Once, over drinks, a friend leaned in so close I could smell the clove cigarettes on her breath, and then she told me the truth. “Living in Seattle,” she said, “is like being madly in love with a beautiful woman who’s sick all the time.”
This was probably fifteen years ago, but it’s one of those moments that juts into the gears of your mind and blows the whole mechanism to pieces. I can’t remember anything anyone else said to me that night at the bar — I can’t even remember who else was there — but I will always remember those words, and the look in her eyes as spoke them to me. She had lived here for a long time, and she was telling the new kid that it wasn’t all long, gorgeous summers and progressive politics. Living in Seattle, she wanted me to know, was work.
I think about her statement a lot. Every time a politician says something dumb, or every time a NIMBY ignores the desperate need for more housing with a plea to preserve a sightline, or every time another report indicates that Seattle is getting less diverse, I think to myself, she’s just sick right now, but one day she’ll feel better. Things will improve.
From before the day I moved here, I knew Seattle would be my home. I tried to live elsewhere, but it never worked. No other place made me want to be a better human the way Seattle does. No other city is this beautiful. No other city is this smart. No other city is home.
But boy is Seattle hard to love, sometimes. This city has excluded poor people and minorities in ways both overt and covert for its entire existence. There’s thankfully very little corruption, but government moves too slow much of the time to address injustice. When our citizenry gets lazy, we can be some of the most passive-aggressive, smug people on earth.
I’ve mentioned recently on this site that I believe the Urban Archipelago concept, the belief that American cities are the last bastion for liberalism and culture, has proven to be disastrous. It has made liberals and progressives worse versions of themselves. The goal of a political party should be to represent all Americans; any political coalition built on just one fraction of the country is a coalition that will not last. (And, yes, the happy news is that this is true of the angry white coalition that Donald Trump built this year, too.)
The truth of 2016 is this: We cannot make do by sheltering in Seattle and keeping our heads down. We can’t just tut-tut at the direction in which the rest of the country is heading. We can’t smugly sit and pass judgment on everyone else. We need to ensure that our policies ensure a place at the table for everyone (barring the bigots and monsters who seek to take rights away from others.) And we need to plan for a future in which we don’t abandon large swaths of this country to molder and rot while the cities prosper.
But all that said, now is the time for Seattle to be strong. We need to provide a sanctuary when other places refuse. We need to encourage and showcase diversity in all its forms. We need to build a place where LGBTQ citizens feel safe to be who they are. We need to shore up the rights that others might want to take away. We must be an example for the rest of America.
I’m not talking about pulling up the gates. In fact, I’m calling for the opposite: this city needs to throw its arms open wide, to demonstrate that being inclusive and thoughtful and just is how America succeeds. That old saying about living well being the best revenge is true; we need to demonstrate that America can house the wealthy and the poor, it can welcome citizens of all faiths and ethnicities and orientations, it can encourage many viewpoints at once. In fact, we are stronger because we include everyone, not in spite of that fact.
On election night, when I had the creeping sensation that I’d fallen into some sort of twisted alternate timeline, it occurred to me that Seattle was really going to have to step up in the next four years. All that high-minded talk, all those dreams we’ve shared over the years but never really lived up to? It’s time to make those real. We are going to have to be the best Seattle that ever existed if we’re going to survive these dark times.
Thanksgiving is a time to collect, and to relax, and to heal. It’s time to surround yourself with love and take stock and plan for the winter ahead. I hope you’ll take a while today, and this weekend, to think about what Seattle can do to thrive in the coming years. What we can do with our privilege to protect those who need help, and to amplify the voices of those who should be heard. And I hope you give thanks for what you have, even as you vow to hold it close and never take it for granted in the difficult years to come.