The dream that won’t die

Omari Tahir-Garrett wants an African-American Heritage Museum, wants it badly enough to struggle for it for 15 years.

James Fearn wants it, too. Problem is, each of them doesn’t want the other involved. And the ugly battle for control of this desperately needed cultural outpost goes on.

The Museum, slated for the old Colman school at South 25th and Massachusetts over the I-90 lid, has been the focus of a struggle for years now, dating back to the insistence of Norm Rice’s administration that Tahir-Garrett and other rabble-rousers who took over the Colman school in 1985 bring on board “respectable” members of the African-American community in order to get city funding. Ever since, there’s been a division based largely on diverging visions: a simple museum versus an Afrocentric and activist community center.

As it currently stands, Fearn, an attorney with Seattle’s HUD office who is heading the board of directors that the school board (as owner of the property) is willing to deal with, wants 40 units of apartments in the building and a museum in the basement.

Tahir-Garrett and his supporters want a community center, a state-of-the-art media center with radio and TV, a restaurant, sports, child care, after-school programs, and much more—and absolutely no apartments. Activists supporting Tahir-Garrett have tried repeatedly to reoccupy the building, but have been rebuffed by police, at times using heavy-handed tactics.

Enter the WTO activists. The Direct Action Network has taken up the Museum struggle—on Tahir-Garrett’s side—and as a consequence an “opening” picnic and party last month drew over 150 people. Tahir-Garrett says weekly protests will continue at noon Saturdays on the site, with mural painting, talk, drumming, and open mikes in an effort to build momentum to end the stalemate and what Omari calls the “economic and cultural apartheid in the city of Seattle.”

Unfortunately, Tahir-Garrett’s rhetoric is often overheated like that; even when he’s right, he’s alienating people who’d rather not hear it. It’s a shame, because, as he notes, African Americans are the only ethnic group in town with no community center of their own, and the programs he proposes are far more exciting than a housing development with a museum in the basement. The city (as funder) and school board (as landlord) aren’t very likely to be willing any time soon to deal with the Tahir-Garrett faction. And the stalemate goes on, likely to be broken only by massive community activism—or if the school board gets tired of the circus and throws everyone out.

The dead of Iraq (cont’d)

Since I don’t do it very often—well, OK, never—allow me to say a nice word about Mindy Cameron and the editorial page of The Seattle Times. In case you missed it, Cameron, whose attitude toward the foreign policy misdeeds of the United States can often best be described as willful ignorance, wrote a blistering column on February 20 decrying US-led economic sanctions against the people of Iraq.

The spur for Cameron’s late but welcome salvo was the resignation of two more top United Nations officials charged with overseeing the hopeless “food for oil” program that is supposed to mitigate the harshness of the sanctions—supposed to. Hans von Sponeck, the UN humanitarian coordinator for Iraq, and Jutta Burqhardt, the head of the UN World Food Program in Iraq, each resigned last week in frustration over the intransigence of the US and Britain’s fixation on Saddam Hussein. Last year, von Sponeck’s predecessor, Denis Halliday, resigned for the same reason.

So far, that fixation has cost an estimated one to two million deaths, many of them children dying of malnutrition, dehydration, or preventable disease. It stands alongside Rwanda as the two great genocides of the 1990s, Iraq no less horrific for being slow and invisible, and in each case the bodies are stacked like firewood at the door of the Clinton White House.

The heroic opposition of Puget Sound activists like Bert Sacks (Fellowship of Reconciliation), Gerri Haynes (Physicians for Social Responsibility), and Jonas Davis (American Friends Service Committee) has for too long gone largely unheard.

These resignations, by UN bureaucrats who weren’t critical of the sanctions or their sponsors until they saw the machinations and the human damage firsthand, are starting to have an impact on folks like Cameron and Representative Jim McDermott, who has recently—finally—signed a letter to Clinton urging a separation of economic from military sanctions. For the dead and dying of Iraq, that activism can come none too soon.

Global warming on campus

Last week, a group of UW students confronted regents on an unusual issue: divestment from companies who are members of the Global Climate Coalition, the auto and oil company dominated coalition that has been working hard, and successfully, for the past decade to ensure that Congress does nothing about global warming.

The GCC has been struggling of late; several oil and auto companies, including Shell, BP, Ford, and Chrysler, have pulled out, declaring that the GCC’s insistence that global warming is an unproven and alarmist theory is simply no longer tenable.

According to the students, last June the UW regents agreed to a four-step process for asking corporations in which it holds stock to leave GCC: two letters, followed by stockholder activism, followed (if necessary) by divestiture. Only one letter went out.

The regents may or may not follow up, but it’s nice to see a resurgence in activism at the normally somnambulant campus. For that matter, the heady days of the WTO seem to have triggered all sorts of activism where little or none existed previously in Seattle. We’re all the better for it.


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