that she was a girl. When she was being socialized and treated as a boy, their daughter was unhappy and struggling, but once they accepted what she was telling them, that she was a girl, and started treating her as a girl, she blossomed.

In 2016, their transgender daughter was a spunky, confident, five year old.

But the specter of coming fight for her most basic rights was a concern for the whole family, as well as for the support system of other families with transgender children that the Knowltons were a part of.

So Knowlton set out to make this film to document their fight as well as to educate more people about what being transgender really means, which she believes will ultimately lead to greater support for the transgender community.

When asked if the deep personal nature of the topic for her family ultimately made it more challenging to make than film, she said that was definitely the case.

I think this particular topic, one which held my own child’s life and future in the balance, made the process of making the film more challenging..”

“I think one of my top challenges here was to make sure that I didn’t allow a sense of despair or fear cloud my judgement when going through each stage of the filmmaking process. It was definitely an exercise in compartmentalization, the likes of which I’d never attempted before.”

Particularly tough, Knowlton said, was “having to interview or film people who don’t consider my daughter sane or who don’t think her core identity is real.”

In Washington State, and in cities and states across the country, bills were being proposed that prohibited people from using restrooms that match their gender identity, and instead requiring that all people use the restrooms based on their genitalia or the sex that they were assigned at birth.

Anti-discrimination laws in Washington State have allowed people that are transgender to use the bathroom, washroom, or restroom that matches their identity since 2006, but as militant right wing radicals across the country rallied around the cause of enforcing their patriarchal values system on everyone else, several groups in Washington began clamoring for legislation here.

First, six different bills were initially proposed in the state Legislature, with one, Senate Bill 6443 having public committee hearings and making it all the way to the Senate floor for a full vote after it was passed by the Republican-led committee.

Families featured in the film testified at the hearings and participated in rallies in front of the Capitol Building in Olympia.

Thankfully the bill lost by just one vote, as a few Republicans split with the rest of their party and voted against taking basic rights away from transgender individuals.

Unfortunately, the fight was not over, as a right wing organization in Washington that had led the fight against domestic partnerships in 2009 and against the state’s marriage equality law in 2012 created a group with the misleading name “Just Want Privacy” with the goal of collecting enough signatures to get a partial repeal of the state’s anti-discrimination rules on the ballot.

The Knowltons and their support group of parents made a plan increase their activism in order to ensure initiative effort would not be able to get the required number of signatures. While most of the families were normally pretty private and not wanting to draw attention to the fact that the had a transgender child, they all agreed they had to become more public in order to reach and educate more people, so that people would realize “our kids are just kids” and that there was no reason to fear transgender people using bathrooms that fit their gender identity.

The Washington Won’t Discriminate campaign kicked off in April of 2016 to counter Just Want Privacy’s signature collection efforts.

The coalition consisted of over five-hundred businesses, labor unions, non-profits and political organizations, including Equal Rights Washington, Legal Voice, Moms Rising, and the Gender Justice League, as well as NPI’s Permanent Defense project.

Other important supporters of transgender rights featured in the film are Aiden Key, a transgender man who is the founder and leader of the support group for parents of transgender kids that the Knowltons participate in, and Washington State Lieutenant Governor Cyrus Habib.

Habib powerfully addresses the specious main argument of those who advocate for so-called “bathroom bills” by claiming women and children will be at risk of some kind of victimization or assault.

“Let’s be clear: there is no documented evidence that people who are transgender are any more likely to be predators than the general population,” Habib says. “There’s no reason to believe that individuals using the bathroom that fits their gender identity leads to any of these sorts of acts.”

Habib then points out the political motivations for these empty arguments. “I understand that there are people out there who are being told that allowing transgender individuals to use the correct bathroom will lead to danger for themselves, or even worse, their children, and that can be a very powerful threat or a very powerful way to instill fear in people…”

“It’s an attempt to broaden the appeal of this socially conservative measures, by getting people to see a bogeyman where there simply isn’t one.”

That analysis matches the data from the two hundred and twenty-five cities across the country that have transgender anti-discrimination laws, as there is zero evidence of an increase in crimes or complaints.

Thankfully, Just Want Privacy was unable to collect enough signatures to get their discriminatory bill on the ballot in 2016. They tried again in 2017, and also failed. At the time “The Most Dangerous Year” was completed, it was believed that Just Want Privacy would try again in 2018, but no such effort has materialized. The group appears to have given up on qualifying an initiative to the statewide ballot for now.

