Walking the Talk

Tet, Vietnamese Lunar New Year, is the biggest holiday for the Vietnamese community and falls on January 28th this year. As always, the week before Tet is a whirlwind of activities as families host year-end celebrations, clean and reorganize their homes, and shop for traditional Tet foods and gifts. Businesses in Little Saigon have always anticipated – many of them depend on – this uptick in shopping like others might on Black Friday to bring in an extra shot of revenue.

But this Saturday, January 21st, these businesses are in for a surprise as they’ll see major streets around their storefronts frozen shut for hours by tens of thousands of people predicted to attend the Womxn’s March on Seattle, which will make its way through Little Saigon. Sadly, the vast majority of marchers will not be making their way into the local restaurants, groceries, and stores. While the march is estimated to last just 2-3 hours, the residual impact of traffic congestion, trash cleanup, and general disturbance will effectively prevent normal business operations for much of the day.

Beyond the financial impact, the greater damage done here is that no one bothered to consider or even inform the community members of Little Saigon, a community that, despite the diminutive name, has made significant contributions to the cultural and economic richness of the region for decades. Like their incoming shoppers this Saturday, most Little Saigon business owners are still in the dark with all preparations done and no backup plans.

Let us be clear, this year’s march is particularly important in light of the misogynistic and bigoted rhetoric arising from the election. The people and leaders of Seattle have been working hard to address the prejudices, discriminations and *isms in our community through local initiatives like the City of Seattle Racial and Social Justice Initiative, the annual robust programming of Martin Luther King Jr. Day workshops and rallies, and the upcoming Seattle Womxn’s March. All of these efforts toward a more inclusive community with equal rights and equitable opportunities are needed more than ever.

At the same time, the lack of coordination with the Vietnamese community and last minute notification of the street closures in Little Saigon beg the question of whether we are really walking the talk of wanting to create a more inclusive community with everyone having a place at the table or is the table already full with those who have always been there and, once again, already marginalized, ethnic communities have to wait their turn?

So as we boldly march to combat racial, gender, religious, sexual discrimination and inequality, let us not forget to invite those we are working for to be part of the process. Here are a few suggestions on how can we better practice inclusivity in 2017:

  1. Make sure to have a diverse representation of the community at the table. There is no shortcut. This needs to be the first step and is the only way to ensure that agendas, policies, and activities are inclusive and reflect the needs of the whole community. Often, activities are planned according one particular worldview and reality and then others are “invited” to join only as an afterthought or when it’s pointed out.
  2. Be proactive in making structural and systemic changes. Don’t wait for complaints or tragedy to happen before policies are changed and needed resources are provided. Be proactive in critically reviewing current policies, practices, and system structures to see if they are relevant and supportive of all those in the community.  
  3. Hold yourself and your community leaders accountable. A Racial and Social Justice Toolkit is an impressive start but useless if people don’t use it. A more inclusive community will require more time, input, and guts to reassess and reprioritize limited resources. Accountability measures need to be in place to ensure that people do the hard work of following important initiatives like the Racial and Social Justice Toolkit.

As we march into the year of the Fire Rooster, a year known for its integrity, fiery passion, and hard work, let’s do so with a commitment to walking the talk, to be inclusive in our steps so that we can all walk together toward a greater society.