Local Art News
In 1971, 32-year-old King County Prosecutor Christopher T. Bayley visited my high school to encourage my class to consider careers in law and public service. Soon afterward, young Mr. Bayley indicted his powerful predecessor, Charles O. Carroll, and several police officers and politicians in connection with payoffs related to Seattle’s tolerance policy toward unlicensed gambling, unlawful liquor sales, gay bars and more. During the next eight years, he also indicted police officers who had shot and killed unarmed black men.
Bayley did not win many convictions in the corruption cases and won no convictions in the shooting cases, but the indictments themselves demonstrated that the new prosecutor was serious about pursuing equal justice.
Bayley’s new book, Seattle Justice: The Rise and Fall of the Police Payoff System in Seattle (Sasquatch Books), is a look back at corruption in Seattle’s first century, a memoir of noblesse oblige by a Dan Evans Republican, and a veritable compendium of Who’s Who in local legal and political lore. It is also a time machine to pre-Twitter, Boeing-Bust 1971, when local realtors puckishly commissioned the billboard at Sea-Tac that read, “Will the last person leaving SEATTLE–turn out the lights.”
Zooming back to the present Black Lives Matter movement and the continuing alienation of police and prosecutors from the community, Bayley reminds us that “history does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”
In the 1970s, as in this decade, racial tensions were inflamed when police officers repeatedly killed unarmed black men, with few or no perceived legal consequences. Bayley writes that he proactively increased hiring and promotion of deputy prosecutors from historically under-represented backgrounds, and that he took steps to improve relations with the minority community. Gary Locke — a former deputy prosecutor, Washington state governor and U.S. ambassador to China — is one unnamed example of Bayley’s hiring policies, which were considered progressive at the time.
For community outreach, Bayley hired Doug Wheeler, the son of Jimi and Leon Hendrix’s well-regarded foster parents. One day, Bayley sent Wheeler out to mediate a face-off between 15 armed Black Panthers, and several Seattle police officers lined up across the street, with hands on their holsters. The Panthers were making their presence known across the street from a sandwich shop, near Garfield High School, that was notorious for delivering drugs, a serious concern for the Panthers, with sandwiches. Wheeler identified himself to the police and told them that unless the Panthers pointed their rifles at someone or used them in a threatening manner, they were not committing a crime. He then crossed the street and told the Panthers to keep the rifles pointed in the air. Thanks in part to Wheeler’s diplomacy, the Panthers and the police avoided violence that day. That peaceful outcome seems almost surreal today.Members of the Black Panthers Party demonstrated outside the Washington State Capitol in 1969 against proposed restrictions on the right to carry weapons in public. According to the Washington State Archives, the Party members generally kept their weapons unloaded during demonstrations. Credit: State Archives
In 1971, Bayley enjoyed a favorable reputation in liberal quarters as the prosecutor that, “for the first time in anyone’s memory … indicted an officer for shooting a civilian.” But an all-white jury took less than one hour to undo Bayley’s good intentions in that first case. In 1975, the narrative turned against him nationally when he declined to indict a police officer in a high profile shooting case. New Yorker writer Calvin Trillin and the ACLU, among others, questioned Bayley’s objectivity. The ACLU cited the inherent institutional conflict of interest in dealing with potential police misconduct caused by the need for the police and the prosecutor to work so closely together, and others were less charitable. Although seemingly stung by the more personal attacks, Bayley embraces Trillin’s summary of the black community’s belief: “ A white policeman confronted by a black man may leave a few of the alternatives to shooting unexplored.”
Bayley recalls that in 1981 his former chief deputy and successor, Norm Maleng, charged a prison guard with manslaughter for choking a prisoner to death, despite an inquest finding that the death was justified. The jury agreed with the inquest finding, and the Legislature amended the law in 1986 to provide that, “a peace officer shall not be held criminally liable for using deadly force without malice and with a good faith belief that such act is justifiable.”
Maleng’s successor, Dan Satterberg has said that since 1986, “This almost perfect defense to a mistaken use of force has kept police officers out of court as defendants.” One high profile Seattle example is that, given the poor prospects for conviction under Washington law, Satterberg ultimately declined to charge Seattle Police Officer Ian Birk for the 2010 shooting of John T. Williams, a homeless Native American wood-carver. Officer Birk confronted and quickly shot Williams after observing him crossing a downtown Seattle street while holding a legal, 3-inch pocket knife he used to whittle.
In 2015, the Seattle Police Department, although apparently now corruption free, is under the watchful eye of a federal monitor, following a Department of Justice investigation into repeated allegations of use of excessive force. Bayley’s view is that the same insularity and alienation of police from the public that existed during the decades of police payoffs in Seattle, characterized by a self-protective, secretive police culture, disinclined to self-reform, is the common thread that lead to the Department of Justice investigation. The Seattle Police Officers’ Guild was outspoken in supporting Birk, while the mayor and police chief were slow to publicly rebuke Birk for not following even minimal police guidelines for the use of lethal force.