I asked Knowlton if this made her feel like at least the issue of public bathroom use is now fairly safe in Washington State. She answered that she suspects the group is waiting to see the results of similar initiates in other parts of the country this year. She sites one that failed in Anchorage, Alaska in April, current signature-gathering efforts in Montana for an initiative to potentially go on the ballot, and a measure that will be voted on in Massachusetts in November asking voters if they want to repeal or preserve their current transgender anti-discrimination law.

“I don’t think we can say that transgender rights are truly safe in Washington until they are safe across the country,” Knowlton said.

“And that, of course, would also require a commitment to equality and civil rights at the federal level. So there’s still a lot of work to be done.”

“There are battles on several fronts right now,” she says.

“The federal government is making attempts to roll back non-discrimination protections for transgender people in healthcare. Obviously that would be devastating to trans people and their families.”

“The Trump administration has also recently rescinded protections for transgender prisoners. That is particularly dangerous for transgender women inmates who are exposed to an inordinately higher rate of rape and abuse. The Department of Education has indicated it won’t protect transgender students from discrimination in their public school districts. And I think we’ve all heard about the administration’s ongoing attempts to ban transgender soldiers from our military.”

“These are all malicious attacks against a minority population and these attacks rely on one thing and one thing only: the majority’s ignorance, ” Knowlton adds.

“Mainstream science and medicine have already established that transgender people are not mentally ill; that they are born transgender; that being transgender in and of itself is not any sort of pathology but is rather part of the natural diversity of the human race.”

The film features a number of medical experts explaining the science, including Dr. Kevin Hatfield of The Polyclinic in Seattle.

He explains that a person being transgender is not something anyone has control over, but that it is determined genetically, much like how we inherit eye color or are born with left- or right-hand dominance.

Knowlton feels that if more people were aware of these facts, it would go a long way toward ending discrimination. “I think that one of the most important things we as allies can do is educate ourselves and others on these types of facts. Education leads to understanding, which leads to justice.”

Reading Knowlton recommends for further information include:

  • this guide for supporting and caring for trans kids put together by the Human Rights Campaign and the American Academy of Pediatrics;
  • this analysis of previous research on supporting gender diverse children by the College of Family Physicians of Canada;
  • this literature review from Cornell University on the importance of transitioning for mental wellbeing;
  • and, for those who don’t a mind denser, scientific journal article, this article explains how the genitals and the gender of the brain are formed at different stages of fetal development.

Explains Knowlton: “Those two systems are independent of each other and it has been established that a fetus that develops a male reproductive tract can sometimes develop a brain with a female gender identity and vice versa. So this article both underscores the biological underpinnings of being born transgender or cisgender and offers some hypotheses of how this might happen.”

The National Center for Transgender Equality is also a great resource for information and for starting to take action. You can sign up for their email list, check out their Action Centers with detailed info on specific issues like health care and schools, or make a donation to support their work.

“The Most Dangerous Year” is also great first step towards educating yourself on transgender rights and what is happening locally in Washington State.

If you are in the Seattle area, I highly recommend getting tickets to one of the SIFF showings. After SIFF the film will be going to other festivals, so like and follow the Facebook page to find out where it will be going next and get details of future screenings as they are scheduled.

Meet the candidates vying to succeed Kris Lytton in the 40th LD: Alex Ramel

Editor’s Note: This is the first installment in a series about the candidates vying to succeed Representative Kris Lytton in Washington’s 40th Legislative District.

It’s not easy being a state legislator, but there doesn’t seem to be a shortage of people who want the job. In Washington’s 40th Legislative District, where vaunted State Representative Kris Lytton is retiring after many years of service, four Democrats and two Republicans are vying to be her successor. The district includes San Juan County as well as portions of Whatcom and Skagit Counties.

Among them is Alex Ramel.

Ramel grew up in Denver, but has been in Washington State for nearly twenty years. He attended Western Washington University’s Huxley College of the Environment where he earned a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Policy and Planning. He has worked in environmental policy since graduating in 2006.

Ramel started his career helping city and county governments with climate action planning. This led to a job at Sustainable Connection as Energy and Policy Director, where he developed an energy efficiency campaign for homes and small businesses.

He was instrumental in the success of the Community Energy Challenge which, since its inception, has helped approximately five hundred businesses cut their energy costs. It’s also helped approximately two thousand people and families reduce their monthly energy bills in Whatcom, Skagit, Island and San Juan counties.

The Community Energy Challenge has also created several dozen living wage jobs. Ramel says the program is considered the most successful of its kind in the country.

Ramel has also been active in local politics.

He served on the board for Washington Conservation Voters, helping to get progressives and environmental advocates elected to public office.

