By Assunta Ng
Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant’s inappropriate and unfair questioning of John Okamoto (now voted in as a councilmember) during the public interview to fill in Sally Clark’s seat, gave me a revelation—the importance of respect.
We make wishes during celebration. My wish for May’s Asian Pacific American API Heritage Month is that Asian Americans can respect one another and that we can respect our differences.
Sawant’s action recently shocked and disgusted a number of the ethnic community when they felt she was trashing a respectable Asian community leader.
Sawant’s behavior bothers some Asian Americans because she is Asian American herself.
Seattle’s Asian community is famous for its collaboration despite our small number compared to San Francisco and New York’s Asian population. We pride ourselves in getting things done by a small gang. Yet, Sawant never wants to be connected to the Asian community. She has no time to meet with Asian community leaders as a couple of Chinatown/International District leaders told the Asian Weekly. One called Sawant’s office and introduced herself, and instead got cold shoulders. “(Council member Sawant) she doesn’t have time,” said her staff.
“We should bring the Asian community together, not divide it,” said Debadutta Dash of Indian descent, currently a candidate for Seattle City Council. Okamoto was clear of wrongdoing in his role at the Port of Seattle, which Sawant accused him of mismanagement and the Port of corruption.
You could tell at the hearing, Sawant was upset because she sent out a questionnaire prior to the interview asking all candidates for their views on rent control, wage theft, and other issues, and Okamoto didn’t respond. Not every candidate responded either. Okamoto didn’t say whether he’s for rent control, even though Sawant pushed many of the candidates to commit to her agenda. The rent control issue is more than a “yes” or “no” answer.
A person’s a person, no matter how small—Dr. Seuss
You don’t have to like or dislike someone to respect the person. You don’t need to have a relationship with someone to treat him as a human being. You don’t have to agree to respect another individual. It’s just basic courtesy, humility, and decency. If you don’t respect others, how can you expect others to do the same?
In my decades as publisher, I have encountered many whom I stand on the opposite and people that I don’t agree with, yet we can greet and talk to each other, and even collaborate on projects for the common good. There are times when I readily praise my detractors because I recognize that they have done good deeds and even the right thing. I want to encourage people I disagree with to make positive contributions. Frankly, the community can all benefit from great work and learn from remarkable examples.
There should be a respect for differences, honesty, and integrity.
Sawant’s strategy backfired: Okamoto received the majority of the City Council votes. Last week, the Seattle Times editorial even commented that she owes Okamoto an apology! How many of these negative media pieces can Sawant afford in an election year? How many of these battles can she fight with her Council colleagues, and then result being isolated with the minority of the Council? And the public is simply left to shake their heads in disbelief by her behavior?
I was beaming with pride at the hearing initially, watching three Asian Americans in the final round for Clark’s seat, and two Asian American elected officials, Sawant and Councilmember Bruce Harrell, interviewing on the other side of the table. It was truly historic for the City of Seattle. But then, it turned out to be embarrassing and disappointing for me being an Asian American witnessing how an Asian elected official who lacked tact, grace, and humanity, grilling a candidate without basis. Ironically, Okamoto told the Asian Weekly during an interview that he thought he had a connection with Sawant because of his labor background as he was once the CEO of the Washington Education Association, the state’s teachers union.
Perhaps, Sawant’s action taught us a lesson–Asian Americans have to learn to agree to disagree. And we have to practice it well because the art of politics is to compromise and learn respect for disagreement. (end)