BY SHARON MAEDA
Our democracy is more fragile today than perhaps any other time in U.S. history. Education, health care and human services, liveable wages, immigrant and gay rights are just a few arenas being eroded by failed federal policies and lack of long-term vision for the country and the planet. In the face of all this, it seems rather petty to continue to discuss the Seattle City Council appointment back in January, but I was asked to write a reflective piece, so I will try to connect the global with the local.
For Stella Chao, Ven Knox, Dolores Sibonga, Venus Velazquez and me, our world turned every which way but up. It was not so much that any of us expected to become a city councilmember. We all knew that was a long shot during a month-long opportunity that popped up in the midst of the holiday season.
Last December, we and probably most of the 93 other applicants, were enjoying holiday activities with family and friends, when suddenly Councilmember Jim Compton called it quits, leaving an opportunity for someone to become a councilmember after an intense and sometimes bizarre process. It is perhaps the only $90,000-plus job in Seattle where the hiring committee members were advised not to discuss the candidates with each other!
Now eight months later, I still keep running into community folks who are upset, still wondering what on earth happened. There are too many critical issues that need our positive energy and involvement to remain angry. We may never know what really happened, and knowing what happened will not change the results.
I could put together a half-silly (a la David Letterman), half-cynical Top Ten list of reasons why none of us made it, but it’s time to turn criticism into proactive political involvement at whatever levels you feel comfortable … and then stretch yourself and get involved beyond your comfort level.
Although it looks like none of the five of us will be running for city council this year, don’t count us out of public life. We have been involved, we’ll continue to be involved, and next time, we will have our endorsements and funding, platforms and campaign structure in place … and we certainly won’t all be running in the same race.
I’ve been involved in electoral politics since I was 14, doorbelling for our neighbor, Vic Meyers, Jr. On the presidential level, I’ve been extremely bad at picking winners from Robert F. Kennedy to Howard Dean. But, I’ve always felt good that I stood on principle and supported someone who I felt had the integrity and intelligence to make the right decisions as different issues unfold.
I try to go through the same mental exercise when I decide to support someone on the local level: integrity, honesty, and the smarts to analyze new issues — because issues come and go, but the way in which an elected official addresses the issues will determine whether they will support our communities or not, will make tough, unpopular decisions or not, or will be committed to justice or not. In that category, the City of Seattle has been blessed by visionary, insightful leaders such as Martha Choe, Wing Luke, Norm Rice and Dolores Sibonga … who also happen to be people of color.
And, there are many more to come in the future. For one, Sili Savusa has declared her candidacy for the Highline School Board next year. I have the pleasure of working every day with Sili in various activities here in White Center. She is a natural leader who is deeply respected by diverse people in the community. But, I had no idea she was the youngest and first female Samoan chief until I read the International Examiner’s Community Voice Awards article about her.
And, that gets me to the final quality I look for in potential candidates: someone who is committed to others before self and who, if necessary, will have the courage to sacrifice their own election or position in order to do the right thing. I’m looking for the kind of person who is grounded and knows who s/he is. A person with the kind of ego that encourages giving full credit to others instead of me, myself and I. And, a person who believes that power must be shared.
Okay, so I set the bar high, and I’ve been disappointed by many. But, if we don’t start there, where will we end up?
Electoral politics is a rough, tough but very important calling. Unfortunately, history is full of people who needed a title to feel important or who carried out their power fantasies by controlling others. In today’s world, there are too many hot dog politicians who would rather risk thousands and millions of lives than come to the negotiating table or admit they made a mistake.
So, in thinking about running for office, I put the same criteria on myself that I would put on others. And, if I’m going to ask every last family member, friend, colleague, neighbor and total strangers to contribute money for my campaign, I’d better be darn sure that I, over the other candidates, can truly make a difference for others.
So, I challenge all you good readers of the International Examiner to think about where you can make a difference. The International Examiner and the International District/Chinatown are great examples of what can happen when smart, strong and dedicated people get together to make a difference in the lives of our community. But, we could never have done it without the support of elected officials. In this community, Seattle and all around the world, there are many, many critical tasks left to do. So, let’s get busy.