Town Hall Seattle Civics Series

Town Hall Seattle Civics Series

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  • Episodes
100 Episodes
The Civics series at Town Hall shines a light on the shifting issues, movements, and policies, that affect our society, both locally and globally. These events pose questions and ideas, big and small, that have the power to inform and impact our lives. Whether it be constitutional research from a scholar, a new take on history, or the birth of a movement, it's all about educating and empowering.
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100 Episodes

With exponential growth in the Seattle area, demand and costs for housing are high and availability is low. Affordable housing is difficult for so many to come by, and the region is feeling more than just growing pains; it’s in crisis. In Seattle, most residential areas are zoned for single-family homes, restricting the ability to increase housing density and provide more affordable housing options. Are there new housing solutions that can accommodate everyone? As regions across the country grapple with how to solve the growing housing crisis, city planner M. Nolan Gray shared vital insight in his new book, Arbitrary Lines: How Zoning Broke the American City and How to Fix It. He contended that it’s time to move beyond zoning and abolish it, which could help U.S. cities address housing shortages, stunted growth and innovation, racial and economic segregation, and car-dependent development. But the approach is not without controversy. As discussion continues around loosening long-standing zoning rules, some residents worry that zoning changes will impact the “character” of neighborhoods, while others see the current zoning rules as an impediment to much-needed change. Could our region benefit from a reimagined approach to single-family neighborhoods? Through explanations and stories, Gray showed why zoning abolition could help produce more affordable, vibrant, equitable, and sustainable cities. M. Nolan Grayis a professional city planner and an expert in urban land-use regulation. He is currently completing a PhD in urban planning at the University of California, Los Angeles. Gray previously worked on the front lines of zoning as a planner in New York City. He now serves as an affiliated scholar with the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, where he advises state and local policymakers on land-use policy. Gray is a contributor to Market Urbanism and a widely published author, with work appearing in outlets such as theAtlantic, Bloomberg CityLab, and theGuardian. He lives in Los Angeles, California, and is originally from Lexington, Kentucky. Shaun Scottis a Seattle-based writer and historian. A former Pramila Jayapal staffer and Bernie Sanders 2020 Washington State Field Director, he is currently the Policy Lead at the Statewide Poverty Action Network. His essays about popular culture and late capitalism have appeared inSports Illustrated, The Guardian, andJacobin Magazine. He is the author of the paperbackMillennials and the Moments that Made Us: A Cultural History of the US from 1982-Present, and the forthcoming hardcover from UW PressHeartbreak City: Sports and the Progressive Movement in Urban America. Buy the Book: Arbitrary Lines: How Zoning Broke the American City and How to Fix It (Paperback)from Third Place Books Presented by Town Hall Seattle.

The fight for racial justice within the U.S. criminal legal system — and the call for its reform — has intensified in recent years. Studies show that Black Americans are almost five times as likely to be incarcerated than whites. Can our society be transformed? The story of the formerly incarcerated gang founder and leader, Antong Lucky, reveals how peace, nonviolence, and societal change are possible. The child of an incarcerated father, Lucky grew up in a poor, crime-ridden neighborhood in East Dallas, Texas, a city experiencing an alarming rise in crack cocaine and heroin use in the 1980s and 1990s. Despite high grades and a passion for learning, Lucky was introduced to gang life. Eventually, Lucky formed the Dallas Bloods gang and played a part in the escalating gun violence and illegal drugs until he was ultimately arrested and sentenced to seven years in prison. While incarcerated, Lucky turned away from his gang affiliation and quickly rose to become one of the most respect...

As a philosophy that means different things to different people and groups, it can be hard to know what liberalism stands for. Traditionally, liberalism is viewed as a political and moral philosophy based on individual rights, civil liberties, democracy, and free enterprise. In the 1990s and 2000s, democracy spread and markets prospered, and it seemed like the continuing expansion of liberal values was assured. But recent years have revealed major challenges to liberalism from both the right and the left. In his bookLiberalism and Its Discontents, political philosopher Francis Fukuyama wrote that classical liberalism is in a state of crisis and asked essential questions about how to move forward. While liberalism was developed to help govern diverse societies and was grounded in fundamental principles of equality and the rule of law, huge inequalities still evolved. And while liberalism emphasizes the rights of individuals to pursue personal happiness, free from encroachment by the ...

In 2015, anthropologist and writer Levi Vonk found himself on a journey filled with twists, turns, and a chance meeting that would forever impact his life. With a desire to report on the dangerous realities faced by Guatemalans as they fled civil and economic instability in their home country, Vonk joined a migrant caravan making its way into Mexico. On the trip, he met Axel Kirschner, a man who grew up in New York but was deported to Guatemala after being identified as undocumented during a minor traffic violation. The two men became friends, but as they get to know each other, Kirschner’s tale grew stranger. He revealed that he is a computer hacker and claimed he’s being exploited for his skills and prevented from returning home to his family. As the details grew more bizarre, Vonk began to question: Is Kirschner telling the truth? Is he really who he claims to be? And what kind of dark network could he be involved in? Interwoven with Vonk and Kirschner’s individual narratives,...

