By Mahlon Meyer
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Upon the spot where she launched other protests to support the Chinatown-International District (CID) in its struggle to survive, Seattle City Council candidate Tanya Woo at noon kicked off another march on Tuesday.
Guiding a group of around 50 residents to City Hall, she led them in a chant to demand the City Council pass a law that would provide tens of millions for drug treatment and mental health support while strengthening the city’s law enforcement to crack down on open-air drug use.
“We need both,” Woo told the Northwest Asian Weekly. “The money is already there. There are a record number of people dying. This is the start of the conversation.”
A pivotal moment
The march and rally came as the Seattle City Council was voting for the second time to criminalize the public use of drugs. The bill follows state law and empowers the city to prosecute drug possession and public use cases. It also allocates more than $27 million to drug treatment and recovery resources.
As the group fanned out along the sidewalk for the half-mile walk to City Hall, with senior citizens holding hands and chatting about public safety issues, the themes of the march—and the participants’ desire for increased support from the city—became clear.
“There are people lying all over the streets, they’re either unconscious or they threaten you for money,” said Sandy, an immigrant from Guangdong whose husband works in a Chinese restaurant and asked that her Chinese name be redacted.
Last year, an unhoused man with white hair assaulted her 7-year-old daughter by walking up and spitting in the girl’s face.
This incident prompted Sandy to join Tuesday’s protest.
A diverse crowd
Woo once again appeared able to bring together a disparate group of residents—both Asian and white, business owners and residents.
An interpreter rendered her remarks into Cantonese.
During the height of last year’s rallies, to prevent the county from opening its 19th homeless shelter in the neighborhood—while most other neighborhoods had none—Woo was noted for her inclusive style.
Community members and others of all political stripes came together to support the CID under her and other advocates’ rallying.
Though the numbers were smaller than in the past—Tuesday’s rally was called at the last minute, according to community advocate Gei Chan—the rally stepped up its vocal quality and forcefulness.
In the past, Woo and others led community members quietly into the halls of the King County Council and the Seattle City Council.
Today, however, barely a half hour after they started their trek from Hing Hay Park, the participants were standing up and down the steps of city hall with Woo holding a megaphone leading them in a chant.
“Right now nothing is being done! Nothing!” she began. “People are dying and it’s affecting our businesses. It’s affecting our community and our parks. Drug overdoses are the leading cause of death in young people.”
She then commenced the chant.
The group thundered out in front of the imposing edifice before going inside.
A public space?
Here, as a testimony, perhaps, to why Woo wants to run for a seat on the council, the crowd was stopped by security guards who refused to let them chant inside the building.
“This is a public space,” said one local journalist who was recording the interaction.
“You’re infringing upon my first amendment rights,” said the head of security, who later asked Northwest Asian Weekly not to be named.
He pointed to the offices above the rotunda and said it would disrupt the workers there.
A new style
Woo brokered peace. She gave a short speech to everyone who had come with her from the CID and suggested they stay for public comment or return home if they couldn’t.
Still, her harshest words were reserved for her opponent. In what seemed a new strain of direct attack, breaking from her previously more diplomatic style, Woo lambasted Councilmember Tammy Morales for failing to commit herself to the CID.
“We are calling on our council member from district two to do something,” she said. “In the last three years, I have not seen our council member in Chinatown. Where’s Tammy Morales?”
As of an editorial deadline, Morales’ office had not immediately responded.
Woo added, “Good leaders would have seen this coming. [Fentanyl and its related problems] have been here for two years, and nothing has been done. This is the only option we have. Voting ‘no’ is unacceptable. It shows you have no solutions and no answers.”
Mahlon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.