By Anneke Karreman and Mary Lacey, edited by Catherine Hinrichsen
Our project assistants traditionally create an event to support Housing and Homelessness Advocacy Day (HHAD) in Olympia during the legislative session. For the second year, our student team, Anneke Karreman and Mary Lacey, chose to host an advocacy postcard project that would culminate in an art installation in front of the Legislative Building (aka “The Capitol”) in Olympia. Anneke had participated last year; Mary was a newcomer to HHAD.
Another tradition is their reflection on the day. Here they talk about how they conceived of this project, what they learned, and what they advise for future students working on the project.
What were your expectations before HHAD, and what’s your perspective now after participating?
Mary: At first, I was intimidated by HHAD, but excited for my first time at the Washington state capitol to be advocating for housing and homelessness. I was hesitant about meeting with legislators due to power dynamics between elected officials and their constituents; however, the feeling of uncertainty was overtaken by excitement after the Morning Call to Action where 43rd District Rep. Nicole Macri [who represents the district SU is within] ensured advocates that we are experts on our own experiences, and those experiences are extremely valuable to motivating lawmakers to act. Upon reflection, I realized the power of showing up for important causes and participating in the legislative process. All of the organizers from WLIHA, workers at the capitol, and attendees were inclusive and welcoming, and that encouraged a welcoming, comfortable, and safe environment to engage in. I am grateful that I got to be a part of a state-wide alliance of solidarity that sparked inspiration, engagement, and advocacy.
Anneke: Since I was lucky enough to participate in my first HHAD last year (2019), I felt like I had a sense of what it was going to be like a second time around. Even with its similarities, there were many with a slightly different twist. The “morning call to action” was hosted at the Washington Center for Performing Arts because the sign-up had grown from the year before, which was a good sign! [WLIHA moved the event from the longtime United Churches gathering place because, with 700 registrants, we had outgrown it.] It included a good luck and unifying prayer by a Chief Seattle Club Elder in her native tongue, and drumming performance by other club members. This was different from the year before because the prayer and drumming was only done at the rally itself. I really appreciated how the organizers of HHAD had a stronger focus on Indigenous Washington residents this year. At the rally, leader Colleen Echohawk from the Chief Seattle Club underscored the Indigenous People’s original success in housing before colonization and current fight to reclaim it and their culture. Symbolically, Rep. Debora Lekanoff of the 40th legislative district also spoke at the rally and excited the crowd as the first Native American woman to be elected to the House of Representatives.
What was the postcard project, what was your role, and why did you decide to do it?
Anneke: This year, we continued the legacy of the postcard project within the SU and Washington state community. We also used last year’s installation display of the house to display the cards down at the Capitol. However, the concept was different this year. We decided to use the display as a vehicle for a mosaic of the postcards themselves. I designed 11 different variations of postcards to help construct and illustrate “beautiful multi-family housing,” as Colleen Echohawk mentioned in her speech. Each piece represents a “building block” for affordable housing, as they each were a voice from a different advocate. As a whole, they combine as the collective voice for the support of affordable housing. Side by side on the panels, the bright colors of the installation managed to attract advocates at the rally and we were able to gather more postcards for legislators! Thanks to my dad who agreed to come along for his second HHAD experience; also, he was able to staff the table when we had to race off to go to a legislative meeting with a Senator.
Mary: The postcard project was an attempt to gather different voices, perspectives, and stories of those who could not attend HHAD but still have their messages heard by legislators. Anneke and I wanted to elevate the project from last year by having the structure serve as a mosaic installation for the postcards. We wanted the mosaic to represent each individual voice who helps to build affordable housing which completed a bigger image of multi-family housing. To accomplish our goal of 200 postcards, we tabled in the Student Center on four different days to encourage students, faculty, and staff to share their messages on housing and homelessness to their elected officials.
Additionally, we reminded them that they are a part of the larger image of helping to build affordable homes by filling out a postcard and adding it to the mosaic. At the HHAD rally, the mosaic was on display for advocates to read and participate in, to further demonstrate support for legislative action to address homelessness and housing insecurity. While advocates and legislators were encouraging the crowd, the image of the mosaic could be seen from the Legislative Building steps, further illustrating support for the construction and preservation of affordable housing.
Anneke and Mary had determined that the structure would need at least 140 different postcards to create the mosaic. They hosted four tabling events at SU in January to collect the postcards. Each postcard featured key messages about housing legislation, with space for advocates to write their own personal messages.
What worked well with the tabling events, and what would you change if you did it again?
Mary: At the tabling events, it was helpful to have part of the structure physically there to show the community where the postcards were being displayed. Having the visual imagery helped participants engage and get excited about their contribution to the project. Next year, it would be helpful to know who the postcards were going to beforehand, so we could encourage the community to personalize their message to certain legislators. [Each year, we need to address the postcards to two or three key legislators just before HHAD, depending where the bilks have moved by that point in the session.] Additionally, it might be helpful to have an additional location for tabling, to reach different audiences such as residence halls and other academic buildings.
Anneke: In terms of collecting enough postcards for the installation (140), we were able to do so with the four student tabling sessions at the Student Center. The first tabling session was lunchtime on a Friday, which I think helped us get more postcards than on the other days since students were excited for the weekend and had some extra time. At both lunchtime sessions, we were able to get more student engagement than at dinnertime, so if I were to schedule the tabling times again, it would be for all lunchtime. I also noticed that it worked to ask individuals, rather than to aim for groups of people. If someone is on their own, they may have more time to talk than if they were already socializing with friends. Over the days, I definitely learned to underscore how short of a time it would take to do the activity since many of the excuses not to participate was that they were busy.
