Capitol Hill’s Rainbow Crosswalks Spark “Rogue” Crosswalk Painting and Social Dialogue in Seattle

On Tuesday, June 23, 2015, Seattle’s historically LGBTQ neighborhood, Capitol Hill, unveiled 10 rainbow painted crosswalks in honor of Seattle Pride Week. The total cost for this project was $66,000, or $6,000 per crosswalk, a price the city was happy to pay to mark the neighborhood a safe space for the LGBTQ community and remind newcomers and longtime resident’s of Capitol Hill’s colorful roots. The crosswalks were a great success for Pride Week and prompted the city to install more throughout the neighborhood in a more permanent capacity.

Not long after Pride Week, the rainbow crosswalks of Capitol Hill sparked a group of unknown painters to grab cans of paint and color a few crosswalks in the Central District. Two areas of crosswalks are now painted in red, green, and black stripes, representing the Pan-African flag. Seattle’s local King 5 News interviewed members of the group of painters and residents who could confirm that it was mostly a neighborhood-wide organized effort.

“This neighborhood used to be predominantly black at one point in time,” Central District resident Tiffany Jones told a K5 News reporter. “It’s a sense of pride. It’s our culture. It’s who we are.”

In an attempt to respond positively to the Central District crosswalks, the city of Seattle has since posted a list of Community Crosswalk Guidelines, outlining the rules and costs of coloring crosswalks to represent your neighborhood in Seattle and encouraging community members to take part in this social project by submitting ideas to city hall. The Central District crosswalks appear to follow physical guidelines that the city laid out (such as that the paint must be in vertical or horizontal stripes), but were obviously instated without being sanctioned and slapped with the $25 per square foot price.

“That’s gay pride, this is African American pride,” another resident told K5 News. “There is no difference.”

Though home to one of the most culturally and racially diverse zip codes in the Pacific Northwest, Seattle is also known to be predominantly white and segregated in most areas of the city. Back in mid-August of 2015, Black Lives Matter activists voiced some of these unsettling facts of racial segregation and oppression when they disrupted Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’ speech in Seattle. Side-stepping city hall to paint the Central District sidewalks appears to have initiated a similar conversation about the visibility of black residents in Seattle.

While everyone loves the rainbow, Seattle is already widely known for being an LGBTQ-friendly city outside of just Capitol Hill. Residents “going rogue” and painting the Central District crosswalks colors of the Pan-African flag is a much louder effort to celebrate a more greatly overlooked population of the city.

“You spent $66,000 on the rainbows,” said Jones. “Spend $66,000 on the black flag.”

The crosswalks have remained colorful for nearly 2 months now, and while some residents voiced that the painters “should’ve gone to city hall and asked,” the Seattle Department of Transportation recently issued a statement that the Central District crosswalks are here to stay. As for other neighborhoods, we’ll have to wait and see what colors residents choose to represent their communities.

I think this is a good thing for Seattle. The city has been known for its racial segregation and its ignorance of racial issues. Today, with the growth of Amazon and other tech companies, the city is more white and male as it’s ever been. As a woman and former New Yorker, this is more depressing to me than ever. But the city’s response to this public act of racial protest, when it could have so easily (and literally) been washed away and made into something small, indicates to me that maybe there’s hope for change.

My First Sounders Game – Go Seattle!

Loving Seattle is all about enjoying the little things the city has to offer: the beautiful landscape and the opportunities it presents, the comradery of the middle class culture, the unexpected weeknights that light up with karaoke, and also… soccer. After a summer of putting it off, I finally made it to my first Sounders game.

The Seattle Sounders are the most sold-out soccer team in the United States. They play their games in CenturyLink field, the same field as the Seahawks football team. If you’re not a sports fan, you may not know that CenturyLink is designed in such a way that its acoustics are the loudest of any stadium in the country – loud enough to hit low points on the richter scale. My mom loves hearing that when she knows we’re hanging out on a fault line.

Seahawks fans are known as the 12th man because their noise serves as a 12th man on the team, affecting how the other team plays. But at the Sounders game I saw that the fans are much more than just loud noise.

