Commentary: Defeating Measure 1 jail tax: Community organizing for the win

By Stan Harewood of All of Us or None The Black Lens

In a remarkable grassroots effort, Spokane County’s Measure 1 was successfully defeated – no new jails in Spokane. There is a better way to address health, safety and justice in our community.

The campaign, backed by more than a dozen nonprofit political organizations and funding from philanthropic organizations Empire Health Community Advocacy Fund and Inatai Foundation, utilized a multifaceted approach, including a challenge to the language on the ballot in court that was successful and a political campaign with TV commercials, digital ads, mailings, and direct voter contact methods such as text messages, phone calls, and door knocking to reach a broad audience. A staggering 48,500 voter contacts were made, showcasing the dedication of the volunteers involved.

The genesis of Measure 1 can be traced back to the deliberations of Spokane County Commissioners, Justice not Jails reports. In December, Commissioners Josh Kerns and Al French voted in favor of placing Measure 1 on the ballot. The proposal sought to introduce a 0.2% sales tax increase for 30 years to address various issues within the county’s public safety and criminal justice systems. The primary goals were to improve correctional facilities and invest in behavioral health programs. The timing of the proposal stirred controversy. It was introduced just before the swearing-in of new County Commissioners, Amber Waldref and Chris Jordan, both of whom were Democrats. Critics argued that the timing appeared to sideline the incoming commissioners and raised concerns about transparency and accountability. This timing controversy became a focal point in the ongoing discussions surrounding Measure 1, Justice not Jails writes.

Several elected leaders stressed that the lack of specific details about how the revenue would be allocated was a significant concern. Advocates for delay sought a more comprehensive approach that would involve a broader cross-section of the community in decision-making.

In the midst of these debates, nine petitioning organizations played a crucial role in advocating for transparency and clarity and pushed for a clearer understanding of how the ballot measure’s funds would be utilized. They emphasized the importance of addressing systemic issues, racial disparities, and community involvement.

The advocacy efforts for transparency bore fruit when, on Aug. 29, 2023, Judge Tony Hazel ruled that an amendment to the ballot language for Measure 1 was necessary to ensure that voters were fully informed about its essential contents. This decision marked a significant victory for transparency and accountability advocates, ensuring that voters would have a clearer understanding of the measure’s implications when casting their ballots.

The campaign faced adversity when proponents of Measure 1 launched a smear campaign against campaign managers Stan Harewood, a black man who is an active member of Eastern Washington’s All of Us or None organization focusing on civil and family rights of currently and formerly incarcerated individuals, and, Justice Forrall, a local activist with Spokane Community Against Racism who is frequently targeted by Spokane Police at rallies and government meetings. Both having had experience in Spokane County Jail, these attacks prompted discussions about the safety for individuals speaking out and what it means to have your rights restored if you continue to be targeted even after you’ve done your time and are a productive member of society, paying taxes, engaging in civic duties, caring for family and community.

Despite facing challenges such as smear campaigns and personal attacks, the political committee, Justice Not Jails, mobilized over 100 volunteers, raised $500,000, and hired formerly incarcerated individuals to champion their cause. Justice Not Jails strategic plan led to a resounding victory.

The success of the campaign underscores the power of community organizing, grassroots mobilization, and centering the experiences of incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people, emphasizing the importance of allowing those individuals with lived experiences to define their narratives.

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