Meet your newest representative, Capitol Hill. Recently voted into an At-large position within the Capitol Hill Community Council, Zachary Pullin has plans to make the neighborhood, well, more neighborly.
Tell us about yourself – where you grew up, what you studied, and so on.
I was born in Montana on a reservation, then my mom moved us over to Spokane to attend law school. She was very involved in native issues in town, and was on the board of an organization over there, so I grew up around non-profits and community organizations.
I went to school at Western Washington and studied business management and sociology. Then, after college I worked at Toms shoes, and always had this little seed inside that drew me to the Peace Corps. I did that. After I came home from the Peace Corps I did this thing called the Equality Ride, where you rode a bus for three months to colleges and universities that had discriminatory policies towards LGBTQ folks. We’d do protests or civil disobedience, or vigils.
Inherently, with how my parents – my mom, specifically – raised me, I’ve always been social justice- and community-minded. It’s the thing that I continue to peruse.
What did you do in the Peace Corps?
I was in Belize in Central America.
In the Peace Corps your job was 24/7, but, really, more like 29/7. My main job was working with an organization called The District Association of Village Councils. Within my district we had 24 villages that we oversaw, mentored or helped to capacity build, train, or give skills. There were a lot of workshops around accounting, financial reporting, and board management meetings – the organizational development 101 kind of stuff.
My secondary project was being a librarian at a local school. I redid their whole library and was able to go through some training and teach braille and tutor some of the visually impaired students.
But my greatest project – the one that I’m most proud of – is that I started working with this little club “EqualBalize.” Through some connections people who I met, I was able to get contact information and organize LGBTQ youth. There were a lot of trans youth in Belize. There’s a lot of stigma about that there; it’s one of the 73 countries that still criminalizes homosexuality, and so a lot of our organizing had to be underground. The club did a lot of health and sexual education, and relationship education, but, more than anything, it was about humanizing, letting people see that LGBTQ folks are still human. So a lot of our projects were service projects; we planted trees, did a lot of street clean-ups, and painted this really big mural that cause a ruckus in town because it had a rainbow on it.
Why did you want to join the Capitol Hill Community Council as opposed to other groups?
When I moved back to Seattle after coming off of the Equality Ride, I moved to Greenwood, which is a great neighborhood, but really sleepy in the sense that there are a lot of families there, a lot of kids; it’s one of those communities when you drive in, eat your dinner at your house, go to sleep and then wake up and go to work near your house.
For me, Capitol Hill was not only where I felt the most connected because of my identity as a queer person, but because of the life and the spirit and the culture. In my head it was a lot more accessible, but when I moved here and organized here, and volunteered here, I realized that Capitol Hill was actually really inaccessible for a lot of people.
When I picture what it means to be a community, it provides adequate transit resources, there’s affordable housing, and the pedestrian experience is both positive and safe.
But for folks, and especially those who live at the margins – those in poverty or low- to moderate-income, people who work two jobs, queer folks, people of color, and especially women – the potential transit cuts, the cost of living, rent being so high, and new housing, there’s a disconnect between how we see Capitol Hill as that place that we can all call home and what it is.
What are we losing in the process of all of these new buildings going up, and how do we have to rebuild that?
For me, being on the council is providing a voice and standing up for issues that I really care about, which is transit, affordable housing, arts and culture, and the pedestrian experience. What it comes down to is how we maintain a culture of youth and parks and queer people, the people who have made the Hill what it is.
You mentioned your interests, but what specifically do you plan to do as an at-large member of the council?
A lot of my work and experience has been in organizing forums and conversation events.
There’s this thing on Facebook right now called “Take Back the Hill.” Last time I checked there were over 1,000 people in the group who were responding to crime on the Hill. One day I was on there and one of the people posted, “Can we all get together for some community event or a social night? I feel like we don’t have that feeling of community.” I found that interesting.
We’ve been taught so long about individualism, independence, pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps to be successful, and have a very individualist mindset.
Being on the community council, what I hope to do is provide opportunities for folks to practice what it means to be a community. I almost think that we need to relearn what it means to be in community – how to talk with people, bridge differences, and discuss the complexities of violence, crime, and racism. I want to build conversations around issues that are both important and pressing for our community and for our city.
The Capitol Hill Community Council meets once per month at the Cal Anderson Park Shelterhouse (1635 11th Avenue). All residents, employees, and people connected to the Hill are invited to come and participate in discussions, and learn about current events in the neighborhood. More information is available at capitolhillcommunitycouncil.org.