The statute that shielded Birk remains on the books in Washington, and John T. William’s death is but one “awful but lawful” example of its application on the streets, to borrow a phrase from Satterberg. The debate about whether to change the Washington law and similar state laws continues.
A June report from Amnesty International states that such statutes not only fail international human rights standards but, in thirteen states, do not even pass minimum constitutional standards. In Amnesty International’s view, Washington’s good faith and malice standard is the most egregious among the 50 states. A Seattle Times analysis reported in September that shootings by police in the line of duty in Washington have surged in the past decade, have a disproportionate impact on black men, and that in 30 years, only one officer, later acquitted, was charged. Snohomish County Prosecutor Mark Roe, who charged that officer for the fatal shooting of a drunken driver in 2009, nevertheless, is cautious about changing Washington’s law, telling the Times, “We have to be careful here and not try to quench some national desire for a sacrificial cop by changing the law until we can convict somebody.” Tom McBride, executive secretary of the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, observes that Washington will remain an outlier if the Legislature does not change the law.
Mr. Bayley does not weigh in on the debate about whether to change qualified immunity for police officers using lethal force in the line of duty. However, he sees signs of reform in the Seattle Police Department, with Seattle’s new mayor and police chief setting a different tone than their predecessors.
As to city and county oversight against graft, Mr. Bayley is optimistic that current controls are robust, saying, “Today, if there are activities living in a legal gray world — for example, retail marijuana that coexists uneasily with federal drug laws — the problems of enforcement and tolerance are worked out in public, and the lines made clear.”
Bailey cautions, however, that some things never change, and the need for reform never ends, regardless of the good faith of those inside. He reminds us that the Department of Justice investigation following the 2010 shooting of Mr. Williams happened only because concerned citizens outside the mayor’s office and the police department demanded it, just as an earlier generation of concerned citizens had prompted the federal investigation and his indictments related to the police payoffs in the 1970s. Bayley’s warning about the continuing need for reform, and reformers, rings as true now as it did when he visited my high school class in 1971.
“We’re going after the system,” says actor Liev Schriber in the new film Spotlight.
Playing the new editor at the Boston Globe, Schrieber is instructing reporters and editors to hold off on a story that would already be a blockbuster – the Catholic Church’s cover-up of multiple child molester priests. Single incidents will be brushed aside, he argues, labeled as “bad apple” cases. If the paper spends more time (and money) digging and expanding the story’s scope, they have a shot at bringing down the church’s entire system for shuffling pedophile priests from parish to parish, allowing them to continue their crimes.
The line works on a number of levels. On one, it’s an apt description of the movie that contains it. In 2002, the Boston Globe began publishing what would end up being almost 600 articles, exposing a decades-long practice of covering up the child molestation and sex abuse perpetrated by over 70 priests in the parish, with the complicity of the city’s power elite. Spotlight is a look at the reporters and editors who finally exposed this practice to the general public.
Their work led to revelations of such practices across the globe, and its effects are still being felt over decade later. In Seattle, for example, the archdiocese just settled a child sex abuse case for $1.2 million this past May.
But rather than lionize the reporters responsible, the movie focuses on the “system” they followed to get the story. The time-honored journalistic exercises of cultivating sources who are hesitant to speak, digging through government documents, and taking the time to get the story right all receive their due. Standout performances are delivered by Michael Keaton as the investigative team’s editor (who prefers the title “player-coach”), Rachel McAdams and Mark Ruffalo as reporters, and Stanley Tucci as a lawyer for the church’s victims.
But the performances aren’t flashy, and neither is the film’s direction by Tom McCarthy. The personal lives of characters, and the toll the profession takes on them, are barely mentioned. The system is the star.
But just as much an ode to this system, the movie is also an indictment of where journalism is headed as newsrooms shrink and the preferences of many readers shift. The first conversation Schrieber and Keaton have is about the Boston Globe’s budget, and how newsroom cuts are on the way. Hearing that Keaton’s team can take up to a year to research and deliver articles, Schrieber clearly begins calculating whether the investigative journalism they practice is worth the investment.
Spotlight never comes right out and denounces the “do more with less” mentality that increasingly dominates many newsrooms – in which diminished staffs are often judged by the quantity of their “content” output over its quality. Nor does it call out the consumers of news, who in the early 2000s were already gravitating to simple partisan journalism that catered to their worldview over straight, well-researched reporting or advocacy journalism.
But as the movie shows, it’s this latter form of reporting that can pack the biggest punch. Beyond offering a behind-the-scenes look at the mechanics of newsrooms, Spotlight’s primary focus is how “systems” like the one exposed by the Boston Globe work, and how hard it can be to pull the curtain back on them.
