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Release the Prisoners Phone Zap

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It is our belief that all forms of incarceration are an assault on the dignity and humanity of those in its cages. In this unprecedented time it is of utmost importance that all people be allowed to keep themselves safe, to practice necessary measures to prevent the community spread of COVID-19. This is impossible while Thurston County continues to hold people in jails, Juvenile Detention Center and Cedar Creek Corrections Center. It is impossible to practice “social distancing” while incarcerated in jail or prison. It is imperative for the inmates and anyone who could be affected by the spread of Covid-19 that everyone be released from Olympia City Jail, Thurston County Corrections Facility, Thurston County Juvenile Detention Center, and Cedar Creek Corrections Center. Thurston county has reduced the inmate population slightly in recent days but 285 human beings remain in Thurston County Correctional Facility. Full release of all those incarcerated is the only acceptable measure to adequately address this public health crisis. DOC staff and inmates in other Washington facilities have tested positive for Covid-19 as have jail inmates in other counties. To force people to remain inside these facilities is tantamount to locking the cells and walking away as the flood waters rise.

Call in to demand the immediate release of all those incarcerated in Thurston County!

Call these numbers to demand that Thurston County release the people held in its jails and halt all new admissions during the COVID-19 pandemic. Failing to release prisoners now will be paid for in human lives, and we refuse to abandon our neighbors and loved ones to die in cells.
who to call:

Ramiro Chavez
County Manager
(360) 786-5440
https://www.thurstoncountywa.gov/email/pages/default.aspx?List-ID=11

Thurston County Prosecutor
Jon Tunheim
360-786-5540
prosecutorsoffice@co.thurston.wa.us

Thurston County Jail
360-786-5510
extension 4 for Medical

Thurston County Sheriff’s Office
360-786-5500
extension 0
Script

“My name is ______, and I am a Thurston County resident deeply concerned about the safety of the city’s incarcerated people during the COVID-19 pandemic. Incarcerated people have a unique vulnerability to disease due to their crowded living conditions and lack of access to adequate medical care. For humanitarian reasons as well as reasons of public health, we call for the immediate release of all people in Olympia City Jail, Thurston County Corrections Facility, Thurston County Juvenile Detention Center and Cedar Creek Corrections Center. It is also of utmost importance to immediately halt any further arrests or detention as this pandemic and state of emergency continue. Ignoring incarcerated people in this crisis will result in an acceleration of the pandemic and the unnecessary death of Thurston County Residents. We refuse to abandon our neighbors and loved ones to die in lockup.”

If you call and get through let us know what they said at olyphonezap@protonmail.com

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March 25th Phone Zap: Suspend Rents in Washington State

 

Please call the office of Governor Jay Inslee to demand a statewide rent moratorium for Washington state tenants.

 

Contact: 

Office of the Governor: 360-902-4111

 

Phone Script:

 

“Hello Governor Inslee. With the COVID-19 pandemic currently spelling economic devastation for working class people, we urge you to immediately halt all rental payments in Washington. Furthermore, we demand that all rental debts accrued throughout the duration of this public health emergency be forgiven. Homeowners nationwide have been offered mortgage relief, and now similar protections must be extended to renters. Evictions moratoriums are a good first step, but they won’t protect tenants in the long-term who can’t pay back rent debts due to unemployment or loss of income. If you maintain sanitation, hygiene, and shelter are key to fighting this pandemic, then ensuring housing access for all must be a priority.”

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Just Make It Free: A Response to Pro-Transit Critics of Fare-Free Public Transit

Image from The Boston Globe 1/31/19

 

The idea of free public transit has now entered popular political discourse. In December 2019, Kansas City councilmembers voted unanimously in a landmark decision to convert to a fareless bus system, becoming the largest U.S. city to do so. In January 2020, Olympia Washington’s Intercity Transit ceased fare collection, precipitating a 20% monthly ridership surge. Transit authorities and political leaders have pondered similar initiatives in Salt Lake City, Denver and Houston. These promising developments have only intensified existing grassroots transit justice movements coast to coast. The novel tactic of the “fare strike,” has resurfaced in the strategic repertoire of direct action activists, who have staged mass fare evasions in defiance of racist police violence and prohibitive fares on New York’s subways. Even politicians have jumped on the bandwagon in select cases. The struggle to decommodify public transportation and guarantee mobility as a human right has never been stronger. 

