Why the ‘Seattle: Dying or thriving’ forum was nearly killed

May 23, 2019, 4:40 PM

The venue was set, scheduled weeks ago. The guests were lined up. The topics were timely. So what nearly killed the City of Seattle: Dying or thriving forum that was supposed to happen this week?

“Seattle is not ready for civic discourse yet,” said Miranda Hawkins with the Washington Policy Center.

Hawkins specializes in young professionals for the policy center. She helped organize a Thursday evening forum in Seattle — City of Seattle: Dying or Thriving — in response to KOMO’s Seattle is Dying TV special.

“We were bringing in four different panelists, with four very different perspectives,” she told the Saul Spady Show on KTTH. “We were strategic in choosing who is on the panel so we had a balance of opinions .… when you look at everyone on the panel and the different perspectives they have and how they don’t agree with each other, that’s exactly what we wanted to do – bring in a conversation where people can disagree in a moderated, civil, respectful way and the community can learn from that. We don’t have that at events in Seattle. When we do, like this event we are trying to put on, you get push back.”

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“Push back” is exactly what the forum got. It was originally planned for the Peddler Brewing Company in Ballard. Hawkins said that on Monday, the brewery decided they could no longer host the event after receiving heavy criticism from locals opposed to the policy center or the topic in general.

“They were receiving negative energy from outside community members to our regular customers … and that for the reputation of their business, for the safety of their customers and employees, they felt it was best to remove themselves from hosting the event,” she said.

“So we had two days to find a new venue,” Hawkins said. “It really put us in a pickle. It’s a shame that they felt this outside pressure to cancel hosting for us.”

It’s not an isolated incident and indicative of a problem in Seattle — no civil discourse, tolerance, and respect. For example, Spady was supposed to be on a panel this week at Seattle Pacific University with a member from the DESC — a homeless services organization. The DESC representative canceled 24 hours ahead of the panel, however, and Spady speculates that it’s because of outside pressure. Spady also recalls when the Seattle head tax issue was prompting heated debate last year, city officials such as Kshama Sawant were developing lists of businesses to protest – businesses which hosted petition signers.

There’s also the case of Chris Rufo, a local journalist who was running for city council. Seattleites who disagreed with Rufo harassed him and his family. Racist, sexually violent threats were hurled at his wife, and threats were posted on the school Facebook page where his child attends. Rufo dropped out of the race.

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While the forum this week lost its venue, Hawkins was able to secure another, just in time.

“Even at our new venue, there are people contacting the new venue and saying ‘why would you host them?’” Hawkins said. “It’s like — really?”

“It’s bad that the community put them in that position and certain activists are pushing back that strongly to where they need to cancel an event,” she said. “The people who are concerned about us presenting a balanced conversation could have contacted me and had a conversation. But no one ever attempted to do that. I think what it is going to take is some business people who don’t care what people say and are not afraid to lose a couple customers because they are in favor of free speech, open debate, and they are going to do whatever it takes to allow that to happen in the City of Seattle. I think once you have a couple leaders start doing that, I think people will catch on.”

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Why the ‘Seattle: Dying or thriving’ forum was nearly killed