There is no movie that more succinctly argues on behalf of journalism that can “stand alone” from power structures, politicians and political leanings.
In a theme Spotlight returns to over and over, the power structure in cities is often a closed loop. The leadership of churches, unions, law firms, political bodies, police departments, media organizations and the like often eat together, drink together and rise through the ranks together. When something threatens to disrupt the system, they close ranks together. In the case of Boston, this meant protecting pedophiles. But as we’ve seen time and again, that’s just one indefensible practice that those in power will sweep under the rug, or peg to one “bad apple” if they feel its exposure threatens the system.
As David Simon – former Baltimore Sun reporter and man behind HBO series The Wire – has argued repeatedly and eloquently, something very important is being lost as non-partisan news organizations shrink, disappear or morph into “click-bait” depositories. Look no further than the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, a newspaper once committed to solid reporting, whose legacy website’s top story at this writing is “Stars of the ’70s in their 70s.”
Spotlight is a love letter to old school journalism. It can seem strange to call a movie dealing with such dark subject matter a “feel good” story, but both times I’ve watched it in theaters (in Seattle and Raleigh, NC), the crowd erupted into applause at the end. In the end, people want to believe there are ink-stained wretches keeping an eye on things, reporting important subjects without a finger on the scales. It takes time and it takes money, and it demands the support and attention of a city’s readers. But when it all comes together, the exposure of truths can right serious wrongs.
People at their best in ‘Come From Away,’ Tituss Burgess & Men’s Chorus, local booksellers’ day: your weekend list
Come From Away
On Sept. 11, 2001, tiny, out-in-the-middle-of-nowhere Gander, Newfoundland suddenly found itself hosting thousands of people stranded mid-route as their planes were diverted from U.S. airspace.
Thirty-eight planes landed, delivering passengers from all over the world. And what these passengers found in Gander were hosts so gracious, donations poured in and in the ensuing years, folks would return to Gander to keep saying, Thanks.
Maybe it’s because there’s been so much ugliness in the world of late, but I found myself overwhelmed by this production, recalibrated even. This show reminds us that even during our worst times, human beings are capable of showing extraordinary generosity. The acting, the staging, the breadth of real-life characters on stage are each powerful in their own right. And did I mention the story has been woven into a Celtic rock musical? One of the best shows from any genre that I have ever seen.
If you go: Come From Away, Seattle Rep, now through Dec. 13 (Tickets start at $22)—F.D.
Tituss Burgess and the Seattle Men’s Chorus
Few press releases ever elicit an OMG, OMG! But the one announcing Tituss Burgess would be guest starring with the Seattle Men’s Chorus? Thank you, Baby Jesus and the Universe, because Tituss Burgess with the Men’s Chorus is like panettone bread pudding served with rum-laced egg nog. You don’t actually need both but the combination makes you as happy as Rudolph getting kissed by Clarice. Burgess is most famous for playing the Emmy-nominated character Titus Andromedon in the Netflix series Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. The Men’s Chorus is wildly popular for being a holiday staple and for putting on shows that are theatrical, funny and also quite moving. The Chorus’s holiday schedule includes performances in Seattle, Everett and Tacoma between Nov. 28 and Dec. 21. A full schedule is available here.
Burgess will be performing at only the first two Seattle concerts.
If you go: Tituss Burgess Sings With The Seattle Men’s Chorus, Nov. 28 and 29, Benaroya Hall ($25-$78)—F.D.Tituss Burgess
* The Bizarre Bazaar
The holidays cometh! Get your shopping done before December madness hits AND support local artists and crafters by heading to The Bizarre Bazaar. Blown glass jewelry, pottery, paintings –some of it mystical, much of it beautiful and all of it locally and lovingly made. Meander to music from DJs Dane Garfield Wilson and Jimini Kickit in Sole Repair.
If you go: Sole Repair, 1001 E. Pike St., Sunday 11/29 from 1-6 p.m., Free.—N.C.
* Seattle Sheraton’s Gingerbread Village
Will Princess Leia’s braided buns be crafted out of brown M&Ms? Will R2D2 be made out of marshmallows? And how do you capture Chewbacca’s scruff? Star Wars is the theme for this year’s gingerbread houses that are gooey, finely detailed and fabulous marvels. May the force prevent you from wanting to reach out and eat a Jedi warrior.
If you go: Gingerbread Village, Seattle Sheraton, Through Jan 3 (Free)—F.D.
Some of the creations featured in this year’s Star Wars-inspired Gingerbread Village.
Cover band The Bleeding Romeos bring the rough-edged poetry of Tom Waits to the stage for an evening called Waitsgiving, which seems just right. Expect to hear some of your favorites as well as “a few sleepers that were pulled from way down in the hole.” The band does justice to Waits’ breadth of instrumentation and has a gravelly vocalist that balances the macabre with heart, properly telling the stories of the lost for which Waits has become famous.
