Nikkita Oliver: ‘I have to have friends who disagree with me’

Is Seattle too intolerant of views from the right? Our city’s been trying to sort that out since last week, when we learned about a telling moment in a Seattle City Council meeting from a column by Danny Westneat in The Seattle Times. City Councilmember Kshama Sawant said that she didn’t have any Republican politicians as friends and people in the room cheered.

Mayoral candidate Nikkita Oliver has been endorsed by Kshama’s Socialist Alternative Party and holds views that reach pretty far left in a pretty far left town. But in a Thursday night conversation hosted by The Evergrey, the artist, attorney, teacher, and mixed-race daughter of a white mother and black father said that she not only has Republicans as friends, but also feels like she has to.

Nikkita made her comments during the event’s Q&A, when a woman named Ellie Probus mentioned Kshama’s comment and asked Nikkita what value or harm she’s found in engaging people who are “on a different place on the political spectrum” than she is.

Before giving her answer (which you can hear in full starting at 1:05:50 in the video above), Nikkita pointed out a friend of hers in the audience who’s a Republican.

(Photo by Sarah Worley)

“If we’re not talking to people who are different than us, we will fail to see the stories that actually drive politics in our nation,” Nikkita said. “And so I have to have friends who disagree with me, I have to have friends who live in different parts of the city and look different than me. I have to engage in those dialogues so that I can actually understand what has driven us to the point that we’re at now.”

Ninety-two percent of Seattle voters wanted someone other than Donald Trump to be president. So it’s no surprise that local Republicans, particularly those who voted for Trump, are not as vocal or visible as Democrats.

What feels unsettling, or at least out of character, is that in a place as curious, creative, educated, and hungry for inclusivity as Seattle, a group of people who hold ideological views that are pretty common around the country could feel so ostracized here.

“We are like sleeper cells because nobody knows the identities or the locations of the others,” one of Danny’s readers is quoted as saying in a follow-up to his column about Kshama’s comment. “We are Republicans living in Seattle.”

No one said making and keeping friends across the aisle is easy, though. Especially now.

“I have always been a Democrat and I have always maintained good communication with conservative and Republican friends, but with Trump in office this is becoming much harder,” an Evergrey reader wrote us via email. “In other words, it’s getting worse and I am becoming part of the problem.”

Curious about how people are working to bridge political divides? Check out The Evergrey’s trip to Sherman County, Oregon, and our list of 20 bridge-building projects nationwide.

Watch our complete interview with Nikkita Oliver here.

By Mónica Guzmán
Mónica is the cofounder and editor of The Evergrey. She's been a Seattle journalist for a decade and adores this city.