OPINION: True Economic Recovery for Kent Means a Budget That Breaks Down Structural Inequities

by Mónica Mendoza-Castrejón

If we want a true economic recovery for Kent, we need a budget that breaks down the structural inequities that have left communities in Kent disconnected and disenfranchised for far too long. Too much of the Kent budget is focused on policing and not enough on our community’s needs.

These inequities have never been clearer. We are in the eye of multiple storms — amidst a global pandemic that is cutting through our Black, Brown, and low-income communities like a scythe and an economic recession that is devastating the finances of People of Color. Too many of us are in crisis mode. Every day, we see families grieving a sudden loss, facing food and housing insecurity, and worrying about their kids’ education.

To meet the scale of this need, Kent City Councilmembers need to act now with compassion and political courage and to step up to ensure a just recovery for all. Kent City Council must reject an austerity budget that balances our national crisis on the backs of already-struggling working families. This means rejecting proposals that hurt our communities — like the City’s plan to raise property taxes to hire more police — and ensuring that the wealthiest among us pay their fair share so that needed investments can be made in our city.

We must not perpetuate the status quo of structural racism, with Black and Brown residents facing higher rates of poverty, evictions, job loss, and incarceration. We need to house the homeless and ensure affordable housing, well-funded schools, and family-sustaining jobs in every neighborhood. We need a just, equitable budget that uproots systemic racism, white supremacy, and inequality in all its forms and takes active steps toward a just recovery for all.

Like many of my neighbors in Kent, my family has lived with these inequities in our city. My parents are farmworker immigrants from Mexico and were proud owners of the first Mexican taqueria and tienda (store) in the city, called “El Aguila,” which opened in the ‘90s. But there wasn’t much economic opportunity for us, and in the early 2000’s my family lost our store and taqueria. Later on, my mother and I lived in apartment complexes with many other immigrant and refugee families in East Hill. We frequented the food and clothing bank downtown and received financial support with food stamps from the state. We faced potential homelessness several times after my mother lost her job due to cancer, and we both often went to bed hungry.

I’m grateful to have overcome these hardships, but many of my neighbors weren’t so lucky. I want Kent to be a city where people don’t have to worry about their next meal or about a safe roof over their heads. I want Kent to be a city where youth in the K–12 system don’t have to worry about getting arrested by the police for a toy weapon in their backseat, like one of my family members did when he was in high school. I want Kent to be a city that prioritizes not just the wealthy or particular neighborhoods but those most in need. I want Kent to be a city that doesn’t just prioritize homeowners but renters as well. I want Kent to be a city that works for the many, not the few.

Safety and security are already the reality in Kent’s wealthier — and often whiter — neighborhoods. Communities with access to wealth, education, healthcare, and quality public services have less surveillance and police presence but remain some of the safest places to live.

But it shouldn’t matter what you look like, how much money you make or what neighborhood you grew up in: everyone in Kent deserves to thrive. And while the cash-flow challenges brought on by COVID-19 mean this will be one of our most challenging budget years ever, we know that advocates across the country are leading the way. After an incredibly powerful wave of Black-led protests, actions, and demonstrations surged across the country, city and state officials have taken meaningful action.

As a member of the Working Families Party (WFP) — a grassroots progressive group that recruits, trains, and elects progressive champions up and down the ballot — I know that regular working people have the power to make transformative change. We’ve made it happen in Seattle, when WFP members came together to help pass a tax on big corporations including Amazon and funnel millions of dollars into affordable housing. We made it happen in SeaTac, when WFP members mobilized to help elect progressive champions Takele Gobena and Senayet Negusse to the SeaTac City Council. We made it happen when WFP volunteers worked tirelessly for our WFP champions Kirsten Harris-Talley and Ingrid Anderson, who are now leading in their races for State House and State Senate, respectively.   

The stakes are high for making the necessary and urgent needed changes for working families in this time of COVID-19. We want to see our cities and state investing resources in communities of color and taking steps to ensure that COVID-19 doesn’t make people poorer and sicker. Together, we can accomplish the dream of making this city one where anyone can open a small business and maintain it regardless of the circumstance, where anyone can safely walk home at night, where anyone can have the basic human needs of food and shelter met.

How our nation, our state, and our city spend money reveals where its priorities lie, and the budget decisions we make in the next few weeks and months will decide our city’s future for years, if not decades, to come. This is our moment to build a budget that meets the urgent needs our communities are facing and builds a Kent that is fairer and freer than ever before.

Born and raised in South King County, Mónica Mendoza-Castrejón is currently a proud resident of Kent. She is a graduate of the University of Washington and is a current Public Defense Paralegal and a board member for several organizations including the MLK Working Families Party and Latino Community Fund. She is also a regionally recognized visual artist by the name of “Moni la Artivista.”” She is proud that in October 2019 she was chosen as a Roberto Maestas Legacy Award Winner by El Centro de la Raza.

Featured image by Elvert Barnes.