If you go: The Royal Room, Saturday 11/28 at 8 p.m., No cover, Donations encouraged—N.C.
* Indies First
After the big box madness that has become Black Friday is the totally lovable celebration of Small Business Saturday. Saturday also acts as Indies First, a day to show your love for local booksellers and meet authors as they talk to you about books at the counter of your local bookstore. Sherman Alexie, the mastermind behind the event, will be at Elliott Bay offering book recommendations, Book Larder will be hosting a bunch of local cookbook authors (including Renee Erickson), and there will be a YA panel and sci-fi panel at University Bookstore. Don’t forget about Ravenna Third Place, Phinney Books, and Ada’s Technical Books, among others, and make this holiday one where you give the gift of books (I’m pretty excited to give my sisters an adult coloring book and Humans of New York: Stories).
If you go: Bookstores around town, Saturday 11/28, Free—N.C.
*Items $15 or less
Kiyon Gaines doesn’t fit the mold of a ballet dancer. He’s compact and muscular, not long and lean like the stereotypical danseur, the French term for a male dancer. He’s also African American in an art form that is overwhelmingly white.
Much like the American Ballet Theatre’s first-ever African American principal dancer Misty Copeland who was recruited to participate in ballet classes through a Boys and Girls Club program, ballet found Gaines, not the other way around. While studying tap and jazz during his youth near Baltimore, a teacher said he needed more softness and finesse and recommended ballet to help with that.
Looking back, Gaines says, “I wasn’t something I was supposed to do.” But, with tenacity and what became a love for ballet and performing, he did it anyway, in spite of criticism that he didn’t have the right body.
Pacific Northwest Ballet’s founding artistic directors Francia Russell and Kent Stowell hired Gaines for their company in 2001, and he was later promoted to soloist. He danced many roles in PNB’s former Stowell/Sendak Nutcracker over the course of his 14 years with the company. His dance career concluded in June, following three surgeries in four years, just before the rollout of a dramatically new Nutcracker. It opens Friday.Pacific Northwest Ballet School faculty member Kiyon Gaines teaching a PNB School 2015 Summer Course class. Photo © Angela Sterling.
Though Gaines retired from performing and misses it very much, he’s found a new role for himself in the field. He’s is giving back to the art form by instructing children and young adults in ballet technique as an instructor at PNB School. He’s also serving as one of four instructors for PNB’s DanceChance program. The program provides ballet training free of charge to promising third grade students from 22 local schools that have a large percentage of students on free/reduced-rate lunches.
A national discussion about diversity in ballet is no surprise, really; if anything, it’s long overdue and something that Seattle has tried to energize at times for many years. If ballet is to thrive, it will have to reach younger, more diverse audiences. As happens in the business world, the introduction of new talent is also likely to produce more successful and inspiring art.
Just a few months ago, Misty Copeland surmounted both racial and economic obstacles in being named ABT’s first black principal dancer. (Principals are a ballet company’s highest-ranking dancers and as such, dance the lead roles in classical ballets.) Copeland’s fame and directness in talking about what her challenges entailed — the need for monetary assistance during her early training and overt racism she encountered while at ABT — has amplified and spread the conversation into mainstream culture.
She recognizes her importance as a role model for young girls of color who are training and working toward ballet careers at major American companies. In her autobiography, Copeland writes that she dedicated her first performance as the lead in Firebird — and the first-ever performance by a black ABT ballerina in that role — to today’s aspiring young ballerinas of color. She writes five times in the prologue, “This is for the little brown girls.“
The discussion about diversity prompted an article in The New York Times last month, “Push for Diversity in Ballet Turns to Training the Next Generation.” The Times focused on New York City Ballet and American Ballet Theatre, the two major ballet companies located in New York, which are now catching up with other professional companies, such as Pacific Northwest Ballet and San Francisco Ballet, in terms of diversity initiatives. Diversity has been part of ballet’s agenda for over 20 years, at least in some parts of the country and in some major companies outside of New York.
New York Times dance critic Gia Kourlas wrote a month ago, “The two major New York companies have realized that change starts with the schools. If it takes 10 years to make a dancer – and you can’t waste a minute – diversifying ballet must begin with children. Both Ballet Theatre’s Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School and the School of American Ballet, the training ground for City Ballet, have initiated programs to spot and recruit young minority dancers.”
The realization that change starts with the schools came much earlier to PNB School founding director, Francia Russell, who started its DanceChance program in 1994. One of DanceChance’s goals is to cultivate a diverse company and school.
DanceChance students have the opportunity to audition for PNB’s Nutcracker, just like other PNB School students. This year, 17 DanceChance students and four upper-level students who “graduated” from the program will perform in PNB’s new Balanchine Nutcracker. This production, dubbed a new holiday tradition for Seattle, has sets and costumes created specifically for it by Ian Falconer. It was an undertaking that was four years in the making.
