Today the Council voted on two resolutions that I had the privilege of sponsoring. Below are short summaries on both.
I. Resolution 31525
Resolution 31525 strengthens the City’s commitment to greenhouse gas reductions by formalizing the City’s policy begun under the previous administration to not invest the City’s cash pool in corporations and other entities whose primary business is the production of fossil fuels. In 2012, Seattle became the first city in the US to begin the divestment; there are now 27 US cities and counties, 11 universities, 33 religious institutions, and numerous foundations that have committed to divestment.
Equally importantly to the formalizing of an existing policy, the resolution also requests that the Seattle Seattle City Employees’ Retirement System (SCERS) Board of Administration work towards divestment of our pension funds from fossil fuel holdings. Fossil fuel holdings are estimated at 9% of the pension fund.
Why is divestment of investments in fossil fuels sound public policy? It’s impossible to stop global warming one pipeline, coal plant or fracking well at a time. But when coal, oil and gas companies also have less control on our government and financial markets, we are able to better able to ensure that those interests will hear us. As it relates to our pension fund, I, as the Chair of the SCERS Board, have a fiduciary responsibility to minimize financial portfolio vulnerabilities at a time when financial analysts are increasingly warning investors of the risks that make fossil fuel reserves less valuable, or even ‘stranded’ and ultimately rendered worthless.
II. Resolution 301532
Resolution 301532 recognizes the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act and “reaffirms the City of Seattle’s unwavering commitment to civil rights, equal opportunity and freedom from discrimination for all.”
In 1960, four African-American students from North Caroline A&T started a sit-in at a segregated Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro. Within days, 80 protests initiated by student activists challenging Jim Crow laws engulfed the city. As the protests spread to over 50 cities in nine states, local governments responded by arresting students and others joining them. Yet, these were not the first sit-ins of the African-American Civil Rights movement. In 1958, Carol Parks-Haun and Ron Walters, leaders in the local NAACP Youth Council, organized a successful sit-in at a Rexall Drug Store with a popular soda fountain, even though, at the time, the NAACP didn’t sanction the sit-in. The Congress of Racial Equality sponsored sit-ins in Baltimore in 1952, in St. Louis in 1949 and in Chicago in 1942. In 1939, African-American attorney Samuel Wilbert Tucker organized a sit-in at a segregated library in Alexandria, Virginia.
It wasn’t until June 11, 1963, when JFK called for legislation “giving all Americans the right to be served in facilities which are open to the public—hotels, restaurants, theaters, retail stores, and similar establishments.”
Wednesday, July 2, 2014 is the 50th anniversary of the enactment of that landmark Civil Rights Act banning discrimination based on race, religion, sex, and national origin and outlawing segregation based on race in schools, work and public facilities. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 led to future civil rights legislation at each the Federal, State, and local levels. The landmark legislation enacted by legislators was important, yet we must still always remember the struggles and sacrifices of the many individuals who paved the way.