The game I went to was a rivalry game – Seattle Sounders vs. Portland Timbers (we won, woo!). And so while the loudest Seattle fans hung out right behind one of the goals, a top section was clearly completely occupied by Portland fans. Both sections had drums, both had chants that were more verbal than what I grew up with in Cleveland (Can I get a D-Fence anyone?)

This is no joke. #soundersvstimbers #centurylink #SundayFunday #SeattlevsPortland

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Here are just a few of the Sounders chants, which sounded almost tribal with the ohh-ing and the drums:

Seattle

The bluest skies you’ve ever seen are in Seattle
And the hills the greenest green, in Seattle
Like a beautiful child, growing up, free an’ wild
Full of hopes an’ full of fears, full of laughter, full of tears
Full of dreams to last the years, in Seattle
. . . in Seattle!

AND

Us Verses Them

Whoa…Oh…Oh…Hey…Hey…Hey… (four times)
When it’s us versus them, you can always count on me
When it’s us versus them, it’s a Sounders unity
(repeat).

There are several more, many of which actually don’t appear on the website. And I know there’s even more for the Seahawks. At one point, the score was 1-1 and the Portland section was getting pretty loud. That was until the Sounders scored a second goal. Then the Seattle fans section started chanting, “It’s getting pretty quiet over there!”

I laughed. The Sounders won. Victory.

“Excuse me, Miss?” This Is Not New York

Something happened recently when my sister was in town that just crossed my mind today. We were out walking through Capitol Hill, just the two of us, and as we had just crossed a street a stranger approached us saying, “Excuse me, Miss, excuse me.”

Now, what I did was stare straight ahead, pretending that I could hear no one, and continued walking pretty much the same pace as though nothing was happening. My sister, on the other hand, stopped and listened to the guy. He was just visiting in Seattle and needed directions to where he was going, directions only I could have given him because my sister was a visitor as well. If she hadn’t stopped, I basically would have looked like a total asshole.

Of course I didn’t stop because that’s what I had learned to do in New York City. I had learned from experience, as all women do in the city, that “Excuse me, Miss” is almost always followed by unwanted words of sexual harassment.

As I looked back on it, I wondered if there is anything a man could say to me on the streets of New York to make me stop and listen to him. Saying “Excuse me, Miss” seems the most polite way to approach someone on the street if you need directions, but I wouldn’t stop for that. People handing out flyers can get very creative in New York, stopping you in your tracks because what they’re saying sounds so weird coming from a stranger, such as, “Is your birthday coming up?” or “You never responded to my text last night.”

But even those comments I learned to tune out while walking. I won’t tell you my birthday, I didn’t get your text, and excuse you, sir.

Maybe if I was a braver (or just less paranoid) person, I would have opened myself up to pleasant street interactions more in New York. I saw them happen for other people – eccentrics or neighbors getting to know each other right there on the sidewalk corner. And sure, there were some conversations I’d have with strangers in the subway when our train was inconveniently stopped underground for a while.

But not on the streets. Not in New York.

Because whenever I did stop or respond to “Excuse me, Miss,” I was greeted with unwanted sexual advances, such as “You are so beautiful, God Bless you,” (which may seem harmless, until you see how angry they get if you don’t smile or say something back), “Can I get your phone number?”, or the absolute worst, “Are you pregnant?” (something I think some men just say to piss women off or hurt their sense of self-confidence because you show no interest in them).

Fun Fact: One time I responded to an old man saying “Excuse me” on the sidewalk in Washington Heights and he barked in my face. Right up in it.

In the smaller big cities that I’ve visited, I think there is less enough people that you can expect an “Excuse me, Miss” to actually lead to something harmless like asking for directions or the time. And not to say that street harassment doesn’t happen everywhere – Seattle is safe, but it’s not immune to crime. However, the man eyeing me up and down to compliment the pattern on my pants had a very noticeable difference in his tone of voice than the one calling out “Sweetie” from across the street. And I should have noticed that tonal nuance when that guy asked my sister for directions.

I would like to open myself up more to kindness on the streets in Seattle and other places. Obviously street smarts are essential for any woman in any city, but maybe if I could just tone down the high-alert security system I seem to have put between myself and everyone on the street everywhere, I could actually meet some nice people and help out fellow travelers to new cities. I’d like to try.