The Real Change Portrait Project


Andy Allen

"Andy Allen" Monoprint by Jon Williams
Working for the cause of social justice is nothing new to Andy Allen. Before he started selling Real Change, he built his entire career around it.

After graduating from Wichita State University in the late 1970s, Andy focused his energy on social change, fighting alongside local groups to stop the building of a nuclear power plant in the state. In 1980, he joined demonstrators in Washington, D.C., in a nonviolent blockade of the Pentagon to protest the government’s involvement in nuclear weapons. Those experiences taught Andy the value of nonviolent civil disobedience: “It led to the reversal of the nuclear arms race through the atmosphere it created. Everybody began to see that sitting on top of potential armageddon every day was kind of stupid and that kind of seeped into the White House.”

Andy moved to Seattle in 1981, where he was employed as a phone canvasser advocating on behalf of social-change organizations in Washington for almost 20 years. But the work was eating him up inside. “It [was] pretty good money but I got sick of it. It was so boring. Once in a while I’d get an interesting conversation, but it was driving me crazy. ”

Unable to muster the will to get up for work every morning, Andy quickly found himself out of money. “So I got some papers and went out and started selling.”

At first, Andy was a little self-conscious about his new line of work. “I felt a little bit of the stigma, you know, ‘Okay, here I am, I’m a loser, I need to do this,’” he said. But over the years he’s seen Real Change improve its news coverage and gain greater recognition in the community, and now, he feels the opposite: “I feel like I’m [providing] a very important service.”

Long before he signed up for Real Change, Andy started playing the guitar, and it has since translated into his greatest passion. “My reason for being is writing songs,” he said. Although he’s broadened his listening to include jazz, folk and country, his roots are planted firmly in the blues: “Smuggled into my brain by Elvis Presley when I was 6 or 7.”

Sometimes he’ll take his talent to the street and busk, although he admits he doesn’t make as much money playing music as he can selling the paper. Andy started his own website,, to support local “grassroots” artists, and is even thinking of launching a Kickstarter campaign to fund his fourth independently produced record.

Although he’s generally pretty quiet while selling the paper, Andy wants his customers at the Whole Foods in Redmond to know that he is appreciative of their support. “They are among the conscience-elite,” he said. Andy believes that the human connection that is fostered between vendors and customers is something that we all need and that, above all, relationships between people are what define society. “We wouldn’t have civilization without cooperation and supporting each other.”

Artist: Jon Williams
Jon Williams has been an artist, photographer, and editor for many publications including the Sacramento Bee, The Rocky Mountain News, The Los Angeles Daily News, The (Harrisburg, PA) Patriot News, and the Kitsap Sun. He is currently the graphic artist at Real Change in Seattle He lives in Poulsbo.

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