On HHAD morning, we met near SU and set out for Olympia. We attended the Morning Call and our district meetings. Then we walked over to the capitol campus to install the structure. With our five-person team of Anneke, Mary and Catherine plus Prof. Wood and Anneke’s dad, Frank, it took about 45 minutes; we were ready for the noontime rally.
What’s one moment or memory that stands out to you from the day in Olympia?
Anneke: One memory that stands out to me from HHAD 2020 was the engagement that we were able to get at the actual rally itself. I think it may have to do with the way we decided to display the postcards this time around. Instead of having the illustrations alternate on the exterior of the display [every other card was flipped], we inverted them so the illustrations faced the rally itself. This way, you didn’t have to walk around the display to see the most engaging part of the postcard. During the rally, we were able to gather about 30 more postcards and that way be more representative of advocates and different regions.
Mary: The most memorable moment for me was at the rally on the steps in front of the Legislative Building. From helping attendees fill out postcards at the bottom of the steps and looking up to see hundreds of red scarves showing support for housing and homelessness advocacy was a special moment. Additionally, the presence of the Indigenous community brought an essential component of housing and homelessness, as Colleen Echohawk from the Chief Seattle Club acknowledged that “there is no justice on stolen land.” Another meaningful aspect of the rally was having the support and voices of legislators from a variety of districts as they spoke about the work being done in the house and senate to address homelessness and housing insecurity. HHAD highlighted the collaborative efforts between advocates and legislatures that advance positive change throughout the state.
What are you most proud of from your experience at HHAD?
Anneke: I am most proud of the ability to represent voices at the state government level that would otherwise not be heard. Civic engagement often has many barriers to participation, especially if you are a busy student, staff or faculty on campus. Also, the Capitol is an hour or so away from campus, which can be a limiting factor if you do not a have a convenient form of transportation available. I am also very proud of the complicated design we were able to pull off in such a short timeframe! Especially, during a busy time of school. Overall, it went rather smoothly in terms of time management and flexibility of schedules to accommodate what we needed to accomplish.
Mary: I am most proud of our ability to bring our creative vision to life in a short amount of time. Through effective collaboration and organization, we managed to deliver over 200 postcards with 11 different designs and ensure the mosaic would be complete. I am incredibly lucky to work with intelligent, hardworking, and dedicated people who continue to impress me with their ability to create engaging and meaningful projects.
Would you do this again if you had the choice? What would you tell future project assistants about this experience to make it easier for them?
Anneke: I would do this event again given the chance. I think it is super important for civic engagement of students on campus with issues like housing affordability and homelessness. By engaging and educating about the subject there is an opportunity to change perspective and future action, which is priceless! To make this project easier for project assistants in the future, I would advise them to plan ahead. [This year’s HHAD was much earlier than in 2019 because of the shorter legislative session, 60 days in even years.] As soon as you get the main idea, work on a schedule to lay out deadlines and anything else you think is necessary for the project to be successful. Communication is key. Make sure to have be able to clearly communicate your idea with others and its feasibility.
Mary: I would absolutely participate in HHAD again. It created a unique opportunity to gather like-minded individuals and collaborate to make a difference through civic engagement. HHAD opened my eyes to the importance of organizing and demonstrating the power of the people. It’s essential to keeping our democracy alive and our elected officials accountable. Although I didn’t get to meet all of the legislators from my district this year, I would love to meet them next year to continue an important dialogue about housing affordability and security. For future project assistants, I would encourage them to step outside their comfort zone to make connections and start an important conversation about housing and homelessness within their communities. Further, I would encourage them to tap into their creativity to contribute innovative messaging and advocacy projects that engage different audiences. HHAD encouraged me to bring my advocacy into the different spaces in my life to generate greater support to create change.
Lastly, who would you thank and why?
Anneke: I would like to thank my fellow team members, Catherine and Mary, who each uniquely filled in the gaps of my wildly unorganized creative brain for their attention to detail, sensibility, and planning skills. We each had an important role to play in the outcome of this project being a success, down to the very small details. I also want to thank Prof. Zachary Wood for his company and moral support at the Capitol, it was such a pleasure to have your presence and expertise! Also thank you to WLIHA for the coordination and providing a means to get our installation down to the actual event; we couldn’t have had the same impact if you weren’t willing to help us with this element.
HHAD is something that I will remember for the rest of my life because it was the first real frontline advocacy work I’ve done and toward such prevalent issues in Washington State.
Mary: I would like to thank the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance for hosting and organizing this important day. I would like to commend my fellow project assistant, Anneke, who spent long hours designing 11 different postcards in a short amount of time while also being a hardworking student. Additionally, Anneke and I could not have done this without our Project Director, Catherine, who supported our vision for the postcard project and ensured its success. Also, special thanks to Prof. Zachary Wood and Frank Karreman for attending the event with and helping us set up the art installation. Lastly, we could not have done this project without the engagement of the community who took the time to fill out postcards, the mosaic would not be complete without you!
Our thanks to the staff at WLIHA, especially Caroline Lopez and John Stovall, for their help securing the approval for us to install the mosaic in front of the Legislative Building and for moving the pieces of the structure to and from Olympia. Thanks also to our Facilities Department at SU for yet again helping us move pieces of an art installation in the Puget Sound region!
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