10 ways to make Seattle politics more inclusive in 2016

Sera Day addresses the crowd at Southside Commons for the “Young, Gifted and Brown: 2015 Seattle Post-Election Analysis” on Tuesday. (Photo by Laura Bernstein)
Sera Day addresses the crowd at Southside Commons for the “Young, Gifted and Brown: 2015 Seattle Post-Election Analysis” on Tuesday. (Photo by Laura Bernstein)

Borrowing the name from the Nina Simone song, the organizers of “Young, Gifted and Brown: 2015 Seattle Post-Election Analysis” brought together some of the best and brightest in local politics Tuesday night for a discussion on how to move forward to 2016 and keep elevating the diverse voices that are far too often left out of political conversations in Washington state.

An enthusiastic crowd of more than a hundred people who gathered at the Southside Commons were rewarded with sharp, insightful and inclusive election analysis.

The panel included District 1 City Council Candidate & Honest Elections Campaign Manager Brianna Thomas, Executive Director of Progressive Majority EJ Juárez, Development Director of The Washington Bus & APACE Board President Crystal Lee-Anguay Reed, Chief Deputy Assessor for King County Tre Maxie, and Executive Director of Working Washington Sejal Parikh.

The event was moderated by Marcus Harrison Green of the South Seattle Emerald and YES! Magazine, Natalie Brand of KING5, and Sonya Green Ayears of 91.3 KBCS.

Here are ten urgent action items that came out of the conversation:

1. People of color must be employed at every level of the political process — from consultants, to campaign managers, to staffers.

“I can’t tell you how many times I was in rooms this year in Seattle… where polling came back and the polling said that white, middle class voters were supportive of an issue and the consultant said ‘Great! So now we need to double down on white, middle class voters instead of reaching out to the communities of color,” Sejal Parikh of Working Washington explained. “Sometimes they said ‘Ok, we should go out to communities of color.’ I’m going to tell you something, four weeks or four months before an election is not the time when we need to start reaching out to communities of color!”

Attendees responded to Parikh’s statement with tremendous applause.

2. Political panels and political analysis must include diverse voices (women, people of color, LGBTQ, homeless) and not just be comprised of the “usual suspects,” as EJ Juárez of Progressive Majority put it.

(Photo by Laura Bernstien)
(Photo by Laura Bernstien)

3. What works in one community doesn’t necessarily work in another. Voters must be met where they are. Crystal Lee-Anguay Reed reminded attendees that low voter turnout in communities of color is “not voter apathy [it’s because] access does not exist.”

Reed went on to say that when Seattle organizers are working in Pierce County, Tacoma, or Yakima, they should not impose their idea of what progressive change looks like onto other communities, “That is not how we do work in our community!”

4. Translating your materials translates into votes. Brianna Thomas and Crystal Lee-Anguay Reed shared this as one of many lessons to be learned from the passage of the I-122, Honest Elections Initiative.

When you drop off materials, take the time to explain to small business owners how their community will benefit directly from the initiative or candidate. Don’t be afraid to have longer conversations on the phone with your community members. Help them understand why to vote, where to vote and how to vote. People of color should not be working for free, and translation services need to have a line item in the budget for every campaign.

5. Don’t ignore infrequent voters — find out why they are infrequent voters. Thomas brought up the dilemma of campaigns going after ‘preferred target voters’ (those who voted at least 3 out of the last 4 elections). She insists that we should be much more curious about why the ‘1 of 4’ voter voted that one time.

There was a whole lot of laughter from the crowd when she continued, “Like, were you dating someone that was super into voting? Did your grandma insist you vote for Obama? Was there something on the ballot that was particularly salient to you? … We don’t ever ask that question.”

6. Traditional and new media share the responsibility for perpetuating the stories of establishment candidates. “It’s really hard in these other important races [outside of Seattle]” Chief Deputy Assessor Tre Maxie thoughtfully reflected. “You have to take big media prices, …you live in a small town but you’re in a big [media] market.”

Juárez highlighted the success Spanish language media is having with longform, in-depth stories in Yakima, Wenatchee and Tri-Cities, and name-checked El Sol, Tu Decides and Univision as examples of strong media. But panelists emphasized that there is a drain of institutional knowledge when a community loses long time reporters who know a community well.

“We need to start small and think big,” organizer Michael Charles said, emphasizing get out the vote efforts for 2016. (Photo by Laura Bernstein)
“We need to start small and think big,” organizer Michael Charles said, emphasizing get out the vote efforts for 2016. (Photo by Laura Bernstein)

7. The City of Seattle should establish an Office of Civic Engagement to address inequities. Juárez emphatically stated this at least three times.

8. Increases in police presence must be done thoughtfully. In a very serious moment, Reed expressed disappointment in the response to Donnie Chin’s death: “The City decided it was important to increase police and that wasn’t the answer, right?” Reed said she believes that the city should have prioritized safety, instead of “making sure everyone is being watched.”

9. We need results not just talk. Thomas emphasized that our city needs to move beyond simply looking at policies through a race and social justice lens.

10. We need to get out the vote year round. The event concluded with a call to action by organizer Michael Charles, who encouraged attendees to talk to one person that didn’t vote, ask them why, ask them if they are registered, help them get registered, and then tell people about that story.

“We need to start small and think big,” Charles said.