WTF is Rise Up and Who is Doing it?

Updated: Jun 20, 2018

Over the past several days, since launching #HumansOfBelltown, those humans have had all manner of questions about what this is, and what’s going on. Below, Rise Up founder Evan Clifthorne answers the most frequently asked questions from the humans of Belltown.

Q1. “WTF is Rise Up Belltown?”

Rise Up is an effort to keep Belltown affordable. But doing that means that our civic leaders need to change some laws and spend some money. And to do that, they need to fall in love with this place as much as we have. I started Rise Up so that we could tell our story, build our power, and lobby for change. Also we’re doing this in a blog post on the website, so can also click on some links! :)

Q2. “Who are you and why are you doing this?”

Belltown makes sense to me. I love this community of people, and I love what this place has given back to me, and to my life.

I moved to Belltown about four and a half years ago, after ending a nine-year closeted relationship from age 21 to age 30. It was pretty intense, but I was also starting my own coming-out journey, and it was the first time since college that I could finally start to figure out being myself. Discovering myself.

I would come to 2nd Avenue, and I fell in love with Clever Bottle and it’s community of regulars - somehow it seemed like I had friends there before I ever even walked in. and especially with the brilliant mind, kind heart, and frequent smile of the amazing aesthetic genius that created that special place.

These days Clever lives only in our memories, but a couple years ago when the community started rising up on its own, I was working as a staff member at the Seattle City Council for a guy with an incredible work ethic, but with whom I didn’t exactly see eye-to-eye on all things. My friends in the Belltown community knew this, and started introducing me to other people in the community who were also interested in seeing this place saved, and who had some understanding of local happenings.

The world of politics and activism and government is the professional world that I come from. I spent the past ten to fifteen years or so working on public policy and political advocacy, depending on how you slice it. In a lot of cases that was working for elected people here in Washington. But it was also for non-profits, and for campaigns, and as an activist. I did communications, policy development, social organizing, event planning, and all the various things that go along with writing or changing laws.

That obviously doesn’t mean that I have all the answers, or that I presume to always know better than someone who’s new to this work. Far from it, in fact. But I also think it means that I have an understanding of politics (and policy, and lobbying, and campaigns, and candidates, and whatever else) that’s more like how an electrician understands wires. Or how a plumber understands pipes.

I’m not trying to lift my political opinions above others’, and at the same time I think that a professional journeyman is usually going to have some skills or some insights that others may not. I’m doing this in this case because I want to put those skills or insights to use for something that matters to me.

And saving this community matters to me.

Q3. “Why haven’t you personally done a #HumansOfBelltown post yet?”

Ha! Because #HumansOfBelltown is one part street journalism, and one part guerrilla photo petition to the Mayor and Council. They need to see and hear from people they don’t know. They know who I am already, so they don’t need to hear more from me personally. They need to hear from all the other people who also love Belltown, and want to see this community continue to thrive. Maybe I’ll do one after we hit 100 posts, but we’ll see. In the meantime, it’s of course totally fair for people to have questions, so I’m doing this F.A.Q. session instead, so it can live on the website for those that wanna know what’s up.

Q4. “You’ve got a GoFundMe, and you’re collecting event sponsors — but what’s the money actually for?”

Great question! In many ways, we’re trying to budget this effort just like any other real-life, issue-based political campaign. Think of something like a ballot-measure campaign, for example. Doing that means we have to pay for event expenses, advertising, promotional materials, and some overhead, among other things. But the biggest thing is that we need to hire paid organizers. Probably three of them, and they would ideally be people with a deep, existing knowledge of this community already. In an ideal world I would be one of those three organizers, so that I could continue to see this through to the end. But I don’t necessarily take that for granted.

Regardless, this is usually pretty essential in grassroots campaigns for change like this. Organizing is a skill, so it’s important to have people that have those specific skills and can be out there doing this stuff every day. Without dedicated organizers, volunteers a lot of the time run out of steam. Usually because they’re ALSO busy running their businesses or working their own jobs, or doing their own art. Whatever it may be, it all takes time and energy. So in other words, it’s important to have people that can be held accountable and can keep on keeping on, when other people need to get back to their own work or their own lives.

Q5. “But who’s holding YOU accountable? Is anyone looking over your shoulder on this?”

We’re in the early days right now, so it’s still pretty informal. But since launching Rise Up, I’d say there’s a group of about 10 - 15 different Belltown humans that I’ve been keeping regularly updated about what I’m up to. It’s mostly a group of local business owners, local musicians and artists, industry employees, longtime regulars, or other people who are fixtures in the community. I’ll send emails, or brief people over the phone, or in person. I’m in the process of formalizing those updates into a Belltown Oversight and Advisory Team (BOAT!) which we would list on our website so that the community can see who’s actually tracking things.