The free transit groundswell has generated disdain from typical anti-transit conservatives. But it has sourced criticism from unlikely places too: prominent transit planners, transit advocacy NGOs like TransitCenter and online-based transit fanatics, including some members of Facebook group, New Urbanist Memes for Transit-Oriented Teens. All have offered critiques of free public transit that remain firmly within a liberal pro-transit framework. It is arguments from these categories this piece aims to engage. 

 

Not Enough Resources?

 

The thrust of these critiques hinge on the speculative claim that fare-free service necessarily comes at the expense of decent, useful service: frequent, reliable, all-day transit. Rather than eliminate fares, maintain all existing revenue sources and increase and improve service instead, so the argument goes. This contention carries little weight in cities cited above, like Olympia or Kansas City, where fare revenues accounted for mere fractions of operating costs. In Olympia, Intercity Transit netted just 2% of its operations revenue from fares. Many transit agencies source minimal or no financial benefits from charging fares. When accounting for the labor and maintenance costs of fare collection as well as the inflated bus stop dwell times fare payment entails, eliminating fares may save some transit agencies money. 

In larger and denser cities with high rates of transit use, fares tend to comprise a minority, though significant, source of revenues. These cases present distinct obstacles to securing universal fare-free service, though they are hardly insurmountable. Transit financial woes are not a question of economic resources, but of political priorities. The resources exist to provide free, frequent, 24/7 mass transit. Instead resources are squandered on prisons and police or are hoarded by the wealthy. It is precisely the power of grassroots social movements that could force shifts in budgetary priorities and re-distributions of wealth in the interests of transit riders and all working class people. In New York City, Decolonize This Place organizers have advanced demands to tax Wall Street to fund subway and bus service. Already, politicians in NYC have endorsed free transit after multiple high-profile protests in the subways. In Cambridge, Massachusetts, activist and city council member Jivan Sobrinho-Wheeler, has developed a free transit proposal funded by new progressive taxes on luxury vehicles and real estate. Others have suggested land value capture as a funding mechanism. A constraining liberalism pervades urban planning paradigms and pro-transit critics of fare-free can forget that policy, budgets and laws are transformed in the streets too, not merely planning boardrooms and government chambers. 

The economies of New York, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, Philadelphia and Washington D.C. are utterly dependent on functional mass transit. In these major cities, fare strikes – a mass refusal to pay fares – wield particular potential. Fare strikes can starve transit agencies of necessary finances in these cities, an exertion of material class power. However, transit authorities can’t simply respond by shutting down service; the subsequent economic crisis would be too severe for these leading urban economies. Caught between a rock and a hard place, politicians and transit officials could be compelled to identify new revenue streams if faced with a mass fare strike.

Low-Income Discounts Are Insufficient

Instead of eliminating fares systemwide, critics argue that discounted or free transit passes should be available to lower-income riders, while other riders should be charged full fare rates. This would address equity concerns while maintaining a revenue source for transit agencies. Numerous municipalities and transit authorities have now enacted low-income fare programs. While these are welcome developments in immediate terms, an income-based, multi-tiered fare structure suffers significant flaws. 

Few of these programs offer free transit passes to low-income riders. They offer discounted fares, usually about 50% of the standard adult rate. For Seattle’s ORCA Lift recipients, the fare is $1.50, while the City of New York’s Fair Fare charge is $1.35. Even these prices are prohibitive for poorer households, particularly for transit-dependent riders who tend to ride frequently. 

Eligibility in these programs are tightly income-restricted, based on percentages of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL). The FPL is set at notoriously low levels, with about $13,000 in annual income the poverty limit for an individual and approximately $17,000 the limit for a household of two. ORCA Lift utilizes a 200% FPL eligibility threshold, while Fair Fares only uses 100% FPL, despite the exorbitant cost of living in New York. A more accurate indicator of economic distress is the Self-Sufficiency Standard. This alternative measure accounts for different family types and local variations in living costs. In Seattle, a self-sufficient income for a household of one is $27,000 annually and $57,000 annually for a household of one adult and one young child. These figures are much higher than ORCA Lift’s maximum allowable income. For New York, the discrepancies are jarring. Although Fair Fares would only enroll a family of two with an annual income below $17,000, according to Self-Sufficiency Standard measures a livable income for an adult and small child can range from $51,000 in the Bronx to a staggering $85,000 in southern Manhattan. Under current guidelines less than 17% of New Yorkers are eligible for Fair Fares, whereas if the Self-Sufficiency Standard were employed, 40% of residents would be eligible. These calculations indicate the stark inadequacy of low-income fare programs in meeting the needs of working class transit riders. 