In 2011, he strongly opposed a proposed coal export terminal in Cherry Point. It would have been the largest of six coal export projects proposed in Washington and Oregon, and would have doubled Washington’s carbon footprint. As a volunteer, Ramel coordinated the campaigns of four different progressive candidates and ultimately flipped the city council from a majority of independents to democrats.

“The skillset I bring is being able finds ways to work together, finding collaboration opportunities, and doing the hard work and sweat equity of building trust,” Ramel says. This is especially true in his current job at, where the current priority is resisting oil industry expansion projects, and where Ramel has successfully found ways to collaborate with (instead of alienate) refinery workers.

In fact, Ramel was endorsed this week by the United Steelworkers Local 12-591.

Ramel was encouraged to run by Representative Beth Doglio (D-22nd District) when it was announced that Lytton would not be seeking reelection.

Aside from working to protect Washington’s air, water, and soil, Ramel wants to make affordable housing more accessible. After speaking with over five hundred people in his district, Hamel says that roughly two-thirds of them expressed concern about how hard the increasing price of housing was hitting them.

As President of the board of Kulshan Community Land Trust, he has experience with permanent affordable homeowner projects, as well as planning the budget for affordable housing construction projects.

Hamel is a single father and says his sixteen-year-old son is his “number one campaigner.” He has a little less than eleven weeks left to make his pitch to voters before the deadline arrives to return ballots in Washington’s Top Two election.

No surprise: NPI poll finds Washingtonians don’t like Donald Trump’s job performance

Washington State voted for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election and has been a hotbed of resistance activity since Donald Trump’s Electoral College victory a year and a half ago, so it’s not too surprising that most Washingtonians don’t have a favorable opinion of Trump’s job performance — if we can even call it that.

A new survey commissioned by NPI finds that three in five Washingtonians (59%) disapprove of the job Trump has been doing, while only 35% approve.

6% said they were not sure.

(And we’re not sure why six percent of the respondents to the survey said they were not sure, given how polarizing and media dominant Trump is.)

What’s really interesting, though, is that our survey found that Trump is underwater in every region in the state, not just in Puget Sound. It so happens many rural Washingtonians aren’t happy with Trump either.

Here are the numbers again for the entire sample:

QUESTION: Do you approve or disapprove of President Donald Trump’s job performance?


  • Disapprove: 59%
  • Approve: 35%
  • Not sure: 6%

Our survey of six hundred and seventy-five likely 2018 Washington State voters was in the field May 22nd-23rd, 2018. The survey used a blended methodology with automated phone calls to landlines and online interviews of cell phone only respondents. The poll was conducted by Public Policy Polling for NPI, and has a margin of error of +/- 3.8% at the 95% confidence level.

And now, by region:

QUESTION: Do you approve or disapprove of President Donald Trump’s job performance?


  • King County
    • Disapprove: 70%
    • Approve: 24%
    • Not sure: 5%
  • North Puget Sound
    • Disapprove: 54%
    • Approve: 41%
    • Not sure: 5%
  • South Sound
    • Disapprove: 56%
    • Approve: 37%
    • Not sure: 7%
  • Olympic Peninsula and Southwest Washington
    • Disapprove: 59%
    • Approve: 36%
    • Not sure: 5%
  • Eastern Washington
    • Disapprove: 48%
    • Approve: 46%
    • Not sure: 6%

Yes, even in Eastern Washington, Trump is not above fifty percent.

This is an ominous sign for the Republican Party.

Trump is obviously still popular with his rabid base (and will continue to be), but his polarizing, destructive politics and terrible policies have alienated a lot of people, including in Republican-friendly regions. That reinforces the notion that districts like Washington’s 5th could be in play this autumn. The 5th is currently represented by Republican Cathy McMorris Rodgers, but it might not be after November.

McMorris Rodgers is facing a challenge like she’s never faced before, from former Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown. Brown’s candidacy has galvanized the Democratic Party here to a degree I have not seen before. Polls show she’s on McMorris Rodgers’ heels, which is rightly causing Republicans to panic.

The meltdown has been a sight to see.

The state Republican Party has sent out a number of disjointed emails lately attacking Brown and calling on subscribers to support McMorris Rodgers, who in past cycles has been assumed to be safe given the deep red lean of the district. Playing defense in the 5th appears to be the Washington State Republican Party’s top priority in 2018, aside from trying to get three-time loser Dino Rossi elected in the 8th, where the party would like to hold on to Dave Reichert’s seat.

The Democratic Party, meanwhile, is fired up to capture both districts, and would  like to put the 3rd District in play as well. The party has several candidates competing in the 3rd, as well as a challenger for Dan Newhouse in the 4th.

