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Seattle NAACP experiences 244 percent spike in membership

A march in Seattle on Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2019. (Seattle/King County NAACP)

Clifford Cawton remembers his first experience with the NAACP. It was years ago, in New York where he was living at the time.

“When I was a kid, back in New York, I called the NAACP there for membership, they actually hung up on me,” he told KIRO Nights. “It was something that I always remembered.”

It left a lingering, poor impression of the NAACP for Cawton. But fast forward to today — Cawtown is now the chair of housing for the Seattle/King County NAACP. He is among a range of leadership changes the organization has experienced, starting with the election of Sadiqa Sakin as its new president in November 2018 — the first black Muslim woman to take on the role in the organization’s 115 year history.

“We’re putting a new face on the NAACP,” Sakin said. “I know a lot of people think it’s that old organization from the ’60s … we are pushing everything, we have legal clinics, various things we are doing in the community. It’s exciting.”

“The NAACP, this is our platform, civil rights for all,” she said.

Sakin says she interviewed and recruited each board member personally. Whether it’s new faces at the organization, or a more modern feel, the Seattle/King County NAACP is now experiencing a surge in support. Since Sakin took on the role of president, the organization went from a membership count of 398 to 973. That’s a 244 percent spike.

“Visibility, and I’m cool like that,” Sakin joked about the increase in support. “Or we can say that we are out there, excited, we’re progressive and we are moving. I think that’s what people want to see. They want to see some type of movement, that you are taking action and getting things done.”

A modern NAACP

Visibility, Sakin said, was initially a challenge for the NAACP chapter — conveying what the organization is in 2019.

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“We have all colors on our board,” Sakin said. “You can become a member, volunteer, donate. And come to some of our meetings and let us know what you are interested in. Tell us what you want to see us do … give us some feedback on what we are doing now.”

“It was a challenge letting people know we’re relatable,” she said. “Ya know, Caucasians, it’s OK. You can come and be a part of the NAACP. I’m Muslim. This is the first time in history we’ve had a large influx of Muslims … because they are saying ‘OK, she’s Muslim, I can relate to that.’ So being relatable is what we want to hone in on.”

Cawton emphasizes the word “approachable.” It’s a big difference from his experience in New York years ago.

“There are a number of different communities that are a part of the NAACP,” Cawton said. “One of the reasons I personally think there has been a spike in membership is that there are a lot of people out there right now that see the politics coming from DC and it doesn’t represent them. It doesn’t represent them and a core component of democracy is … essentially feeling your interests are being represented, regardless of whether you agree with someone on the particulars.”

NAACP takes on housing

Housing is one example of how the Seattle/King County NAACP is putting its energy into a range of civil rights initiatives — “civil rights for all” as Sakin puts it.

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“Right now, we are not just facing a housing crisis, but an eviction crisis and a homelessness crisis as a result of the housing crisis,” Cawton said. “It’s one of affordability. It’s not just a housing crisis in the city of Seattle, it’s regional and now it’s a statewide housing crisis. People’s basic human dignity is violated every single day … you have rights. Landlords are not some feudal lords that can make decisions and not be held accountable for those decisions.”

The last bill that the NAACP lobbied for did not garner enough support in Olympia — it failed to pass. The organization is now working on a new bill with Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan aimed at alleviating the strain of evictions for renters. It proposes to increase the number of days for a tenant to remedy an eviction notice to 14 days.

“That increase would be really a life saver, and a game changer for a lot of elderly people, a lot of people on public assistance,” Cawton said. “Often, it may take a week for their stipend or their assistance to come in place.”

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