Last week, I asked my 8-year-old son about his first day of school. Beaming with excitement, he said he made a new friend. He was eager to share that his new friend could speak Japanese and he thought it was the coolest thing ever. He loved that he and his new friend were different from each other.
And yet as adults, seeing what is happening all around us, now it appears being different is something to be feared. There is an assault occurring in our country, but it is not from abroad, it is from within.
There are those who seek to separate us. And draw distinctions between those that may look different from me or you. They must be a criminal, an immigrant, they are not American.
If you think we are immune to this kind of hate, take a look at another small city. Charlottesville was ranked as one of the “most charming cities in America,” but experienced men marching with torches proclaiming their superiority because of their race. Many have asked how could this be happening in 2017? Rightfully, our elected leaders have spoken out against these hateful acts. But condemning hateful acts happening somewhere else is the easy part. The hard part is to ask what are we doing here, in our community to stop this rising divide?
I know some people will be angry that I am even mentioning this subject because they believe that city council’s focus should be on fixing roads and economic development. And merely talking about racism or discrimination is inherently divisive. Well, it is clear to me that not talking to each other is why we are in our current state.
Anti-Semitic flyers are being passed out in our neighboring cities, racists messages have been written on Edmonds’ school property, residents are posting comments bashing immigrants and people of color in our local news media, there is ongoing removal of LGBTQ rainbow flags at an Edmonds’ church, several of our fire commissioners have made disparaging comments about immigrants, and swastikas have been repeatedly spray painted on parked cars. Bit by bit, these “isolated” incidents are merging together to form a single message: intolerance.
It is time we stand together to change these divisive trends to what we stand for: respect, tolerance, inclusiveness, understanding, admiration and love for one another.
I have heard from many residents who want to know what can we do in our city? What message can we send to our children? If there is anything I have learned from my kids, it is not what we say that they pick up on, it is what we do.
To that end, in the coming weeks I will be introducing a city council resolution to begin the creation of an Inclusive City Action Plan. This plan will ask several crucial questions: What does an inclusive city look like? How can we provide services and institute practices that meet the needs of all residents? What policies, processes and social relationships contribute to the exclusion of communities most affected by inequities?
When I say inclusion, I am not just talking about diversity. A simple way to describe it is by author Verna Myer: “Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance.” It is not about perfecting how many different groups of people are represented, it is about building a connection and collaborating with each other.
We need to take a hard look at systemic barriers creating obstacles that exclude groups of people from full participation and the benefits of our city. They may be hidden or unintentional, but are built into the way we as a society work. We need to recognize that distinct groups may experience different barriers that require more specific action in order to ensure that they also can share in the same advantages.
This plan will focus on three broad areas: (1) Engage diverse communities to develop a shared vision and understanding of the challenges and priorities in our city and to enhance diversity in volunteerism and civic engagement, including our city boards and commissions; (2) Deliver more accessible city services so that the benefits may be shared by everyone. For example, there are folks who cannot access city services because they do not speak the same language or did not hear about it in their community; and (3) Enhance public safety efforts such as by increasing the number of public safety officials who have basic fluency in the languages spoken in our city, and develop initiatives that establish positive connections between youth and public safety officials.
By taking these steps, we will send a clear signal to others that this is what an inclusive community looks like, this is what an inclusive community acts like.
By including and recognizing our different races, religions, sexual orientations, genders and diverse backgrounds, we are celebrating the one thing that makes us who we all are, we are America.
— By Mike Nelson, Edmonds City Council