The first DanceChance graduate to join PNB’s company was Eric Hipolito, who recently moved on to another company after seven years. Earlier this year, Angeli Mamon, of Mexican descent, was the first female DanceChance graduate to join the company as an apprentice. Mamon will be performing multiple roles in the new Nutcracker, including that of a mother, a grandmother and the Columbine doll in the first act’s party scene and in the second act, as part of the corp in the Waltz of the Flowers.
DanceChance provided Mamon with more than just dance training. In ballet, she found something she was good at, and her PNB instructors encouraged her to stick with it. “They saw something in me,” she says. She liked the positive attention she received, which propelled her to continue and develop into the young professional dancer she is today.
On a Saturday earlier this month, I watched Gaines teach a class of Level II boys that included DanceChance participants. It’s impossible to tell who’s who, since they all wear the same “uniform,” a white leotard, black tights, and white socks and ballet slippers. As part of studying technique, they’re also learning ballet vocabulary, which is in French. A couple hundred years or so before Tchaikovsky composed the Nutcracker for the Russia’s Imperial Ballet, ballet began in the court of Louis XIV in France. It is most certainly a European tradition that embraced grace and elegance and wasn’t available to the masses. In fact, it was through ballet that perhaps the most famous classical dancer of the last century, Rudolf Nureyev, pulled himself out of poverty in Russia.
From my vantage point as a dance historian, it’s that history of elitism, malignly abetted in this country by racism, that today’s diversity initiatives are attempting to alleviate. In order to move the art form forward into the 21st century, ballet’s leaders are realizing that the aesthetic needs to evolve as well. Ballet is slowly moving toward a new aesthetic that says diversity among the ranks of ballerinas and danseurs is welcome and wanted. Any ballerina can be the next Sugar Plum Fairy as long as she can get her jeté (a leap) high enough into the air and perfectly executed.
Here, in Seattle, we’re lucky to have Kiyon Gaines, who didn’t give up. He’s helping to lead a charge that is opening ballet to talented children of all ethnicities who are eager to learn. In this way, the Land of Sweets is beginning to resemble the real world too.
Substitute KPLU with the name of an uncle or a close friend, and Monday’s meeting of the radio station’s community advisory committee would have seemed like a funeral. One after another, KPLU’s staff, community advisors and listeners openly mourned the sale of the NPR station to its bigger sibling KUOW.
The anguish in the room was the result of an awkward and, for many, unfortunate reality: the public radio station that offers a day-to-day backdrop for dedicated listeners hangs its license with a university that is obedient to the fiduciary responsibilities that come with being a private institution.
So while many of the station’s donors, who helped build KPLU’s broadcast center at Pacific Lutheran University in 2009, feel the rug has been pulled from beneath them, the sale of the station is likely on its way to approval barring a change of heart from the boards of regents at PLU and the University of Washington. In a last ditch appeal, the community advisory committee will appeal directly to Pacific Lutheran University President Thomas Krise in an attempt to inspire that change.
Combining KUOW and KPLU has been on the table for nearly twenty years. In 1998, KUOW made a formal pitch to KPLU to unite under the Puget Sound Public Radio umbrella, largely in an effort to consolidate fundraising. But PLU rejected the deal for reasons that mimic the concerns voiced at Monday’s meeting — that KPLU “might be dominated by UW, the larger of the two licensees,” according to a 2000 report from the UW advisory board.
The final spur in recent months, according to PLU’s VP of marketing and communication Donna Gibbs, was a desire to cutback on redundancies in Puget Sound public radio and because the timing was right. PLU was not in trouble, she said, but the value of its radio station was diminishing.
However, according to former member of PLU’s board of regents Larry Neeb, PLU’s enrollment has taken a major hit recently, with 2014 enrollment down significantly from 2011. “It’s absolutely true our enrollment was down by roughly 200 students,” said Neeb from his home in Webster Groves, Missouri. 90 percent of PLU’s operating budget comes from tuition and fees. “It was a crisis because 200 students down meant $5 million in revenue.”
In response to this so-called crisis, PLU established its Strategic Enrollment Management Advisory Committee (SEMAC) in 2012 “to help the institution achieve and maintain the optimum recruitment, retention, and graduation rates of students.” Separately, the university also passed a 2013 resolution that seemed to contradict the sentiment that PLU was experiencing a crisis, pledging to raise faculty salaries, maintain facilities and expand the cash it had on hand.
The happy bubble of the resolution was burst, however, when a 2014 SEMAC report said the goals of the resolution wouldn’t happen without “a substantial amount of additional net revenue above the level the university would normally expect to receive from existing sources.” Things wouldn’t get much better in 2015. Despite a rosy freshman enrollment forecast, the graduation of PLU’s 2015 class meant the university would see a reduction of 100 total students.