No Democrat has represented Eastern or Central Washington since 1994, when Republicans George Nethercutt and Doc Hastings defeated Tom Foley and Jay Inslee. (Inslee later returned to Congress as the representative from one of the state’s western districts, and today, he serves as Governor of Washington.)

Foley was the first and only Washingtonian to serve as Speaker of the United States House of Representatives. A statesman, Foley’s legacy is still felt in the district today. Neither Nethercutt nor McMorris Rodgers have come close to representing the district as ably as he once did. But Lisa Brown says that if she’s elected, that is precisely the kind of representation she will provide.

Nationwide polls show that more Americans also disapprove of Trump’s job performance than approve, although the disparity is less pronounced than it is in Democratic-leaning states such as Washington.

Trump compares unfavorably to all of his recent predecessors, who each enjoyed higher approval ratings at this stage of their presidencies than he does.

Senator Maria Cantwell enjoys a robust lead over Susan Hutchison, new NPI poll finds

Maria Cantwell is well positioned to continue on in the United States Senate with seatmate Patty Murray for another six years, a new NPI poll has found.

Six hundred and seventy-five likely Washington State voters were asked earlier this week whether they would vote for Cantwell or probable Republican opponent Susan Hutchison were the election being held today. 52% said they would vote for Cantwell, while only 36% said Hutchison. 12% were not sure.

Hutchison is a former Republican State Party Chair who jumped into the race last week a mere hour and a half before the deadline. In a field packed with twenty-nine challengers to Cantwell, a dozen of whom identify as Republicans, Hutchison is easily the opponent with the most name recognition and the highest profile.

Last year, in June, an NPI poll of eight hundred and eighty-seven likely 2018 Washington State voters found Senator Cantwell with a thirteen point lead over former Republican Attorney General Rob McKenna in a hypothetical matchup. At the time Republicans had not found a candidate to challenge Cantwell, so NPI chose to pit McKenna against Cantwell to test a best-case scenario for Republicans.

As expected, Hutchison fares worse than McKenna.

QUESTION: If the election for U.S. Senate were held today and the candidates were Democrat Maria Cantwell and Republican Susan Hutchison, who would you vote for?


  • Maria Cantwell: 52%
  • Susan Hutchison: 36%
  • Not sure: 12%

Our survey of six hundred and seventy-five likely 2018 Washington State voters was in the field May 22nd-23rd, 2018. The survey used a blended methodology with automated phone calls to landlines and online interviews of cell phone only respondents. The poll was conducted by Public Policy Polling for NPI, and has a margin of error of +/- 3.8% at the 95% confidence level.

As we can see, Cantwell has a robust lead over Hutchison. Her level is support is practically identical to where it was last year, but the number of undecided voters is double the size of what we saw in the hypothetical matchup with McKenna.

We all know that elections can be unpredictable, and the only poll that truly matters wraps up on Election Day. However, looking back at Cantwell’s performance in past surveys suggests she will be extremely hard to beat in the November election.

Six years ago, when Cantwell last sought reelection, four surveys taken in the first seven months of 2012 consistently put her support at around 51%. Two were conducted by NPI’s pollster, while two were conducted by SurveyUSA.

PollsterDate of pollSampleMoECantwellBaumgartnerUndecided
Survey USAJanuary 12–16, 2012617±4.0%50%41%8%
Public Policy PollingFebruary 16–19, 20121,264±2.76%51%36%13%
Public Policy PollingJune 14–17, 20121,073±3.0%51%35%14%
Survey USAJuly 16–17, 2012630±4.0%51%40%9%

In her last campaign, Cantwell went on to win by a double-digit margin, securing 60.45% of the vote statewide, while Bumgartner obtained only 39.55%.

Democrats have consistently won U.S. Senate races in Washington State for over two decades, with 1994 being the last year the state elected a Republican.

“Senator Cantwell appears well positioned to earn another term representing Washingtonians in the U.S. Senate this year,” NPI’s founder and Executive Director Andrew Villeneuve said after the survey’s return from the field.

“In her last two campaigns, she dispatched her Republican opponents with ease. At this juncture, we have no reason to believe that Susan Hutchison will be a stronger challenger than either Mike McGavick or Michael Baumgartner.”

“Susan Hutchison’s deficit now, according to our research, is identical to Michael Baumgartner’s deficit at about this time in 2012 – it’s a sixteen point gap.”

“We know Senator Cantwell went on to secure her biggest victory ever just a few months later. With 2018 shaping up to be a wave year for Democrats, we’ll be curious to see if Senator Cantwell can top her showing from 2012, and attain a new personal best in a federal contest.”

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