Reflections from Away

bag-ban-seattleI’m just back from Seattle, home of the $15 minimum wage, curbside composting, and decriminalized marijuana (thanks to Washington State’s new marijuana reform law, which regulates and taxes marijuana much like alcohol). Seattle’s also banned single-use plastic carryout shopping bags so most people actually use reusable bags when they shop.


Coming home to Virginia is sort of like returning back from an imagined future, a future where progressive green legislation is not only possible but seems perfectly normal. Granted, Seattle is different in countless ways from Richmond, so this comparison isn’t entirely fair! And Seattle is no utopia–it has its own share of problems just like any place else.


But still, the conversation about and the policies governing things like wages, the environment, and the criminalization of drugs seem to have evolved to a very different place in Seattle compared to what we see here.


Paying a visit somewhere, anywhere, where the rules are different and the political possibilities have broadened, is a reminder that change is possible. In Seattle, the progress I witnessed would not have come about without a lot of smart organizing, community engagement, and passionate debate.


We witness so much gridlock, stagnation and corruption in Washington DC that it’s at times difficult, for me at least, to imagine real change coming about at the national level. But it bears remembering that in some localities and states across the country, real change is happening closer to the ground. Cities and regions are moving ahead of the country at large, pioneering new changes, changes that the rest of the country may eventually follow. It may be, indeed, that instead of looking to Washington DC for solutions, we need to be looking around to other metropolitan areas and regions for inspiration and models for “what is possible.”


And if you ever visit Seattle, don’t forget your reusable shopping bag.


Enjoyed my time out west, but glad to be back. There’s work to be done!