On Feb.14, Youtube account “revealkarens” posted a video of woman admitting to calling a man an anti-Asian racial slur after hitting his car with a snowball in Renton, WA. The video, capturing one of the increasingly common instances of Anti-Asian hate, amassed over 100,000 views. It took the mayor of Renton eight days to respond.
According to youth coordinators at AAPI Coalition Against Hate and Bias, that delayed action from city leadership was the catalyst for the youth-led “We Are Not Silent” rally which promises to launch a movement in King County.
With the first flyers hitting lamp posts just the Monday before, the March 13 rally in Chinatown International District’s (CID) Hing Hay Park drew hundreds of protestors to respond to the surge in anti-Asian hate crimes during the pandemic.
The Seattle Police Department investigated 14 Anti-Asian hate crimes in 2020, a rise from nine in 2019 and six in 2018. King County will spend $5 million to support multicultural media and combat the rise in hate and bias, reports the Seattle Times.
According to youth coordinator Nathan Duong, the goal of the rally was to “shift the narrative” that “scapegoats Asian Americans” touted by leaders like former president Donald Trump.
Duong says he has been “overly cautious” in following safety precautions throughout the pandemic.
“Nobody wants to get the virus, but as an Asian American, it feels like if you get it, you are adding to the stigma,” Duong said. “With the fear of getting COVID comes the added fear of discrimination and becoming a victim of hate.”
The crowd gathered in Hing Hay Park at 3 PM on Saturday, March 13. Duong says the park was full, quick to add “but not so full that we couldn’t social distance.”
A lineup including Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos (D-Seattle) and former King County Councilmember Larry Gossett spoke before the protesters began their march through the CID. According to youth coordinator Madeleine Magana, protestors chanted as they marched along 5th Ave, but on King Street, home to most of CID’s Asian-owned small businesses, they moved in silence out of respect.
Duong describes the energy of the event as “two-sided.”
“The reason we are there is pain, is fear,” Duong said. “But the energy of being there was hopeful, it was electric.”
The youth coordinators say the event went off without a hitch (Duong giving special “kudos” to the peacekeepers), but organizing as a young person has its own challenges.
Youth coordinator and UW student Anson Huang says that the youth team, which consists of six college and high school students, formed “quite naturally” through previous involvement and mutual interest. Spread from Maple Valley to Monroe to Seattle, the organizers planned the rally via a hodgepodge of Zoom meetings, phone calls, and text messages.
The night before the rally, Huang and Magana were on the phone until 3 AM working out the kinks of their script – during the week before finals, no less according to Magana, a student at Seattle University.
“I kind of put my school work aside, so I’m facing the consequences this week,” Magana laughed. “For all of us, this became the priority.”
Even though the youngest of the organizers is just a junior in high school, this event is none of the six youth coordinators’ first ventures in activism – and it won’t be their last.
Duong and his Monroe, WA classmates founded and continue to direct the Monroe Inclusion Collective which works with their school board and local leadership to combat racism and bias. Though he is too young to have seen Gary Locke become the first Chinese American elected governor in United States history, Duong spoke in the same lineup as the former governor at the rally.
Huang, who is studying both computer science and political science, worked on campaigns for Cynthia Delostinos Johnson’s Tukwila City Council bid and Gossett for King County Council. His connection to Gossett helped to score him as a speaker.
The youngest organizer, Debra Erdenemandakh, founded the Asian Student Union at her high school in Tahoma, WA as well as the non-profit Chosen 1 Family, according to an infographic on the AAPI Organizing Coalition Against Hate and Bias Facebook page.
Magana, who describes her hometown of Maple Valley as “predominantly white,” has been politically active since high school. The rise of anti-Asian hate crimes against elders got her even more involved.
“Seeing the news of Asian elders being pushed on the streets made me question if my grandparents are safe,” Magana said. “Should I take them to Southcenter? Should I take them to Fred Meyer? Should I take them to any public space?”
Magana also has organizing experience from helping set up a Black Lives Matter (BLM) protest in Maple Valley.
The youth organizers do not have to look far for inspiration following a summer of BLM protests, led in many cases by young people like themselves.
According to Duong, one lesson from the BLM protest is the importance of healing within a community. In addition to covering miles of Seattle city streets, organizers promoting racial equity for Black folks held wellness events for the Black community. On Juneteenth, the CHOP observed a “Black out.” Organizers at Every Day March, often lead gratitude exercises before their morning protests.
The Saturday following the anti-Asian hate crime that killed six Asian women in Atlanta, GA, the youth organizers put together a virtual vigil and healing session.
Another lesson the youth organizers have learned from the BLM protests is momentum. Despite dwindling media attention, Seattle’s daily protests for Black lives continued well into the fall.
After their Hing Hay Park protest, the youth-led movement continued throughout the King County area with action in Maple Valley, Renton, Kent, Newcastle, Bellevue, Burien, and Tukwila all slated before March 22. According to Huang, the turn out of these smaller rallies was still “solid” with the support of 30 to 40 community members and even some interest from local leadership.
The youth coordinators still meet multi-times a week to plan their next action items. Following the week of rallies, Huang hosted a Zoom training session to teach strategies for civic engagement, specifically how to call local representatives and demand they issue proclamations condemning hate. Huang says there is much more in the works.
“I don’t think there’s ever any point we should say we are done,” Magana said. “As long as there is anti-Asian sentiment, there is always something to stand up for.”