How did I come to this moment choosing to run for Olympia city council?

I was born in Kentucky, I came to Washington in 2003 to serve in the Americorps and, like most people, I fell in love with the place. Mt. Rainier looming in the distance, trees so big, everything so green, plus the story of the salmon. I eventually went to Evergreen which is what brought me to Olympia. While here I drank the water, the Artesian well water, and of course I was blessed with the curse of always returning. I took off for Ecuador to study for a few months and came back. Worked in Arizona but it was too hot and came back. Went to Wyoming and it was too cold so I came back. Olympia is just right and it’s my home and I want to give back.

I’ve always been interested in life’s big questions. Like so many I’ve met out here, I want to make things better. I have been troubled by the wars, the environmental issues, the break down of our society, the poverty, the growth of the extreme rich. Olympia is the sort of town where working people can think about these things. I found myself more and more following a kind of calling towards making change happen. Maybe it’s my personality or it’s the way I was raised or both but when I see something as unjust, like many people, I work to fix it.

I was born in 1980, I think people call me part of the Xennial Generation, on the cusp of Generation X and the Millennials. I grew up on a farm but also spent plenty of my life with computers. I’ve lived in bigger cities like Richmond, VA and Seattle, WA, but I like the size and pace of life in Olympia. Like the younger generation, I’ve worked a wide variety of jobs, accrued student debt and am a renter. So I empathize with the struggles of the young.

When I graduated high school it was just before the dawn of the new millennium and it felt like there was a lot of hope. Then 9/11 happened and the US took a turn to two decades of war, cycles of economic collapse, skyrocketing expenses in health, education, home prices and fairly stagnant wages with rare benefits. This year I started working as a school bus driver for North Thurston Public Schools and am thankful to finally have a union job with benefits and a living wage. Most of my adult life was a fight for that simple bit of security. Despite finally having a good job, I can’t currently imagine ever owning a home in Olympia. I bet there are a lot of people who feel similarly.

I would like to say that when I look back on my life I basically followed a path that America promised would lead towards the American Dream. I know that American Dream might have always seemed a far off possibility to many people of color and poor people but like so many I still thought it was a possibility. Now I feel differently about the American Dream.

We need to still have a dream to fight towards. A vision of a future where all people can have a sense of security. That when you work a full time job as an adult that you are paid a living wage no matter what you do. That we will be able to see a doctor when we are sick. That we can pursue education as far as we are capable. That we can start a family with paid maternity and paternity leave, have early childhood education and know that our society cares about our children. That if you become disabled you can have a quality life. In the richest nation the world has ever seen, this seems doable.

We also need to have a future that respects Nature. That we turn away from egregious materialism and narcissistic individualism towards cooperation and a high quality of life shared by all. We need the mutual aid that we shared in the past year to continue and grow till it becomes a core of who we are. We need to share and have systems of sharing. I’d like to think gone are the days when we hoard toilet paper during emergencies and instead look around us and think what can I give to help others in hard times?

I started down a civic minded path at a young age. When I was in high school I was Editor-in-Chief of my highschool newspaper, but by the time I was entering college for the first time I quickly discovered that journalism was a shrinking career path. I instead saw the conglomeration of news media, the cutting of journalist jobs, the growth of the public relations firms and I witnessed that hurt our democracy. Voters can’t make good choices based on bad information.

When I came to the PNW I discovered the healing power of wilderness. The sacredness of salmon. I also realized the extent of the damage that unfettered and poorly planned growth has caused. When I was in Seattle in 2003, rent was reasonable as a worker, now it’s impossible. I feel like we are seeing the same thing happen in Olympia.

When I was in Seattle I wondered why the monorail, built in 1962, still was exactly the same as it had been then. Why wasn’t there high speed trains going up in down the west coast? When I moved to Olympia and visited Tumwater Falls I read that the falls once powered an electric streetcar a hundred years ago that connected Olympia to Tumwater. What happened to the electric street car or at least our local gumption? Later at Evergreen I even did an art project that basically stated that because of climate change and other reasons, gas cars are not sustainable and never will be.

I started Evergreen expecting to become an environmental scientist. Then the 2008 financial collapse happened. I realized I needed to understand this phenomenon so I switched to studying political economics. I also started studying about Latin America and the people rising up against neoliberalism and for democracy and better quality of life. This put me on a different path then I thought I would be on where I was spending my time working on solidarity for those under the thumb of US hegemonic control, working to stop the wars, campaigns for undocumented peoples, standing up against the banksters of Wall Street, joining the fight for the rights of indigenous peoples, standing up for black lives and fighting the foreign owned polluter Puget Sound Energy.

In 2014 I left my job as National Grassroots Coordinator for the Alliance for Global Justice to volunteer as Campaign Manager for Charlie Hardy for US Senate in Wyoming. An idealistic uphill battle that stood a grassroots low budget volunteer powered Democratic contender up against a Republican Incumbent. He was a Catholic Priest who had passionate positions for the poor and the working class. We lost the campaign put a feature length documentary came out of it. Charlie Vs Goliath.

The past several years I had been working as an arborist. It’s hard physical work. The kind of work where you can see what you accomplished at the end of a day. It’s also dangerous work and there were many times I wondered why I would break my back for a job where if I got injured I’d be let go and replaced by someone else ready to break their back for a wage, erratic schedule and no benefits. I still do the work but part time and on my own. This past summer I got unemployment benefits that, like for many people, was more than I usually made consistently in a month. Like many working people, I used that money to pay off debt but also to buy tools that would allow me to work independently from a boss. We need to have a society where workers have a better share of the efforts from their work.

Last year, I also spun up Power to the Public’s Thurston Public Power Initiative with the help of the late great Tom Nogler, who I dearly miss and will always honor. It was the second attempt, the first in 2012, at passing an initiative that would allow the Thurston Public Utility district the authority to become an electric utility. With that authority they could go into electrical generation, distribution and (if they chose) buy out the holdings of Puget Sound Energy in our county. PSE was sold to an international investment firm in 2008. When the lights go out and you’re sitting at home in the dark for long cold winter nights because PSE didn’t do proper line maintenance and their line workers live three hours away you can write the private owners in the Netherlands about your complaint. Or you can back replacing PSE. Olympia has the authority to start their own electric utility, all they need is political will.

So here I am. On the last day to register a run for office, I tossed my hat in the ring. My opponents are impressive individuals who I share a lot of respect for, I’m sure they will do great things. My intent on running was to push for bigger bolder issues and more independence and self reliance on the capabilities and resourcefulness of the people who live here. I think we don’t need to shower out of town wealthy developers with generous tax incentives and sweetheart deals. We need to lift up all the people in Olympia with their own good ideas and projects and not just remove the barriers but add value to their initiative. I think I can win, I believe we can win.

I look forward to hearing from people in Olympia. I’m going to have a fun time talking with folks and do my best to run a fair and positive campaign. It’ll be a scrappy grassroots effort so don’t expect a fancy yard sign, but please feel free to make one yourself.

Thanks you all so much for reading.

Sincerely,

Bruce Wilkinson