Nevertheless, Thomas Krise authorized a 2.5 percent across-the-board increase in salaries and wages for all employees last March, in keeping with the university’s 2013 resolution. But the bump coincided with a reduction of 40 full-time administrative and faculty positions. “These reductions are a necessary step as we continue the work of integrating academic planning and enrollment management with budget planning and revenue allocation to ensure that our expenses are in line with revenue projections,” wrote President Krise in an e-mail to PLU’s staff.
To make things worse for PLU, Standard & Poor’s said in a September press release that the university is on the verge of defaulting on a $54 million outstanding bond. Combined with the decreased enrollment, S&P downgraded PLU’s credit standing.
Gibbs said in an e-mail Tuesday, “This proposed sale has nothing to do with PLU finances,” but that it was a “strategic decision.” She elaborated, saying, “Among the eight largest independent colleges in the state of Washington, PLU has the second lowest total debt outstanding, and the lowest debt per student….Fall 2016 undergraduate inquiries, applications, admits — and declines — are at five-year highs, continuing trends from last year, including our highest graduate enrollment in the history of the institution.”
With regards to her comment that this was a strategic decision, one can understand this strategy from a national perspective. The Washington Post recently reported on the declining number of NPR listeners across the country. More worrisome still, young listeners are nosediving their way off of the FM dial.
This is not the case for KPLU, however. The station’s fundraising drives have been immensely successful lately, and listenership is at an all time high according to KPLU’s manager Joey Cohn, hitting 438,000 just last week. The average three years ago was 350,000.
But it was also difficult not to notice that, with the exception of KPLU staff and media covering the meeting, those who had come out to the advisory committee meeting to support the station were older. This could have been the timing of the meeting – middle of the day Monday – but the detail was there nonetheless.
KPLU’s community advisory committee meets on a quarterly basis. Its existence is a requirement of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which contributes to KPLU. The body usually meets in a small room at the Westin, speaking only to one another. Monday, though, was closer to the meetings at City Hall. After calls to the public to attend, it was moved upstairs to a conference room that seemed well suited for keynote speakers and business conventions. It quickly filled with nearly 300 people.
Lynn Johanson of Ballard came downtown for the meeting because she was “ticked off enough to ride a bus.” She’s a painter who likes listening to KPLU for its jazz programming, interspersed with the NPR newsbreaks. She’s been listening since the 80s and donating since the 90s, even if only $25 here and there. She, like many at the meeting, described KPLU as family. Although her jazz will stay on 88.5, she doesn’t think it will last. “They’re so disingenuous,” she said of the universities who cut the sale. “I don’t trust them.”
The committee’s role is usually to talk about what sort of content they’d like to hear. On Monday, it served a bigger purpose. Of the maybe 15 members present, they all voted in opposition to the sale, giving member Stephen Tan the authority to draft a letter to Krise appealing the sale.
The body is only advisory and Tan acknowledged that its scope is limited to urgings. He also noted that, while he and other committee members would have preferred they be consulted before the sale, the university had no obligation to do so. As Crosscut has previously reported, although KPLU staff would have liked the opportunity to buy its own independence, the university wasn’t required to consider competing offers.
It’s an awkward thing that KPLU, an affiliate of a national news organization that has public in its very title, is perhaps not as public as some thought. As Tan pointed out numerous times, KPLU does not have a governing body independent of PLU. “It was in the back of my mind that the station ought to have its own governing body,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that it does not and I think it’s one of the reasons we’re here today.”
This same awkwardness is reflected in the frustrations of donors, some of whom gave earlier this fall. Johanson believed her donations over the years meant KPLU’s staff were her employees to some extent.
Another item that has come up is PLU’s 2009 construction of its Martin Neeb Center, the $5.9 million building that houses KPLU’s Tacoma station. Gibbs told Crosscut last week that in addition to adding to the university’s endowments, the sale of KPLU would allow PLU to use the full of its Neeb Center for students. The space for KPLU within that building is listed as a donation from PLU.
But many who helped fund the Neeb Center, including Larry Neeb, believed their donations were meant for the station, not the university itself. When the university’s plans to build a new building stalled out as the great recession hit, it launched a capital campaign to fund its completion. In newsletters and newspaper articles at the time, the new building was pitched as the new, state of the art home to KPLU. Martin Neeb, for whom the building is named, was KPLU’s manager for 25 years.
Debora Johnson, an employee of the City of Kelso, Washington, doesn’t remember how much she gave, but knows it was enough to get a plaque. “I don’t want to sound like I did more than others, but for me it was a lot,” she said over the phone. “I was not donating to the school, I was donating to the radio station.” When she heard the station was being sold, she was shocked. “I thought of asking them to refund my money.”
For however much Johnson gave, it certainly did not match Larry Neeb’s $1 million donation to complete the building. He’s a devout Lutheran and served on PLU’s board of regents off and on for 16 years. He watched as KPLU took on its identity as the home to jazz and news. “We had a campaign that was really not going to make it,” he said of the new building. “I didn’t see the financials. I just knew it wasn’t going to make it.” And so, Larry Neeb drew $1 million from his considerable wealth to complete the station, dedicating it to his brother Martin.
