By Matt Chan
President Obama once said, “Elections have consequences.”
Boy, do they. Just ask the people of South Seattle, especially the people that work and live in the Chinatown-International District (CID). Again the minority has spoken for the majority and that’s not a good thing in the long run.
After Tuesday’s election, more than ever I feel that the right to vote is just another tool of oppression—a way to make disadvantaged people feel they have a voice. But in reality, like all things that people of color accomplish, progress is only accomplished with great effort and perseverance. Why is it always individuals who are well-connected, monied, or incumbents that seem to prevail? When was the last time someone of little means was able to compete successfully in the white world’s version of democracy.
The CID is a microcosm of South Seattle/District 2.
It’s treated more like a “Third World Country” than part of one of the most vibrant and important cities in the world. It’s viewed like a place that cannot exist without the largesse of the dominant culture, a place that experiences more acute income disparities than any other areas of Seattle. It’s also a place that is always seen with its hands out asking for financial assistance to fund a tangled web of nonprofits competing for dollars meant to serve communities, money that never seems to solve the problems or reach the community in meaningful ways.
Which leads me back to the election. Let’s view the process and results through a different lens. Voting isn’t easy for people of color, especially for people whose first language is not English. Running for office and voting is the only legitimate way to secure a place at the table where the decisions that affect our lives happen. But what if the new redlining is not having a seat at the table? To never have direct access to people in positions of power, to never have your concerns heard or addressed. You see this process taking place throughout South Seattle over the past decade and most prominently, in the CID. Engagement is done through nonprofits and mutual aid groups who all need to fund their own missions. It means neighborhoods are treated like “Third World Countries,” unable to fend for themselves without their “White Saviors,” and never having a direct say in what they need.
A good example of this is when wealthier communities in North Seattle have issues with homeless encampments, because of their representation, and get to “talk to the manager.” In the CID, we have to hold rallies and march to City Hall to voice concern that our entire neighborhood has become an unsanctioned encampment and is one of the most unsafe places in the city. During one public session, our City Council representative, who rarely makes an appearance even in City Hall, responded by turning their Zoom camera off. Unless there’s an election or a photo-op during Lunar New Year, we never get to “speak with the manager.”
Elections have consequences.
Tanya Woo ran against an incumbent and nearly beat Tammy Morales. The race was razor-close and clearly Tanya’s message resonated with voters, but there weren’t enough votes. This is the new redlining at work. People of color, largely due to life factors beyond their control, turn out in lower numbers and in a district that traditionally has the lowest turnout, this disparity is magnified. So, the fate and fortunes of Seattle’s most diverse district are again left to be decided by the modern “colonizers” of traditional neighborhoods of color, who have the luxury of voting ideologically while never experiencing the realities of living in South Seattle, an area that has traditionally been marginalized and underserved.
The CID is a litmus for all the neglect and bad public policies that plague South Seattle. Occupying only 23 acres—about two football fields in size—it has the highest concentration of homeless services, nonprofits, residents living below poverty levels, and highest crime and vandalism rate in Seattle. It has 3,200 residents and yet has no voice as to their role in this city. Be it institutional racism and/or municipal indifference, we don’t matter and that is why we need advocacy and agency where decisions and policies are made. With very few eligible voters, the CID is essentially locked out of the democratic process—we don’t have enough votes to make a difference. We need to change this.
That’s why I believe Tanya Woo should be appointed to the City Council seat vacated by Teresa Mosqueda representing the CID along with South Seattle, Asian Americans, and Pacific Islanders who make up the majority of the Asian Americans that in total equal 18% of Seattle’s population. That is 135,300 Asian Americans who need to be heard. Tanya is a true daughter of Seattle whose family has lived in Seattle since the late 1800’s, grew up on Beacon Hill, runs businesses in the CID and Wallingford, and now lives in Rainier Beach just blocks from the infamous Safeway.
Anyone who followed Tanya’s campaign knows who she is and her selfless devotions to serving underserved communities. During the entire campaign, I heard only one person ask people, “How are you? What do you need? How can I help?” That person was Tanya Woo.
Having Tanya Woo fill the seat now open due to Teresa Mosqueda’s successful campaign to be a King County Councilmember is not only important to Asian American representation, but to all underserved communities who need a voice. She listens to the community and works for their betterment, she doesn’t act out of ideology. She provides empathy and a willingness to bring people together for a common cause.
As Asian Americans, we need to come together for a common cause for once, to demand a seat at the table, to end the neglect of our community and governmental malfeasance that has slowly degraded the CID. So we won’t have to endlessly fight for our existence, to demand the respect other areas of the city automatically garner. Maybe in the federally designated “Most Endangered Neighborhoods in America,” resilience won’t be defined by everything we’re fighting against—disaster-gentrification, overconcentration of homelessness services, rampant drug use, major infrastructure projects like I-5 bisecting our community, stadiums that use our community as a parking lot, transportation projects that destroy small businesses in the name of the greater good. It is time we have our own united voice, we are not a “Third World Country,” we are a unique part of Seattle, and Seattle needs to hear our voice and our choice to represent us is Tanya Woo.
Elections have consequences.