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caption: The Washington state Capitol as pictured on a summer day.
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The Washington state Capitol as pictured on a summer day.
Credit: Northwest News Network

New WA Black Lives Matter Alliance agenda aims for 'liberation'

A statewide coalition is calling on lawmakers to address racism as a public health crisis in Washington state.

Members of the Washington Black Lives Matter Alliance say their legislative agenda is the next pressing step after this summer’s protests for racial justice.

The new alliance is a non-partisan coalition linked to Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County, but with steering committee members in the Tri-Cities area, Ellensburg, and Spokane as well.

It calls for celebrating Black culture, promoting economic freedom, and prioritizing the physical and mental health and safety of Black people. Also, honoring treaties “because Indigenous sovereignty and Black liberation are intertwined.”

Steering committee member Andrea Caupain Sanderson is also the CEO of Byrd Barr Place, a social service nonprofit in Seattle’s Central District. She said the Alliance established its priorities around enhancing the health, wealth, and well-being of Black people and communities through ongoing Zoom calls this fall.

“We are creating a vision of a Washington state that we need by working cooperatively,” she said. “It made sense for us to consolidate and build this unified agenda that spoke to the range of experiences of Black folks across our state.”

Caupain Sanderson said she’s undaunted by legislators’ warnings that the upcoming session beginning Jan. 11, 2021 will pass fewer bills than normal since it will be held remotely.

“Never you mind how many bills or how little bills get passed — we want to upend how that process works,” she said, by helping their supporters become civically engaged.

She said those people have stories of resiliency to tell lawmakers.

“We are doing this by us and for us,” she said “We know there’s a reckoning that needs to happen, and we’re talking across all 39 counties in Washington state.”

For her part, Caupain Sanderson said she’ll be most focused on increasing food access and rental assistance to people at or below the poverty line in the wake of the pandemic. She said Byrd Barr Place is seeing lots of new clients as people seek help after job losses and other impacts of the pandemic.

“We were seeing, before the pandemic, 500 households per week in our food bank. Now we’re seeing 800 per week and we’re projecting that to go up to 1,100 by February.”

She said 42% of their clients are Black.

HyeEun Park is a senior policy analyst with the Alliance. She said it’s not clear how many items on their agenda will translate into legislation in the next session. But she said members of the Senate Law and Justice Committee have signaled their interest around proposals related to the court system.

“We’ve had really good conversation with many different legislators,” Park said. “We are cautiously hopeful, given the restraints on the session and logistics of carrying out an all-remote session.”

She said that while traditional in-person days for advocacy on specific issues in Olympia will be replaced with calls to action via social media, the Alliance will help Black people from around the state talk about their lived experience in advocating for these priorities.

“We really are hoping to galvanize," Park said. "To take that energy we saw over the summer with people out on the streets shouting, demanding for change.”