Unlike Johnson, Neeb loves the university. He stays in touch with the people who run it and cares deeply about its future. Neeb gave the $1 million primarily for the radio station, but when Krise approached him shortly before the announcement of the station’s sale, telling him KPLU would no longer live in the Neeb Center, Neeb – after some amount of deliberation — gave the PLU president his blessing. Asked if it angered him that his money was going towards a different purpose than he initially intended, Neeb said, “Of course it crossed my mind. But in the end I thought it through. It wasn’t something I would have started, but I will support it.”
When asked why he believed Krise reached out to him, he said, “It was to seek out my opinion and my goodwill. I don’t know what he would’ve done if I’d said no.”
For those hoping to kill the sale, the only hope is a direct appeal to Krise or the FCC, which still needs to approve the deal. While some came to Monday’s meeting with a fighting spirit, others seemed more daunted by the odds. In a tribute to Cohn, news director Erin Hennessy’s voice cracked, calling the station “something to be damn proud of.” The room stood and applauded, but her speech had the feeling of a eulogy.
Former PLU President Loren Anderson politely declined to speak at length on his impressions of the sale. He seemed also to understand that PLU is in a tough spot. “When you leave a position,” he said over the phone, “the people who are in charge need to make the judgment.”
On the phone, it was hard to read exactly how Anderson felt. But as media and higher education remain in flux, he acknowledged that things are changing. “During our time, KPLU was an important part of the university. But this is a different point in their history.”
This story has been updated to add a response from Donna Gibbs not received before publication.
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Faith leaders from the Islamic, Jewish, and Christian traditions all gathered at Seattle’s First African Methodist Episcopal Church on Sunday, to express solidarity with the less fortunate, and state that the recent backlash against Syrian refugees represents a shirking of responsibility to those in need.
The focus of the two-hour service was the parable of the Good Samaritan from the Christian Gospel. In the story, a man is lying wounded by the side of a particularly dangerous road. Numerous travelers see the man and cross to the other side of the road, too uncomfortable or fearful to help him. Only one person, the Samaritan, is moved by the stranger’s plight and comes to his aid. It’s this Samaritan, according to the parable, who understands the true definition of one’s “neighbor.”
The story was recounted from the church’s pulpit by local Rabbi Ted Falcon. “It’s not often that a Rabbi is asked to comment on a story from the Christian Bible,” he joked, before connecting the story to teachings from other religions.
“This parable is about every society, and it’s about us,” said Falcon. “We must cease dismissing those who need help, just by saying they’re not our neighbor. They are.”
This was Seattle’s 29th Annual Inter-spiritual Celebration of Gratitude at Thanksgiving, and longtime organizer John Hale (a Catholic) said it spoke to a time of increased fear and prejudice in the United States and abroad. Following the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States by Islamic extremists, as well as the Paris attacks this past January, a spectrum of faith and political leaders spoke out against a fear of Muslims, not to mention outright prejudice, violence, and attacks on mosques.
After the November 13 attacks on Paris, intolerance and fear against Muslims is again on the rise, but such calls for unity and understanding have become less common. Instead, the majority of Americans are now against allowing any refugees fleeing violence in Syria into the country, for fear that some may be violent extremists. Locally, State Rep. Jay Rodne, a Republican from Snoqualmie, has called Islam “barbarian medievalism.” There’s been little push-back on Rodne’s comments from state Republicans.
From the pulpit Sunday, speaker after speaker spoke out directly against this mindset, stating that the refugees in need – who includes many orphans and the elderly – are in fact our neighbors.
“Right now, there are issues and people which want to polarize our community, and pull us apart as people,” said Hale. He called the event an attempt to “build momentum for right action.”
The event’s most moving moment was a speech by Imam Baazi from the Islamic Center of Federal Way. Baazi related current events to a story from the Quran, in which everyone was turning against the Muslims and telling them that “your God has forsaken you, and does not love you.” During his remarks, Baazi broke into tears, causing many others in the audience to do the same. He ended by calling on people to “not repel the orphans, but shelter them, hug them, give them a kind word.”
In a focus on the local, the event also included the collection and blessing of hundreds of handknit scarves and hats, which would later be given to the homeless. This was part of a yearly program, Warm for Winter, organized by local Muslim woman Janice Tuft.
Following the event, we asked participants in the interfaith service for their thoughts on recent events. All comments are abridged for length and clarity.
Imam Jamal Rahman, Interfaith Community Sanctuary
Islamic mystics say, when dealing with someone who’s an antagonist, do what is right. Protect yourself. Don’t allow yourself to be abused. But there’s a verse in the Quran that says God has deliberately created diversity so you might come to know the other on a human level. So that is our real work.