Beginning in the 1970s Chicana and Chicano organizers turned to community radio broadcasting to educate, entertain, and uplift Mexican American listeners across the United States. In rural areas, radio emerged as the most effective medium for reaching relatively isolated communities such as migrant farmworkers. And in Washington’s Yakima Valley, where the media landscape was dominated by perspectives favorable to agribusiness, community radio for and about farmworkers became a life-sustaining tool. Feminista Frequencies unearthed the remarkable history of one of the United States’ first full-time Spanish-language community radio stations, Radio KDNA, which began broadcasting in the Yakima Valley in 1979. Extensive interviews revealed the work of Chicana and Chicano producers, on-air announcers, station managers, technical directors, and listeners who contributed to the station’s success. Monica De La Torre weaved these oral histories together with a range of visual and audio arti...

Hundreds of public monuments have come down during the social and racial reckoning currently sweeping our country. And while Seattle has not been at the epicenter of the furor over public monuments, there have been heated discussions over the monument to Confederate soldiers in a Capitol Hill cemetery and a statue of Vladimir Lenin in Fremont. In the United States, the issue of what to do with public monuments has been very polarizing. Why do we care so much about these statues? In her bookSmashing Statues: The Rise and Fall of America’s Public Monuments, professor of art crime Erin L. Thompson looked at the turbulent history of American monuments and its abundant ironies — including the enslaved man who helped make the Statue ofFreedomthat tops the United States Capitol. Monuments have come to mean many things to different people, and the battles over them are a tangle of aesthetic, legal, political, and social issues. Ultimately, monuments symbolize what we value and keeping the...

In 1972, Richard Nixon made a historic visit to China. The trip broke 25 years of silence between the U.S. and China, paving the way for the establishment of full diplomatic relations later in the decade. Around the same time, second-generation Chinese American Gish Jen started writing; she first visited China with her family in 1979, the experience undoubtedly shaping her identity as both a Chinese American and a writer. Jen’s latest book,Thank You, Mr. Nixon, collected 11 stories spanning 50 years since Nixon’s landmark visit and meeting with Chairman Mao. Beginning with a cheery letter penned by a Chinese girl in heaven to “poor Mr. Nixon” in hell, Jen embarked on a witty (and at times heartbreaking) journey through U.S.-China relations, capturing the excitement of a world on the brink of change. The stories paint vignettes of the lives of ordinary people after China’s reopening: a reunion of Chinese sisters after forty years; a cosmopolitan’s musings on why Americans “lik...

It’s sometimes easy to forget that the U.S. has reached its present state over decades and centuries of political decision-making, not just a handful of years. Every move builds on the last, doing and undoing the work of former leadership while facing new crises on top of the old. Is it possible to call out poor policy choices of the past, understand how things went awry, and take meaningful steps forward without partisan finger-pointing? In her new book,Left Behind, political historian Lily Geismer showed how the Democratic Party of the 80s and 90s — particularly during the height of the Clinton years — pushed policy ideas that centered on helping the poor without asking the rich to make sacrifices: doing well by doing good. Micro-lending became a big business, and private programs to promote democracy and equality abroad grew trendy. Geismer contended that as social programs in the private sector boomed, the structure of the government began to weaken, contributing to a crisis ...

The United States is awash in manipulated information about everything from election results to the effectiveness of medical treatments. Corporate social media is a particularly effective channel for manipulative communication — Facebook being a particularly willing vehicle for it, as evidenced by the increased use of warning labels on false or misleading posts. Not to mention the inconsistent, confusing, and controversy-stirring ways that comments and posts are moderated in social media spaces. While the methods of distributing misinformation have shifted with technological advancement, the principles of manipulative communication are nothing new. InSocial Engineering, authors Robert Gehl and Sean Lawson explored how online misinformation is rooted in earlier techniques: mass social engineering of the early twentieth century and interpersonal hacker social engineering of the 1970s. The two methods converge today into what they call “masspersonal social engineering.” Through a mi...

There’s no way around it — it’s a challenging time in America. Societies have lived through pandemics and political strife before, but never with powerful tools like social media and the Internet. It makes for a special brand of division that most of us have experienced in some way, from dinner table arguments with relatives to heated interactions at the grocery store. Have we forgotten how to interact and connect, despite our differences? Journalist Mónica Guzmán knows the struggle all too well. She’s the liberal daughter of Mexican immigrants who voted — twice — for Donald Trump. She’s also the chief storyteller for the national cross-partisan depolarization organizationBraver Angels, which works to bring Americans together and strengthen our democratic republic. When the country could no longer see straight across the political divide, Guzmán set out to cut through the fog and discovered the most eye-opening tool we’re not using: our own curiosity. In her new book,I Ne...

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