by Sharon Maeda
Long before Beacon Hill, Chinatown/International District, Columbia City, Georgetown, Hillman City, Lakewood, Mt. Baker, Rainier Beach and Seward Park became Seattle’s only majority minority district – the residents, communities and small businesses have struggled to be heard by the mainstream media; its no wonder that the vast majority of Seattle’s alternative, community, ethnic and language media are rooted in these communities.
Everyone likes to tout the most diverse zip code in the state. Yet, most of the media has totally ignored this only majority minority district. These neighborhoods survived incursions of an interstate freeway, sports arenas, light rail and street car tracks. It is the only district that had three large public housing developments and has requested more affordable housing over the decades. It is the district that has welcomed refugees and immigrants who have risked their lives fleeing famine, wars, dictators and poverty to find a better way of life for their families. Should not these New Americans have information they need to participate in our democracy? Maybe coverage of the highest air pollution levels in the city, or the disproportionate incarceration of young men of color, or housing costs pushing all this great diversity right out of the city.
So, yes. By not covering the District 2 City Council election, the media is saying that this majority minority district really doesn’t matter.
As a former journalist, I have lamented the loss of a daily newspaper or local family ownership of a major network stations and the decline of local news and public affairs and journalism in general. Today, I truly mourn the loss of media that is committed to providing news that people need to make decisions about who to elect to represent them…..who will be looking out for the needs and issues facing District 2.
And, what about this specific election? Theoretically district elections are supposed to make it easier for people of color to run and to cost significantly less. When asked, some media have said that there’s really no race there – presumably because the incumbent received over 50% of the primary vote. If there were NO challengers, shouldn’t the only district with majority minority voters be covered? With the lowest voter turnout in the primary, and the highest percentage of New Americans, isn’t it at least part of the media’s responsibility to elevate the concept of democracy, elections and issues? Furthermore, it actually has all the characteristics of a great story: Bruce Harrell, a former Husky football star with a big personality turned corporate attorney vs. Tammy Morales, an introverted community planner and grassroots advocate who got her chops as a legislative aide. A biracial African/Asian American incumbent vs. a Latina who converted to Judaism. An incumbent who has nearly a quarter of a million dollar campaign fund – large enough to run citywide vs. the quixotic challenger who has less than one third the funds and has knocked on over 8,000 doors. Okay, if the candidates are not interesting enough, what about the issues: increase in gun violence, police accountability, gentrification, home foreclosures, and the highest level of homicides. Seattle’s great economic boom is only pushing immigrants, low wage workers and people of color out of the city entirely.
I don’t use these words lightly, but whether by default or not, the result is institutional racism – racism from the mainstream media that only helps to ensure low voter turnout in the district that has the most at stake in Seattle’s first district election.
Democracy is not a spectator sport. How can New Americans and beleaguered low wage workers participate if the media acts like there’s no election? In fact, one could argue that a diverse district like ours should have more coverage so that New Americans and disenfranchised voters know about voter registration deadlines, primary and general elections, and the issues that separate candidates from each other.
The people of D2 deserve better.
Sharon Maeda is a Seattle resident. She is the former Executive Director of Pacifica Radio and once served on the global mission board of the United Methodist Church as their Deputy General Secretary.
Featured Image courtesy of Alex Garland