The fear is understandable. But how can we, as activists, as good people, create the environment where people with different levels of fear and understanding connect on a human level? For example, when 9/11 happened, I knew of some Christian evangelicals who, if you mentioned Islam, would break out into an allergic hive. So I got to get to know them on a human level. It took a long time, because they thought I had a secret agenda. It takes humility, patience, sincerity, and persistence. And I, as a progressive Muslim, had to overcome the stereotyping I had of evangelical Christians. I lumped them all together. But we got to know each other.
Sure, we can fear the Muslims. Some can be terrorists, but the majority of these refugees are people who are suffering, and we are casting aspersions and creating suspicions based on the actions of a few people. These are not the values of Jesus, peace be upon him.
Rev. Staci Imes, Woodland Park Presbyterian Church
I think the story of the Good Samaritan is a great one to think about right now, because it’s about mercy and common humanity. A lot of what’s happening in the backlash to Syrian refugees really, whether we want to acknowledge it, prays on racism and Islamophobia. We’re making a lot of assumptions about what someone being Muslim means.
I hope people begin to go beyond the surface. That’s the invitation that both our secular and our sacred holidays offer us every year. Yes, we can say, ‘Peace and goodwill to all.’ We can say it’s time to ‘give thanks.’ But we can also stop and think more deeply about what that means. In what ways do I look away from helping someone when it’s inconvenient or uncomfortable? In what ways am I already sharing, and in what ways can I do a bit more?
Janice Tufte, organizer of Warm for Winter
If you’re a Muslim who’s old enough to remember the period after 9/11, you remember the fear, and how you’re always asked to justify yourself and explain yourself and be apologetic for being Muslim. Even if you’re outspoken that this is wrong, you don’t have a voice. Those that are older are kind of tired of this. I have fear too. To those that are scared of Muslims, I’d say we know where you’re coming from. We’re fearful in our community too. These refugees, they’re the ones who are running from the violent extremists.
Now we get targeted. Just this week, four women I know have had people say something bad to them because they’re wearing a headscarf. One woman, she works at a well-known hotel in Pioneer Square. Some customers came in, and she was telling them this is a nice neighborhood, good restaurants, but watch yourself, because there’s quite a few transients in the area, and they may be assertive panhandlers.
The woman looks at her and says, “Transients? Is that what they call Syrians today?” She was so taken aback. She was wearing a headscarf. So she said, “I don’t know what to say about that. Are you saying that because I’m a Muslim?” The woman responds, “You are not a patriot, and you need to wake up to what you’re doing to your country.” I mean, what are you supposed to do in response to all this?
Rev. Margaret Spearmon, First African Methodist Episcopal Church
The story of the Good Samaritan is all about the question: “Who is your neighbor?” How do you extend love not just to those we’re familiar with, but those we don’t know? That’s the essence of this. Your neighbor could be anyone. There are no barriers. We move out of the spaces that are comfortable for us and we reach out.
Because you can be paralyzed by fear. It’s what you see on TV. You can end up becoming afraid of other people and staying in the house if you let fear tell you how to live. And for me, I don’t want to be contained. I want to embrace freedom.
John Hale, longtime event organizer
These issues aren’t easy, but they need to be discussed and addressed. With regard to this Syrian immigrant issue, fear makes ugliness keep cropping up in people’s demeanors and intentions. What it does is mask the deeper questions. When you look at those who are immigrants fleeing oppression, they haven’t been waiting for an opening to get into the U.S. or Germany or wherever. They’re trying to get safe. My church believes in social justice.
For those that are afraid of them, I say bring your issues forward, go to a gathering where you’ll be honored, respond to an invitation to tell your truth. But also hear the truth of others on a particular issue. It’s my experience that when we do that, we move from issues to relationships, and relationships create trust.
Imam Baazi, Islamic Center of Federal Way
It can seem like the whole world is aflame, in pitch black darkness. What has happened to humanity itself? How have we gone to such violence, where innocent people are being targeted? It was very painful to see that (Paris attack), because no religion – Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Christianity – promotes such a thing.
The saddest part is that people are using the name of the religion to promote this violence. Our political leaders unfortunately aren’t standing up and addressing these issues. The media is taking one side.
For those afraid of Syrian refugees, I would ask, with all love and kindness, how can we turn away an orphan kid who just lost his mother and his father, seen such atrocity, and he is begging and raising his hand? I would ask, if you were in his shoes, would you want someone to turn you away, to look down on you?
May God bless our Governor (Jay Inslee) and strengthen him for his support of Syrian refugees. This was very inspiring not just for us, but for people in Syria as well. It told them people who are not related to them still care for them, and are opening their arms and saying “We welcome you.” This is what brings back peace. Not shunning away people who are deprived or homeless. If you uplift people and give them a hand, the same person who may have become evil one day will instead become a great leader.