They Don’t Get it: Guest opinion by Yusuf Abdi

Screenshot 2016-07-26 at 12.51.44 PM - EditedDistrict Councils: Seattle liberals are Talking about Diversity and Inclusion without Involving People of Color

Yusuf Abdi is a longtime Seattle community activist, former SHA boardmember, race and social justice advocate, and leader in our city’s growing East African Community.”

Screenshot 2016-07-26 at 1.10.06 PM - Edited

I was following the recent Seattle District Council debate between Mayor Ed Murray and his HALA/ pro development crowd on one side, and a group of well- meaning middle-aged and older home-owner white folks on the other side. They are both having difficulties grasping the concept of diversity and inclusion – each blaming the other for starting the District Council fight.

To make the matter even worse, the media took sides. The Seattle Times editorial board condemned the Mayor’s move to cut all ties and effectively disband the District Council system without public debate or even consulting with the City Council. The Times called the Mayor’s executive action ill-advised and unlawful http://www.seattletimes.com/opinion/editorials/city-council-should-challenge-Mayor-murray-on-neighborhood-councils/.

Publicola – a gossip blog which is popular with pro-urban, pro- development, and organic food warriors, published an article in defense of the Mayor’s move, and at the same time, rebuked the Seattle Times editorial board. http://www.seattlemet.com/articles/2016/7/21/denouncing-Mayors-call-for-broader-community-outreach-seattle-times-defends-tradition-and-white-privilege%20.   

I personally believe that the District Council system requires a bit of tweaking – especially in the areas of diversity and inclusion, but it’s also my firm belief that the Mayor could have fixed the problem without cutting ties. 

The Mayor’s critique of the District Council system was for its lack of diversity, but the same could be said of his own press conference https://www.seattlechannel.org/Mayor?videoid=x66343. I did not see a person of color standing behind the Mayor during the press conference. Almost everyone who was invited to speak or stand on the podium behind the Mayor was white.

At one point during the press conference, the Mayor stated that Seattle has become more diverse, and mentioned the growing East African community as an example. He confidently declared that those communities were not part of the current District Council system– I also noticed they were not part of his press conference. (Actually at least one East African Group, The Eritrean Association of Greater Seattle, holds voting membership on the Southeast District Council). So while the Mayor advocated inclusion and diversity, at the same time he did not have a person of color in his press conference, which was a shock to many spectators.

I am not sure if the Mayor was even aware or mindful about the lack of diversity and inclusion in his own press conference – the focus of which was to call out the District Council system for its lack of diversity. Isn’t it ironic!?

My advice to the warring parties is: let civility and sanity be the guiding principle. The current District Council, in order to become truly representative of Seattle neighborhoods, requires a major revamp in the area of diversity and inclusion.

The Mayor also needs to reverse his executive order dissolving the city’s ties to the District Council system. The City Council and the Mayor should jointly appoint a credible and independent body to study how to improve the District Council and make it more diverse and inclusive. The independent body should send their recommendation to the City Council within three months. 

The mayor’s unilateral move of severing ties with the District Council without public discourse is undemocratic. Therefore, the wider community, including people of color, perceived his move as an effort to consolidate power and weed out those who may not rubber-stamp his ambitious neighborhood policies – including HALA.

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About John V. Fox

Director, Seattle Displacement Coalition
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