Why I’m the Best Candidate for South Seattle: Colleen Echohawk

The Emerald invited top mayoral candidates to tell readers why they deserve South Seattle’s vote. Voters will have until Aug. 3 to cast their vote in the primary election.

I’m The Best Candidate for South End Voters Because I See Them

And I see what they’re up against

by Colleen Echohawk

Seattle has a long, deep history of segregation. It’s a story with many chapters and which spans centuries. Until just a few years ago, these stories were mostly viewed “in the past.” But for many of us, those scars are still painful, still visible. And recently, more and more activists and organizers — many from the South End — have been making it clear that the damage is still being done. 

This is a reality which many Seattle residents are only just now starting to acknowledge. Unfortunately, an acknowledgement of past wrongdoing is not the same thing as an active, aggressive, and inclusive series of actions undertaken to correct these injustices. Because of the racial wealth gap, the inequality in employment, housing, education, and incarceration; and the loss of opportunity doesn’t end once a law is changed. Its ripple effect permeates every aspect of life for our marginalized communities. 

I know that this is true because I’ve seen it. As the executive director of the Chief Seattle Club, I worked every day with members of our homeless Indigenous population — folks who have been kept away from traditional channels of power and, as a result, have been forced to find nontraditional ways to survive. I’m perpetually in awe of their grit and determination — and disappointed by the ways that our city’s government has failed to serve them. 

This is why I believe that I am the right choice for the voters of the South End — because I have spent my career believing in their hardships, listening to their issues, and trying to find pragmatic, creative solutions. 

I’m a firm believer that you have to be at the table to make a difference — but that a seat is rarely enough. I also know that too often, I’ve been the only Brown woman at that table and that my mere presence has been held up as a sign of “diversity.” And I’m keenly aware that many small business owners, families, and individuals from the South End understand what that’s like — how many times has one token BIPOC business owner been added into a space that was never actually meant to include their lived experience or worldview or ideas. 

This has to change. And I think one way to change it is from the top down. We must elect lawmakers who don’t just want to include a diverse array of individuals but instead, elect those who want to listen and defer to those individuals. 

For too long, the residents of the South End have been relegated to just one or two seats at the proverbial table. One position on a committee. One vote on police accountability. We, as marginalized people, know when we’re being pandered to and when we’re being included just to be included. City Hall has been guilty of this for years. And it’s got to end. 

My platform is built on facilitating real, positive change in our neighborhoods — and tailoring those changes to each neighborhood and its needs. These are tangible developments that folks will see and experience. They provide tangible benefits, not lip-service or empty acknowledgements.

These plans include ideas for more and different forms of affordable housing and shelter. Community solar programs that not only provide jobs but can help residents lower their energy bills. Municipal broadband to ensure that everyone in every home has access to internet that is fast, reliable, and affordable. Requiring new development in food deserts to meet the needs of the community by offering low-cost, healthy food options. Crisis response teams to provide an alternative to calling the police — and a zero-tolerance policy for bad cops to ensure we break the cycle of simply moving officers into new areas. 

We can have these things and so much more. We can have a city that is more affordable, more liveable, and more equitable — not just more shiny or more appealing to people with money. But we can’t have the city that we want by continuing to elect the folks who have failed to deliver it in the past. We don’t just need one or two new people at the table. We need entire communities leading the charge and deciding what they need and how we can deliver it. 

📸 Featured Image by Ulysses Curry

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