The other day I was driving a little faster than what the speed limit called for and a motorcycle cop pulled me over. As he approached my driver’s side window, he tapped the middle of his chest to make me aware of his body cam, and he announced that he was recording the traffic stop. In that moment, I thought my life could end. I imagined him blowing my brains out through the passenger side seat and window. So when he asked for my ID, I made sure to go through my “P.O.P.s” (the pull-over-protocol that I taught my son when he got his driver’s license): pray, be polite, move as slowly as possible, keep your hands and wallet visible at all costs because it could cost you your life.
At President Biden’s recent town hall, he was asked a direct question by a voter, who is currently in federal student loan debt, about Biden’s plans regarding the forgiveness of at least $50,000 in student loan debt. Biden gave a straightforward “no” in answer in a response in which he suggested the funds should be used to support early education instead, and he went on to describe his reluctance to assist Americans who have degrees from elite institutions. Biden did reiterate his commitment to free community college.
The student asked the president: “The American dream is to succeed — but how can we fulfill that dream when debt is many people’s only option for a degree?” This statement stands out to me. As a Black American, I know many graduates, who like myself, were forced to take on student loans in pursuit of a degree that would hopefully set us on a path toward building generational wealth for our families. But how will we succeed if we are stuck with insurmountable debt as a reward for our pursuit of a professional career?
In early February, The Seattle Times published a report that provides a preliminary glimpse at who has had access to the first set of COVID vaccines that were doled out. As much as I want to tell myself that this is an incomplete picture and that the first set of vaccines is reflective of a strategy to inoculate first responders and medical personnel, I still feel that the preliminary rollout failed to address a key consideration. Namely, the disproportionate impact that the pandemic has had on people of color and economically marginalized folks.
Recently, legislative debates turned from carbon pricing to the Healthy Environment for All Act (HEAL) uplifting environmental justice (EJ). This is important legislation, but what we really need are bold solutions and different laws addressing a persistent form of unjust and ongoing pollution. Air toxic exposure disparities and their impacts on communities like the Duwamish Valley are still being ignored by politicians and industry. This inattention continues even as new research suggests that higher air pollution may increase COVID-19 vulnerability and deaths.
Many environmentalists in our region not only overlook decades of toxic air pollution injustice, some even gloss over the problem. In January, the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Seattle office announced that industrial toxic releases declined in the Northwest. Pollution dropped 12% in 2019 for 752 facilities in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Alaska. They further asserted “that U.S. companies that use and manage chemicals and metals continue to make progress in preventing pollution.”
But we knew that regional averages likely obscured trends in our heavily polluted Duwamish River Valley neighborhoods of Georgetown and South Park — often first documented by our community. EPA analysts lumped air, water, and land pollution together. When viewed separately, air and water pollution went up in the Northwest. Surface-water discharges increased by 1.17 million pounds and air pollution by 610 thousand pounds between 2018 and 2019.
In 2020, we saw people across the country make their voices heard with an urgency America hasn’t witnessed in decades. We marched in cities from coast to coast to express the need for social justice in our country. We advocated for change, pushing for more equity and inclusion.
The core of our chorus in protest after protest, “Black Lives Matter,” is a demand for action — an insistent call to finally tend to the overdue work of elevating Black voices and centering Black experiences.
That call was heeded at the ballot box here in Washington State, with more Black candidates elected than ever before.
Now that we have transitioned into 2021, it is more important than ever to keep building that momentum beyond electoral politics. We must continue to lift our voices and advocate for change throughout our society.
Major League Baseball (MLB) has a race problem. Its least accomplished member, the Seattle Mariners, has an even worse one. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the most woeful franchise in all of professional sports also has a longstanding awkwardness — to put it kindly — with race.
As the Washington State Legislature responds to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Washington families continue to struggle with multiple crises, and we need action from our leaders now. As a local mother and advocate, I am urging lawmakers to take bold and swift action to get immediate relief to communities and families.