It’s a temporary solution, because ultimately we’ll need to bring on a formal group of local stakeholders that would have final say over budgeting, and things like that. But we’re just not quite there yet. Most likely, some of the people tracking these early days through the BOAT would also end up being a part of that formal group eventually. But also not necessarily — the bigger responsibility for the BOAT would probably be to identify and select that formal group, whether from among their own ranks or from totally new humans.

This is not an exclusive group! If you think you have the time, energy, and passion for this community to be on the BOAT, please let me know! I’d love to hear from you! :)

Q6. “What’s the long-term plan? What are you doing with all these #HumansOfBelltown posts?”

There’s a PDF that you can read of our “mission road map” that lays out the big picture. But the short version is that I’m going to send every single post to the Mayor and Council, and we’re going to ask them to listen to us and to take some action. You can read a short overview on the #BelltownNOW page, but I’m also working on getting a more in-depth post written about the policy as soon as I can.

Q7. “Is this just a pipe dream, or can we actually save this neighborhood?”

I told a human of Belltown recently that I felt like maybe I’d seen too much of how the sausage is made — they interjected with “Now you don’t wanna eat the sausage!” ..And sometimes that’s true, but every time I hear another Human of Belltown share their passion and their love for this place, it’s a vivid reminder of one of the earliest lessons I learned when I started working in government: that with “the right number people” speaking up, literally anything is achievable, sure. But the trick of #theMAN is to convince you that “the right number of people” is always too high for regular people to achieve. Even though usually that number is a lot lower than most people think.

So nothing is guaranteed, but we certainly have the passion that we need. As long as we can keep giving voice to that passion, then YES: We will succeed. I often get challenged that "gentrification happens" or that "it’s just a part of the natural order of things." But people also used to believe the world was flat, and that was just the natural order of things.

I think we’re just not being creative enough. There are other cities that have commoditized their airspace, or that have essentially decoupled revenue-generating development capacity from the patch of dirt that it happens to sit above. We just need to explore using those systems locally to serve an affordability priority.

Another way to say that is that we’re gonna make sure that the landowners still get their money. And we think there’s a chance that landowners might even be able to make MORE money in a system like this, where the value of their assets is that much more fungible.

I'm actually working on a stop-motion video with my 8-year-old nephew, using Lego to build a mini-Belltown and show what's what. I'm hoping it'll help explain what we're trying to do.

Q8. “I’ve seen you working on Belltown for the past two years, but Rise Up is only a few months old. What were you doing before?”

I consider Rise Up to be basically Round Two of my attempts to help this community to save it self. Round One was something called Project Belltown. In many ways it was the rough draft for Rise Up, but it was also a series after series of crazy learning experiences - definitely including a whole lot of missteps on my part. On the up side, we managed to engage over two thousand people in the creation of #BelltownPossible, which I do feel good about. It’s taken a back burner to what we’re doing now, but I feel like it still serves as something of a future vision for our community.

Either way, in Round One we gathered all this great info but when it came time to put it into action, things fell apart for about a billion different reasons. One big one was a philosophical difference between me and the people I’d been working with, mostly from the local community council and business association. My first priority has always affordability. And fighting displacement of this creative community by making sure there was still space for us to exist. But I honestly don’t believe theirs was.

It was also hard to build support for affordability when those communities were mostly comprised of only one demographic of people: mostly over 55. mostly condo-owners. mostly wealthier. mostly of European descent. Obviously everyone’s voice is important, but it usually felt like there were a lot of voices. Either way, the final days of Round One also sadly involved a lot of toxicity that left me pretty scarred throughout the Spring… happy to answer anyone’s questions about that in person, but I’m not gonna say anything more about it online. After a few months trying to put together Round Two, I kicked off Rise Up Belltown and here we are. Even then, it took a little time to get sorted, and things only really kicked into higher gear once the #HumansOfBelltown posts got rolling.

Q9. “Did I see you on a “date date” the other day? Aren’t you married or something?”

Yes, we’re married. But unless you’re ready to have a whole convo about queer or ethical poly issues, then I’m not really trying to tell you about our personal lands. I guess just know that we’re not being creeps if you see us out with other human beings. Or I guess just get over it. Either way I wanna say thank you in advance to the 99.9% of Belltowners who give literally zero shits about this.

Q10. “What? What’s 'MY favorite thing'? What about YOU? What’s YOUR 'favorite thing' about Belltown?”

The human beings and the community we create together. And Alex. Definitely Alex. I still live at that same, older brick building, but now with a badass human who I’m pretty sure is a supernatural being stuck in a human body. Without her, there’s no way I’d have the energy or ability to do this. :)