These fare programs also exhibit exclusionary and alienating tendencies common (perhaps inherent) to means-tested social provision. Riders who don’t speak English or Spanish may not even be aware of a program’s existence. Undocumented people may be deterred from accessing the programs if their residency and citizenship status is scrutinized during eligibility processes. Homeless people and others without a consistent home address or internet access will experience difficulty receiving application information. Means-tested services are wildly inconvenient, with distinct application processes for each program. Recipients of multiple services have to juggle many appointments with separate agencies, requiring different eligibility criteria. The humiliation of proving one’s poverty time and again can take its toll too.

Of course, free transit passes available to anyone below the the Self-Sufficiency Standard would be far superior to current discount programs. However, discount programs can only preserve fare revenues as a significant revenue stream by not offering free passes to everyone experiencing economic instability. In NYC for instance, the median income of an MTA rider was $46,000, less than the self-sufficiency standard for a household of two in every part of the city, and significantly so in many boroughs. Elsewhere, poverty rates as indicated by Self-Sufficiency rates approach 40% to 50% in major cities from L.A. to Philadelphia. With household incomes of transit riders consistently below the average U.S. household income, it’s reasonable to assume a majority of riders could be eligible for low-income passes if accurate measures of economic hardships were used.  This scenario would then logically beg the question: why not just make it free for everyone?

 

The Convenience of Fare-Free

 

Fare collection exacerbates “dwell times,” the amount of time buses spend at bus stops without moving. Fare-free service expedites boarding processes by permitting a swift and simple implementation of all-doors boarding and sweeps the infamous “fare fumble” into the dustbin of history. Fare-free also eliminates the cumbersome task of comprehending complex fare structures, which are particularly confusing to visitors, newcomers and infrequent riders. 

Critics in turn charge that the convenience of fare-free can be matched by alternative technologies and methods that maintain fare collection. These include transitioning from cash-based fares to electronic cards-based fares and adopting proof-of-payment (POP) systems. POP allows riders to enter transit vehicles at all doors by installing off-board or all-door payment infrastructure. While both of these innovations improve service efficiency, they carry social consequences for marginalized riders. Research indicates poor riders are routinely disadvantaged when cash fare options disappear. Without upfront cash, a smartphone, internet or a bank account card-based fares are more inaccessible. To deter fare evasion, POP systems employ fare enforcement officers (some of whom are fully-sworn police officers) to enter transit vehicles and inspect fare receipts from passengers. True to policing across the board, fare enforcement practices exhibit glaring racist and anti-homeless biases. Black riders in particular are disproportionately targeted by fare enforcement. This reason alone ought to suffice in opposing proof-of-payment. Cops don’t belong on our trains and buses. 

 

A Fight on Many Fronts

 

 Fare-free transit isn’t the silver bullet solution to the manifold crises plaguing public transportation. Eliminating fares doesn’t address poor coverage, late bus arrivals or infrequent service. Neither, though, does securing free public transit today preclude the possibility of improving and extending transit service in the future. In fact, organizations like OPAL Environmental Justice League in Portland, Oregon already organize for both free transit and expanded service coverage and options. 

 Free transit though, even as a standalone reform, can offer immediate social and ecological benefits on a significant scale. According to the authors of Free Public Transit, free service can boost riderships up to 50%. It increases service speeds, making transit more attractive. For low-income households spending 29% of their income on transportation costs, it can be transformative. With automobile use a leading contributor to global carbon emissions, any measures to incentivize public transit is crucial in mitigating climate catastrophe. 

Amidst the increasing popularity of socialism and the Bernie Sanders campaign, decommodification and universal services can now be glimpsed on the political horizon. The struggle for free public transportation parallels these national trends, and it’s time for transit nerds, advocates and planners to grasp this shifting political landscape and join working-class riders in this fight.

