Tim Harris is a people person. “I think that people are sacred,” he says. “When I see people being dehumanized, it pisses me off and makes me want to do something about it.” He founded Seattle’s Real Change newspaper in 1994 to advocate for low-income individuals and provide job opportunities by recruiting them to sell the weekly publication on city streets and keep the profits. In February, when Seattle City Council member Tim Burgess proposed aggressive, anti-panhandling legislation, Harris saw it as a civil rights issue—and a legal threat to Real Change vendors. “Something that struck me about the debate was that the legislation couldn’t be justified based on actual crime rates,” says Harris. An opposition coalition formed, including the ACLU, NAACP, Real Change and others. While the Seattle City Council passed the new measure in April, the 5-4 vote was not sufficient to overturn Mayor Mike McGinn’s veto. Harris predicts that similar legislation will be proposed again, but he is grateful for what he views as a victory in protecting the rights of every person walking the streets. “It’s an extraordinary win,” he says.
Published November 2010
More articles from our Most Influential issue