Well, there’s always SOMETHING going on…
This week’s Hot Topic centers on Three Dollar Bill Cinema, the non-profit group that produces film events for the community including the annual Seattle Queer Film Festival. They’re in the middle of a media brouhaha involving former employee Ernie Lou, a familiar face to many for his volunteer work with many organizations including Three Dollar Bill.
But, it’s Lou’s role as an actual employee of the non-profit that’s causing the controversy. He claims Three Dollar Bill fired him last week after Lou announced he was heading a campaign to seek the recall of Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant, who represents District #3 on the City Council, which includes the traditionally gay neighborhood of Capitol Hill. Lou is claiming he was fired because he was heading the initiative and as the result of pressure from Sawant supporters towards Three Dollar Bill to fire the person heading the recall.
Sawant, a long time center of controversy in local politics for her socialist political position and more recently for taking a lead role in the city’s ongoing Black Lives Matter/Defund the Seattle Police Department protests has frequently been criticized by some members of the LGBTQ community in District 3 for not representing their specific constituency. Many of Sawant’s detractors were supporters of Egan Orion who challenged Sawant for her seat on the City Council in last fall’s elections. Orion, an out gay man who heads Seattle Pridefest which produces the annual Seattle LGBTQ Pride festivals on Capitol Hill and at Seattle Center, bitterly lost to Sawant in that election.
Since then, Orion and his followers have been strong critics of Sawant with Orion creating a new political action group called “Finding Common Ground” which originally seemed to be a group addressing issues in providing food/meals for low income people but now seems to be evolving into a group wanting to change how Seattle is governed. They propose to change the districts for representation on the Seattle City Council:
Many in Seattle are frustrated by our district system and by their current representation at council. In some districts it works well while in others, like District 3, it’s a disaster. We are putting together a proposal to balance out the power dynamic with 5 districts instead of 7 and 4 at-large seats instead of 2. The district elections and at-large elections would stay on the same election schedule, giving a real shot at changing the direction and dynamic of council every two years.
Ernie Lou also believes that Kshama Sawant is doing a poor job in her role representing District 3, which also includes the Central District, the historical home of Seattle’s Black community. Increasing the size of each district and increasing the number of at large seats on the council (who are voted on by the entire city) would of course give less political clout to the citizens in the Central District while increasing the number of at large seats would make it potentially easier for candidates like Orion who largely appeal to white upper middle class voters city wide. Lou filed a formal complaint with the King County Elections Office on Tuesday, August 18th seeking to recall Sawant. Lou told KOMO News:
“This is the grassroots citizens of District 3 of Seattle that says we don’t support what you’re doing, Councilwoman Sawant,” he said. “They were elected and voted in, but I really feel like the current makeup of the City Council does not represent the true values of the city of Seattle.”
The group Lou apparently heads, RecallSawant2020 (No leadership roles are listed on that website) includes this “statement of charges”.
- Relinquishing Authority of Her Office and Disregarding City of Seattle Employment Hiring Rule
- Misuse of City of Seattle Council Office Resources to Promote a Ballot Initiative or Other Electioneering
- Misuse of Councilmember Sawant’s Official Position in Admitting Hundreds of Individuals Illegally into City Hall afterhours
- Using Her Official Position as City of Seattle Councilmember and Possibly Staff to Encourage Attendees at a Rally She Led on June 28, 2020 to Illegally “Occupy” City Property, the Seattle Police Department’s East Precinct
- Using Her Official Position as City Councilmember to Lead a Protest March to Mayor Jenny Durkan’s Private Residence Whose Location is in the State of Washington Confidential Program since Mayor Durkan was the US Attorney for Western Washington.
- Councilmember Sawant’s Action Have Created a Criminal Environment Around the Capitol Hill Occupation Protest (CHOP) Zone and Capitol Hill Endangering Residents and Businesses and Devaluing Businesses and Real Estate Values.
After the news broke that Lou was heading this campaign, he was subsequently let go from his contracted job with Three Dollar Bill Cinema where he had acted as a fundraiser. Originally, after news of the recall broke, Three Dollar Bill responded with the following:
“Three Dollar Bill Cinema’s board of directors and employees had no knowledge of this campaign, nor are associated with this recall effort. The statements and actions of this contractor are solely his own and do not reflect or represent Three Dollar Bill Cinema.”
Lou claims he had a digital meeting with Three Dollar Bill’s interim Executive Director Kathleen Mullen and board member Telved Delvet where he was fired on Thursday, August 20th with Mullen and Delvet allegedly telling Lou they were inundated by complaints from the community about Lou leading the Sawant Recall movement.
After the news of Lou’s firing broke on Friday and the subsequent uproar over his claim that he was fired over the Sawant petition, Three Dollar Bill responded Sunday night with the following statement.
Three Dollar Bill Cinema (TDBC) is saddened that an inaccurate media story is being played out in news outlets and on social media about Ernie Lou’s departure from TDBC. This inaccuracy is causing distress to people within our community and also our small non-profit organization. Mr. Lou—a longtime volunteer to TDBC and valued member of our community—was hired as a short-term contractor to help us fundraise during these challenging times due to COVID-19. While we can’t speak publicly about the specifics of employment matters, we want to clarify that Mr. Lou’s departure is not connected to the recall Kshama Sawant initiative.
Three Dollar Bill Cinema would like to make it absolutely clear that we support First Amendment rights, and a private citizen’s right to freely voice and act upon their own political beliefs.
Three Dollar Bill Cinema is committed to supporting diverse communities through queer film and media and has been working tirelessly to create space for connection, visibility, and dialogue about the lives and experiences of LGBTQIA+ and QTBIPOC people.
“As you know, I was terminated from my position with a small, local nonprofit, Three Dollar Bill Cinema, this past Thursday, August 20, due to the fact that Sawant and her supporters inundated and bullied this small nonprofit into terminating my contract,” Lou tells the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH. “This was my ‘dream job’ so I am crushed.”
At this point, Seattle’s LGBTQ community is divided in its concerns over this issue with many backing Lou and his right to express his political opinion on an elected official’s performance as well as questioning if Three Dollar Bill was right in firing him. Meanwhile, LGBTQ supporters of Sawant are angry over this challenge to her and the implication that the Capitol Hill LGBTQ community is united in seeking to oust her, pointing out that Sawant has decisively won her seat on the Seattle City Council in multiple elections including carrying most wards ON Capitol Hill and easily defeating Egan Orion who had the backing of large business groups like Amazon.com.
Many are urging Lou to file suit against Three Dollar Bill; it’s illegal to fire someone over their political beliefs. Meanwhile, others worry this issue could result in the death of Three Dollar Bill Cinema, like many arts groups already struggling financially during an ongoing pandemic that prevents them from producing live events.
We’re guessing this isn’t the end of this story...