Statement on racial justice is first step after listening sessions last month
VANCOUVER — In their virtual meeting this week, members of the Vancouver City Council discussed, signed and released a statement acknowledging and condemning systemic racism in the community.
The statement was signed by all councilors and called a first step towards change. The statement is the first manifestation of response by the council to the recent listening sessions with members of communities of color last month.
“We have had a wonderful opportunity to listen through all of our listening sessions,” said Vancouver Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle. “We’ve learned about a number of different issues, including how systemic racism is affecting all individuals in our community in one way or another.”
The listening sessions, which were held with several minority groups and many people of color, were not televised or open to the public in order to create a safe space for those speaking to share their experiences.
Councilor Erik Paulson gave a little insight into what those sessions were like for him in the discussion time prior to signing the statement. Chiefly among them, was what he said was a reminder of his own inability to naturally understand all the perspectives of people of color.
“My role as a white person, as a product of white privilege, as a beneficiary of these systems that we talked about when we talk about systemic racism is to understand other points of view,” Paulson said. “Points of view that don’t come naturally to me, because, as a product of these systems, I’m largely unaware of ways that they affect others in our community, and I need to be better at that.”
Paulson went on to recognize that the council is composed entirely of white people, and that he sees committing to more conversations and inclusion of voices starting with the statement and that it would only continue to be possible by using broad filters when making policy decisions.
Councilor Ty Stober also offered his perspective on the statement, saying he felt it was a culmination of many years of hard work by members of the community and groups such as NAACP in Vancouver.
“I think the statement tonight is for me, by no means an end statement,” Stober said. “This is an acknowledgement for me of a lot of work that lies ahead. A lot of tough conversations. A lot of difficult situations that we’re gonna have to confront. But I’m very excited.”
Councilor Laurie Lebowsky explained that she sees the statement as applying to racial justice for all minorities in the community, from Latinx, to African Americans, to Native Americans. She also mentioned equity for these people groups as it pertains to the present pandemic.
“I believe this is a step forward, and it’s just a first step,” Lebowsky said. “I believe that we need to work proactively for the benefit of everyone in our community. One thing we can see with the pandemic is how, if you look nationally, that African Americans rate of getting the COVID infection is five times higher than white people. People of color are at a disadvantage in our society, especially as it relates to key areas, such as health care, income, education, and leadership positions.”
When it came time for Councilor Linda Glover to speak, she expressed a strong desire to not simply feel emotional about the tragedies in the nation, or the protests against racism. Instead, she said, she hopes to start a culture of determination to empower all members of the Vancouver community.
“It demands dedication, dedicated focus,” Glover said. “It’s more than recognizing inequities, biases and weaknesses in our systems. It will demand listening and learning and listening to it again when we make mistakes. It will take years of determination. We must work to make a Vancouver community where each member feels safe and valued.”
To read the full statement by the council, click on the image above or visit the city website at www.cityofvancouver.us.