by Melody Ip
When Seattle City Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda reflects on her past four years in office, she celebrates hard-fought wins for healthier families, worker protections, and small businesses. Yet COVID-19 hit and reversed the progression, significantly impacting many of the people Mosqueda has worked so hard to protect. For this reason, Mosqueda is running for a second term on the City Council, believing her work is not yet done.
“I don’t want us to recover to what we were before,” Mosqueda said. “I want to recover to a more equitable Seattle, and that drives me to stay in the legislative branch and fight for those longer-term policies that, once we [pass them] into law, will make dramatic improvements for people’s lives over the long haul.”
In 2017, Mosqueda announced her decision to run for Council Position 8 the week after Trump was inaugurated. She was among a cohort of first-time candidates — young Women of Color across the country — running for office. Mosqueda knocked on doors and met community members, eventually collecting the $300,000 maximum in democracy vouchers through Seattle’s new voucher program.
“I’m really proud that I was able to win but also more proud to be part of this national cohort that was fighting for a true representative democracy,” Mosqueda said. “All of these issues [I fought for] go back to why I was running in 2017 — as a woman, as a Person of Color, as a younger person — bringing in this perspective and then fighting for policies that not only help that demographic but our entire city.”
One of the more impactful moments from the 2017 campaign was when Mosqueda met a young girl who had just graduated from elementary school. The girl told her mom, “Wow, if she can do it, maybe one day I can run, too.” Mosqueda ended up being one of six women and one of five People of Color to fill City Council seats that term. At the same time, Jenny Durkan won the mayoral race and became the first woman mayor in Seattle since the late 1920s — and the city’s first openly gay woman mayor.
A Call for Commonality and Renewed Priorities
Even in Seattle — known for its progressive identity — divisiveness exists, and Mosqueda is committing to finding common ground among diverse opinions, without compromising her progressive principles. She gave an example of what this looks like using the issue of homelessness. From a human rights perspective, people should not be living outside, weathering storms and living in unsanitary conditions. On the other hand, people are frustrated that their parks and greenbelts are being overrun by tents. The commonality is that everyone believes people should have housing and shelter and that public spaces should be open for recreation. Start with that commonality and work from there.
She also upholds Seattle’s shared progressive values and ensures that policies align with those values. Two years ago, Mosqueda learned that City employees did not have bereavement leave for the loss of a child and were only entitled to three days of paid leave. Digging deeper, she listened to parents who fought to receive paid time off in the midst of their grief. Mosqueda — along with Mayor Durkan and Councilmember Lorena González — led the charge to pass Bea’s Law, which now guarantees four weeks of paid bereavement leave for City employees who experience the loss of a newly born child or the loss of a domestic partner or spouse due to childbirth complications.
Hearing those stories drove Mosqueda to ask herself if those experiences aligned with the values of Seattle. Seeing that disconnect drove her to change the policy internally.
If Mosqueda secures a second term, one of her priorities will be to improve access to affordable childcare, which she believes is core to our region rebounding from the scourge of COVID. She recently met a mother who was forced to choose between paying for childcare or her apartment. That woman is now living out of a car with her children and driving them to and from Lakewood, where she found affordable childcare, before and after her shifts at a grocery store in Seattle.
“That’s the trade-off people are making in a post-recession world,” Mosqueda emphasized. “Let’s not forget — she is a frontline essential worker … making a decision to keep her kids in early learning childcare but also so that she can provide for them. Without the childcare, she can’t have her job. … That story should not exist in one of the most prosperous cities.”
Another priority is securing funding for supportive services to pair with increased affordable housing, particularly for people who have been chronically homeless or in and out of homelessness and need access to mental health and substance abuse counselors. The challenge is not only to hire personnel, but also to make sure people in those positions are well paid and respected. Mosqueda strives to identify root causes of where and why people fall through the cracks and then invest in sustainable change to break the cycles of inequity.
Her Driving Force
What Mosqueda does as a councilmember — noticing injustices, identifying root causes, and taking action — are instinctive responses instilled in her as a child. She grew up watching her parents fight for human rights, working in broad international coalitions to demand change and accountability and provide immediate aid. Her father is a professor of political economy and social change; her mother was an early learning teacher and then a higher education policy/fiscal analyst for Washington State. Today, they are still activists, standing up for people oppressed by systemic inequities.
“My sister and I learned to question the status quo, to understand and research the root causes of injustices, and to work to uproot those fundamental inequities to create lasting change,” Mosqueda recounted, remembering stories she’s heard from people at rallies and protests, living room meetings, and gatherings on college campuses.
“And among all the organizing and meetings I saw growing up, there was also friendship, laughter, camaraderie, and perhaps that’s how I learned to approach my work today. It’s not just about finding commonality among people; it’s that the result of that collective power creates the strength to tear down systems of inequality and enact the profound changes needed.”
In her moments of discouragement, when injustices weigh heavy on her heart, frustrations push Mosqueda forward in her belief that people ultimately make change. “I am not a believer in incrementalism,” she explained. “I am a believer in movements, and every frustration just encourages me to broaden the tent of who needs to be brought into the conversation to make change.”
The year 2020 has brought new meaning to the word “frustration,” and Mosqueda is not ignorant to the divisions, tensions, and emotional exhaustion pulsing through Seattle because of the pandemic and local and national politics. But she is not defeated.
“If there is one thing I hope to accomplish this year, and certainly in a second term, it is to be purposeful every day in my advocacy for the people and places of our city and to do my part to restore the sense of pride, innovation, and progressive leadership that has made Seattle a destination for so many and a hub of positive change,” she said. “We can and will put these dark days behind us. And when we do, I know the people of Seattle will rally for one another, for the values we share, and for the future we all deserve.”
Melody Ip is a freelance copy editor/writer and managing editor for Mochi Magazine. She loves the trees and rain of the Pacific Northwest, still sends handwritten letters, and always has at least five books on her nightstand.
Featured Image: Teresa Mosqueda speaks with health care providers about patient care and worker safety prior to the COVID-19 pandemic (photo courtesy of Team Teresa 2017).
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