At National People's Convention, Former Councilman Stresses Citizen Activism

Jul 8, 2016

Former Seattle city councilman Nick Licata is in town this weekend for a series of social justice events. Licata will march alongside 1500 demonstrators in the Still We Rise march on Friday, speak at the People’s Convention on Saturday and promote his new book “Becoming a Citizen Activist” at the Big Idea Bookstore on Sunday.

The book draws on Licata’s experience passing progressive legislation such as the $15 minimum wage and guaranteed paid sick leave in Seattle, and uses his experience to suggest ways other cities can change their own communities.

Licata said change requires persistence, but also accepting small incremental changes.

“It’s almost like how you break a boulder,” Licata said. “When you have water in there, and the water freezes, and it splits apart the boulder.”

He said cities can serve as incubators for progressive policies, since the federal government is deadlocked and local governments are largely controlled by Republicans.

“I hate to say this,” Licata said. “But in some ways they’re the last hope that this country has in moving forward in reviving our democracy.”

And he said they’re seeing results, with other cities adopting their own $15 minimum wages and guaranteed sick leave laws.  He cited President Barack Obama, who said cities should be the folks that experiment with social legislation.

Licata said Seattle hasn’t seen the predicted exodus of restaurant jobs following passage of the $15 minimum wage, and guaranteed sick leave had opposite the predicted effect.

“The number of restaurants (in the city) grew more than the suburban areas that did not have sick leave,” Licata said.

Licata spent 20 years living on a commune. He wrote a piece suggesting every politician does the same.

“It teaches you how to negotiate,” Licata said. “We ran be consensus.”

He recalled a time when his commune spent six months negotiating about whether or not to purchase a television set.

“It really taught me to listen to people’s arguments about why they disagreed with me,” Licata said. “And my goal was to change their mind, which came in handy on city council.”

Licata doesn’t intend to pursue elected office again, but he said he wants to work with politicians and community groups at the local level.

“There are a lot of opportunities to basically move the ball forward and work in a way that you can get success,” Licata said.

He said open access to government is crucial, from having people testify in council chambers and sit in on committee meetings to establishing citizen’s commissions. It’s also important to form coalitions, he said, and to continue to believe that democracy allows for victories.

“It is a systematic approach,” Licata said. “The Romans defeated the Goths because the Romans basically were organized. You can’t just be a tribe running down the hill with axes in your hands.”

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