Seattle political Town Hall lacks politicians — and audience diversity

There was an abundance of pink pussy hats at the town hall on Jan. 25. The hats were made popular at the nationwide Women’s Marches, including the Seattle Womxn’s March. (Photo by Agatha Pacheco)

Last week’s grassroots Town Hall, originally listed as a way to talk to Senators Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, lacked the two politicians on the top bill, as well as diversity in the audience.

The offices of Cantwell and Murray both said they were given too short notice to attend — as did representatives from other invited groups. And unlike the recent Womxn’s March, which attracted a diverse array of groups bringing an intersectional agenda, attendance at the event seemed to lack people of color, though the group said it had attempted outreach.

But the organizers, Indivisible Seattle, who attracted nearly 800 people to the event, say the Town Hall was a sincere effort to engage with local people and politicians and they were not trying to make any political point about the senators’ responsiveness, as some had questioned on the event’s Facebook page.

“By no means are we trying to schedule an event that the senators and their staff would not attend,” an online post from Indivisible Seattle said, and attributed the mixup to the difficulty of organizing in new movements.

The Seattle Unity Church was packed despite the absence of senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, who represent Washington state in the U.S. Senate. (Photo by Agatha Pacheco.)

Indivisible Seattle is a self-described grassroots organization linked to the national Indivisible movement made by former Democratic Congressional staffers. The goal of the group is to make elected officials question President Donald Trump’s agenda, organizers Leah Greenberg and Angela Padilla told CNN.

Indivisible has provided information to local constituents to show up at their representatives’ events and have organized local activist Town Halls — and to ask the questions to the cardboard cutouts of politicians who doesn’t show up. Most news coverage has been on Republican politicians who have been questioned or have dodged the activist Town Hall meetings.

However, that’s not what Indivisible Seattle was trying to do with Murray and Cantwell, both Democrats, said Alex Fayer, an Indivisible Seattle organizer. However, large portraits of the two were prominently made an appearance on Saturday.

Fayer told the Globalist that Indivisible had been working with the senators’ offices on the town hall, but they were not informed until late that the senators would not be able to attend on the chosen date. Cantwell and Murray were invited to send someone from their offices to be present for the town hall, but they declined  with no explanation.

“We were never told by any staffers that this was a bad time or that they had anything else going on,” Fayer said.

Cantwell’s spokesperson Bryan Watt told the Globalist that Cantwell received a invitation to attend the town hall on Sunday night, less than a week before the event.

“She had already committed to speaking at an the American Alpine Club dinner about protecting our public lands and the Antiquities Act,” Watt said.

Murray’s spokesperson Kerry Arndt said the senator had met with Seattle Indivisible four days before the Town Hall and she informed them at that time she would not be able to make it.

An online update on the event Facebook page did not confirm that no politicians would be there until Friday before the event.

Hundreds of people still showed up to Seattle Unity Church downtown on Saturday. The venue was changed last minute due to a potentially large audience. The Facebook event had 800 people at and almost four thousand people interested.

As the event began constituents trickled into the church. Once seated, the pews were filled with what appeared to be a majority middle-aged white audience, with many wearing the pink pussy hats made popular during Seattle’s Womxn’s March.

“We reached out to every possible community,” Fayer said, adding that he personally reached out to the Washington state’s Council on American Islamic and American Civil Liberties Union chapters.

The ACLU-WA Communications Director, Doug Honig, said that Indivisible Seattle did not reach out to them until Feb. 23 — two days before the event — giving them little time to plan to attend.

Executive Director for CAIR-WA Arsalan Bukhari said he was unable to verify whether Seattle Indivisible reached out to them, but would continue to look through emails, voicemail and speaking to staff.

The panel answering questions included Tiffany Hankins, the executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Washington; Nathan Resick, an Indivisible Seattle organizer concerned about the Russian influence on elections; and Rene Flores, an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Washington. Flores was the only person of color on the panel. He specializes in immigration policy and ethnic identity.

“We’re sorry that neither of the Senators nor anyone from their staff will be joining us today,” said Jonathan Tong an organizer from Indivisible North Seattle, which stirred up boos from the audience.

He did not mention to the audience the senators had only been reached days before.

Immigration questions

Despite the lack of diversity seen in the general audience, several people of color came up to the microphone to speak during the question-and-answer sessions, particularly one on immigration. Other topics ranged from the U.S. Supreme Court and to the possible influence of Russia on the election.

The first woman who spoke was from India, who overstayed her visitors’ visa in 1986.

“But I had a legal, clear, easy way of staying,” she said. “I enrolled in community college and got a student visa.”

Despite being in the country for 30 years, the woman said the first experience of being told to go back to her country was recently, from an older white woman at Costco. She said the experience demonstrated that the world is changing for her and that she now feels less free then she would like to feel.

A U.S. citizen also told the crowd of her fear that her husband, who is registered under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, may be deported. She asked what the senators will do to protect her family.

Flores told her that undocumented communities have been targeted by raids and the detention of a DACA recipient last month.

Another woman told the crowd that people need to speak up for people who don’t feel safe, recalling an experience she recently had of witnessing the aftermath of a hate crime.

She described how a neighbor was harassed by a person at her door who told her to “go back home” and called her a derogatory term for black people.

“That kind of thing I just never could have imagined a couple months ago that I  would hear about,” the woman said about her neighbor’s experience. “I’ve never had that kind of direct experience.”

A green card holder from Colombia, who was using the term “illegal” instead of “undocumented,” talked about how his mother risked being “illegal” before getting her green card in 2009.

“I wanted to say in the name of millions of immigrants, illegals or legal, we are not criminals, we are not drug dealers,” he said, as people cheered. “Yes we are different, but that doesn’t make us less human.”

The rest of the speakers were all American citizens describing their experiences with immigration issues since Trump’s inauguration.

A former Soviet Union refugee that said she was sad the U.S. was becoming a place people are afraid to come to.

Another citizen originally from Pakistan said she is a “tax-paying business owner,” said asked the crowd what she should do if she’s harassed.

“When somebody tells me to go home what do I say to them?” she said.

Audience member yelled a suggestion to her: “‘You are home.'”

A recording of the Town Hall is available here.

Local Town Halls

Several Congressional representatives have Town Hall Meetings scheduled over the next week. Organizing group WOKE WA keeps track of town hall meetings by Congressional representatives and senators.

Rep. Derek Kilmer (WA-6) will hold his at 5:30 p.m. today (March 3) at 7th Street Theatre in Hoquiam.

Rep. Rick Larsen (WA-2) will hold two separate Town Halls on March 4, one in Sedro-Wooley and another in Langley.

Rep. Adam Smith (WA-9) will hold a Town Hall will be at 10 a.m. Saturday March 4 at King’s Hall in Seattle.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (WA-7) will hold a Town Hall at 5:30 p.m. Monday at Town Hall Seattle.

 

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1 Comment

  1. Great article! Very informative and overall gives you the sense of being at the townhall even though you weren’t able to attend.

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