How to Win at Seattle: ‘You never know when you might need to join a protest’

When Nikkita Oliver was growing up in Indianapolis, Indiana, her mom made sure to save up enough money to bring Nikkita and her sister on a road trip every summer. On stage at Impact Hub with The Evergrey’s Mónica Guzmán last Thursday, Nikkita recalled one of those trips.

She remembered her mom stopping the car at a rest area where they saw a woman weeping. Nikkita’s mom then started digging through the car — and Nikkita’s backpack — for change. She gave all the coins she found to the woman, then drove her to the town where she needed to go before continuing the road trip.

To Nikkita, this is just one illustration of the example that was set for her from a young age: “If you see something wrong, you stop and do something about it.”

Today, Nikkita is an attorney, teacher, artist, poet, activist, and candidate for mayor of Seattle. From her first poetry slam — which she won, by the way — to her run for office, our conversation with Nikkita hit on several moments throughout her life when she’s followed her mother’s example:

She started tutoring in Rainier Beach because she could identify with the population there. She went to law school because the young people around her said, “We need lawyers who look like us, that think like us, that get us, that are willing to teach us.” She dropped her ticket to one of her favorite band’s concerts to help lawyers and organizers communicate with each other at the impromptu travel ban protest at Sea-Tac Airport in January. She only attended her first poetry slam because she has a policy that she’ll never ask her students to do something she wouldn’t do.

And now she’s running for mayor, she said, because the community around her asked her to be their candidate. She has a couple conditions for her candidacy that will allow her to stay true to herself, she told us, like “rocking tennis shoes, because I cannot walk in dress shoes and you never know when you might need to join a protest.”

Nikkita made the decisions that have now led her to run for office on her own terms, she said, within her own framework as a black, mixed, queer woman, an artist, and an activist.

“Being an artist not only allows me to show up authentically, but it allows me to show up innovatively and creatively,” Nikkita said. “I’m not interested in being a career politician. I’m interested in being part of a transformation that then allows access and equity for people who have not had it.”

So, is there something that feels “wrong” to you in our city? Maybe you’re one of the 92 percent of voters in Seattle who didn’t vote for the current president and the political energy somehow feels off right now. Maybe you’re one of the other 8 percent, but you’re feeling frustrated with the state of homelessness, school funding, or another looming issue in our city.

You shared your wishes for Seattle with us a while back and we made it into a wish list — that could be a good place to find your issues and start taking action. And maybe doing something for you looks like protesting, writing a letter, signing a petition, or putting a sign in your yard. But if it means running for office, Nikkita has a message for you:

“What I think we need as people decide to run for office is a recommitment to seeing being a politician as a public service…instead of as a career,” she said.

There’s much, much more to Nikkita’s story. To hear her thoughts on gentrification, Seattle’s art scene, and — wait for it — eating ramen, watch the interview on our Facebook page.