Left to right: Sejal Parikh, EJ Juárez, Crystal Reed, Brianna Thomas and Tre Maxie. • Photo by Chetanya Robinson
Left to right: Sejal Parikh, EJ Juárez, Crystal Reed, Brianna Thomas and Tre Maxie. • Photo by Chetanya Robinson

On November 10, one week after the King County elections, a group of panelists convened at the Southside Commons to reflect on what the elections meant for people of color. In a wide-ranging discussion, the panelists touched on subjects including media coverage of the elections, voting access for people of color, young people and people with limited English proficiency, and future prospects for the region.

Host Seferiana Day explained that the panel, called “Young, Gifted and Brown,” was partly meant to provide a counterbalance to the glut of similar but predominately white and male political panels.

The panel was made up of people of color active in local politics and progressive causes: Sejal Parikh, executive director of Working Washington; E.J. Juarez, executive director of Progressive Majority Washington; Crystal Reed, board president of Asian Pacific Islander Americans for Civic Empowerment; Brianna Thomas, District 1 City Council Candidate and Honest Elections Campaign Manager; and Tre Maxie, Chief Deputy Assessor of King County.

Local journalists Marcus Green of the South Seattle Emerald and YES! Magazine, Natalie Brand of King5, and Sonya Green of 91.3 KBCS moderated the panel.

Women and people of color in local politics

The first question of the evening was: “How can political consultants be more inclusive of women and people of color?”

Juarez said political consultants must understand the diverse communities candidates represent. “We also need to stop asking candidates of color and women to wait until they’re qualified,” he added—one of many statements to receive cheers and applause during the evening.

As for how to make politics a better place for women, Thomas—a former candidate—said people have to stop treating female candidates as though they all have the same platforms or priorities; male candidates are not treated this way.

Media coverage and framing of the election

Maxie thought the media ignored important races, like the fight for the County Assessor office, where he works. This department determines the value of all property in King County, the basis for property taxes. Maxie added that media focused overwhelmingly on Seattle’s elections, while King County, populated by more people of color than Seattle itself, saw 39 cities hold elections that were largely ignored by larger media outlets.

The International District and South Seattle, where the panel took place, are both part of District 2. Reed thought the mainstream media’s coverage of the District 2 race was also neglectful. “Why was it a surprise that Tammy Morales was catching up to Bruce Harrell?” she wondered. Incumbent City Council Candidate Harrell won the election by just 354 votes, yet it was a race that media outlets such as the Seattle Weekly declared to be a shoo-in.

The “Young, Gifted and Brown” at the Southside Commons on November 10, 2015. • Photo by Chetanya Robinson
The “Young, Gifted and Brown” at the Southside Commons on November 10, 2015. • Photo by Chetanya Robinson

Voter turnout

At one point during the evening, Juarez observed that the elections dealt with issues central to peoples’ lives and wellbeing.

“Politics is about survival and it’s about protecting your family,” he said. “It’s real stuff.”

Moderator Sonya Green asked a followup question: If these are life and death issues, how can we engage communities of color to participate more than they did?

Voter turnout in King County was 39 percent.

“There’s no magic bullet. Making it vote by mail was never going to increase turnout to 100 percent,” Juarez said. However, he pointed out that the paper ballot could stand to be made more accessible to voters.

“It does not look like something people can look at and immediately understand,” he said. “There are multiple steps to it, there are language barriers, there are cultural barriers. … There’s no reason why it should be front and back with a thousand different words. There are so many other models for us to look at that are not being implemented.”

Voter turnout requiring access to voting

Reed reiterated that the low voter turnout was not due to apathy, but the result of lack of access to voting.

“When we talk about lack of access we’re talking about, for example, Chinatown, why did we move the ballot box all the way two blocks up the hill so our aunties and uncles can’t get to it?”

Reed said it’s important to reach out to young people of color because in the future, King County voters will be overwhelmingly from this group.

“Specifically for young people of color, we need to meet them where they’re at,” Reed said. “It is so hard and intimidating for young people to get engaged in politics. I’m not talking about people who came out of colleges but I’m talking about people who come straight out of high school or in disenfranchised communities.”

Making politics relevant to voters

Maxie agreed with the importance of voting access, but added that to increase voter turnout, people must see the results of their voting. People in politics should focus on outcomes first, and strategies second.

“People are trying to survive, people are trying to find a job,” he said. “When I take this uniform off and put on my hoodie, I’m trying to not get killed by the police. … Until we make breakthrough on those issues of police violence and equity, and making sure people can live in this community and be able to feed their kids, we can do a lot of strategies that will help, but a lot of people just will check out.”

Translating election materials

Reed and Parikh brought up translating election and other political documents into other languages. “When you’re sitting at a table watching a budget get drawn up and there’s not a line for translation, that’s a problem,” said Parikh.

Reed said the Honest Elections campaign was a good example of providing materials in community languages. Businesses in the ID stocking these materials saw them fly off the shelves. “People took them, people cared,” she said.

With a new, more diverse City Council, will Seattle see progressive changes?

Maxie hoped the City Council, now elected to represent individual districts, will be more compassionate to everyday people. “Nothing against downtown, but sometimes our council feels very downtown-friendly,” he said.

Reed said she hoped housing affordability would become a priority in the future.

Though not a moderator, Juarez asked the audience about Proposition 1, the Move Seattle levy. Did South Seattle get enough out of the deal? No one in the audience raised their hand, and murmurs of “No” swept the room.

Maxie felt that overall, the Seattle elections might not turn out to be a major change. With local government resources shrinking in Olympia, he argued, progressive proposals will be harder to accomplish.

Thomas, however, was optimistic about some changes.

“I do think that this race and social justice lens won’t be a lens, but it will start being a way we actually have conversations,” she said.

Why participants came to the panel

At least a hundred people filled the room to attend the panel. Rachel Wilch, who recently moved back to Capitol Hill after a spell in San Francisco, attended to hear more about the district elections. “I voted in this election, but I feel a little bit out of the loop about local politics and particularly about the impact that districting has on council races,” she said.

Rosie Bancroft lives in the Central District. She said she came to the panel to hear “Seattle addressing institutional racism on a legislative level, from speakers I have not heard of before. … From my perspective, Seattle is a very diverse but very divided city and I’m hoping to hear about what we’re doing about it.”

Cleveland Stockmeyer, an attorney, lives in North Seattle and took an Uber down to South Seattle for the event. “I think that a lot of the focus we normally get is downtown, downtown, downtown, what’s the view from City Hall. I like coming down here and seeing this part of town,” he said.

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