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Ecology After Capitalism – December Reading Group

Sunday, December 1, 2019, 2 PM – 4 PM @ 115 Legion Way SE, Olympia, WA

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Suggested readings: Capitalism, democracy, and the degrowth horizon by Leandro Vergara-Camus, The labor(s) of degrowth by Stefania Barca, and Beyond the limits of nature: a social-ecological view of growth and degrowth by Eleanor Finley

These blog posts attempt to facilitate an emerging dialogue between degrowth and eco-socialism. Two critiques of degrowth from an ecosocialist perspective are as follows:

First, while capitalism is compelled to grow by its internal dynamics, there is no intrinsic ‘law’ that makes capitalism incompatible with a steady or declining economy. Second, and perhaps most significantly, overcoming capitalism is no guarantee that a more sustainable socio-ecological configuration will come about.

Nevertheless, degrowth is worth taking seriously, not only because the movement is fast expanding in academic as well as activist circles but also because the points raised are often valid and can stimulate important reflection, debate and convergence in the anti-capitalist left.

Reading group texts do not necessarily represent Olympia Assembly, we read them for critical engagement and discussion.

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Advocate for a Zero-Fare Intercity Transit

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Intercity Transit (IT) is currently exploring the possibility of eliminating fares, “zero-fare” as its called in IT documents. Meetings will be held on November 6th and 20th at 5:30 PM at 526 Pattison St SE, Olympia (on the 62, 66 and 60 buses) during which the possibility of going fare-free will hopefully be discussed. We encourage people to attend these meeting to express support for fare-free.

There other ways to advocate for fare-free service in the lead-up outside of these meetings. Firstly, when the fare-free pilot One bus between Capital Mall and Martin Way P&R comes online (hopefully in the next few weeks) everyone should ride it as much as possible and boost the ridership figures. Higher ridership will signal support for fare-free service. Stay tuned for “bus riding parties.” IT monitors the ridership of the existing free Dash bus in downtown, so give that a ride whenever you can too.
Please consider writing emails, filling out comment cards, calling Intercity Transit, writing letters to the editor, or speaking at public comment during Intercity Transit meetings about the importance of fare-free transit.
Contact info
Phone: 360-705-5852
Public Comment: Attend public meetings on Nov. 6th and Nov. 20th at location listed above.
Comment Cards: Can be found and submitted at the customer service desk at Olympia Transit Center.
Talking-points
These are some of the important points to address when advocating for zero-fare transit.
-Economic and social justice: Transit fares are an arbitrary barrier to movement that overwhelmingly disadvantage poor people. With zero-fare service, mobility will increase and employment, housing, education, social services, cultural activities and leisure will become more accessible to everyone. Note that transit-dependent riders are disproportionately low-income, homeless, disabled, elderly, people of color, women, youth and immigrants. These groups will benefit most from zero-fare service.
Climate justice: Auto use is a leading cause of climate change, responsible for nearly 20% carbon of emissions in the U.S. Studies show that implementing zero-fare transit can lead to 30%-40% increases in transit ridership, encouraging car owners to use transit instead of driving. Particularly with shifts to electric bus usage among transit systems throughout the U.S., free public transit is an absolute necessity to mitigate the climate crisis.
 
Cost effective: Fare collection only accounts for 7% of Intercity Transit’s revenue. Accounting for maintenance of fareboxes and labor and accounting costs associated with handling fares, the percentage decreases further to probably 5% or 6% of total revenue. With dramatically increased ridership, Intercity Transit will likely be able to access more federal funding to expand service further. Financial partnerships with NGOs, employers and municipal governments could also easily fill any small funding gap. With less traffic congestion and air pollution, healthcare and road repair costs will decrease.
Increasing bus speeds: Fare-free service permits the implementation of all-doors boarding, allowing people to board buses at back doors as well as front doors. This leads to less crowding overall during boarding. Zero-fare eliminates the “fare fumble” of people scrambling to procure exact change for bus fare, delaying buses. Zero-fare will decrease “dwell” time at bus stops and on average improve general bus speeds by 3%-7%. Increased bus speeds improve rider experiences and contribute to high ridership.
Safety: In the U.S. a significant amount of disputes and altercations on public transit are related to fare collection. Zero-fare service is thus a workplace safety measure for bus drivers. Buses are also safer vehicles than cars. With more bus riders and fewer cars on the roads, car accidents could decrease as could illnesses related to chemical pollution.