Headshot depicting Tanya Woo in a red blazer.

OPINION | Why I Support Tanya Woo for District 2

by Matt Chan

Ahead of the Aug. 1 primary election, the South Seattle Emerald invited community members to voice their support for the candidates for District 2 of the Seattle City Council race. The opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints expressed below do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints of the Emerald or official policies of the Emerald.

In addition to candiate Tanya Woo, community members also wrote an op-ed for candidate Tammy Morales.

The reason I’m voting for Tanya Woo is because of one word: empathy.

Empathy is more than compassion; it is the ability to see the world from a different perspective. As the problems in our city continue to grow, we need to act with compassion and create dialogue that brings us together. We don’t need ideologues who think they know what is best for South Seattle. We need people who will show up, listen, and do the hard work to tackle the problems. We deserve that.

I met Tanya Woo following the first night of the Black Lives Matter protests, after the Seattle Police Department herded angry crowds into the Chinatown-International District (CID) and left them to savage the last authentic ethnic neighborhood in Seattle — a neighborhood that was recently named among the 11 most endangered historic places in America.

In response, Tanya Woo, along with others, formed the CID Community Watch that would go out nightly to patrol the streets of the CID. As the pandemic raged, the unhoused had to shelter in place, the rise of anti-Asian hate was fueled by an unstable president, and a Seattle in turmoil was unable to take care of itself, Tanya and her group provided a sense of safety for our community. I was one of many who joined in the nightly tasks: picking up needles, collecting trash, providing mutual aid and assistance to the unhoused, securing businesses in hopes of limiting the ongoing damage. What emerged from this community engagement was a strong woman who was fearless in her pursuit of providing for her community, someone who listened to community and provided service on a human level, one-to-one on the streets of Seattle.

Tanya Woo’s family was among the first Chinese immigrants to come to Seattle in the latter part of the 1800s. She grew up in Beacon Hill, worked in Chinatown, and now lives in Rainier Beach. She is a true daughter of South Seattle. Her family worked hard to make a life, as all immigrants do, but they also paid back the community in service. After a devastating fire damaged the family property, the historic Louisa Hotel, Tanya led the way back by rebuilding the old residential building into affordable workforce housing. Tanya worked to keep her community housed and in place where they could have access to their cultural home, the Chinatown-International District.

As I came to know more about Tanya, I admired her quiet strength and stood with her when the community pushed back against the building of the “mega shelter” in the CID/SoDo neighborhoods. For the record, the pushback was never about the unhoused versus the CID. At that time, the CID already had 19 shelters within walking distance of the neighborhood. Businesses provided food, haircuts, and basic human needs to the unhoused.

It was an uneasy alliance, but as always, the residents of the CID adjusted. The real fight was over not being informed of a major project and that time and time again, the most fragile neighborhood in Seattle finds itself constantly under municipal siege. Historical examples include the construction of I-5 that split the neighborhood in half; the Kingdome that threatened to turn the CID into a parking lot; the streetcar project that closed half the businesses on Jackson Street; and, finally, the opening of the Navigation Center that has left a stain on 12th and Jackson that to this day has no solution. For Tanya, the victory was about having a voice, having a seat at the table, and no longer falling victim to bad City policy powered by the “white savior” mentality — a story that plays out repeatedly throughout South Seattle.

Tanya’s ability to represent and fight for real people is because she listens with compassion and empathy, along with her love for South Seattle. I’ve seen her “canceled” and denied access to political leaders, and still work to give voice to the voiceless. She persists.

The story of the CID is the story of South Seattle: marginalized people and neighborhoods who are never listened to. We need change that comes from the neighborhoods and people of South Seattle. Bad public policy provides fleeting handouts, which reinforces the negative narrative that the neighborhood is always in need of assistance. Tanya will show up and fight for that change. What we need in political leadership is someone who sees us, all of us, and lifts us up. We need the passion, the heart, and most of all the empathy of Tanya Woo for Seattle City Council District 2.

If you’d like to get involved or learn more, visit Tanya Woo’s election website.

The South Seattle Emerald is committed to holding space for a variety of viewpoints within our community, with the understanding that differing perspectives do not negate mutual respect amongst community members.

The opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints expressed by the contributors on this website do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints of the Emerald or official policies of the Emerald.

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