Coalition Calls on Legislators to Work Toward Racial & Economic Equity

Rachel DeCruz

Leaders from Washington’s African-American, Latino, Asian, Native American, and Middle Eastern communities gathered on Dec. 10 in Seattle, Spokane, Olympia, Tacoma and the Tri-Cities to release the new report Facing Race: 2012 Legislative Report Card on Racial Equity. Endorsed by 52 organizations throughout the state, the report assesses the performance of the Washington State legislature during the 2011 and 2012 regular sessions on issues that impact racial and economic equity. The legislature overall earned a "D," and community leaders offered specific solutions to help the legislature do better in the upcoming session.

The events took place on International Human Rights Day and highlighted that although we have come a long way in the fight for civil rights and racial justice, we still have a long way to go. Demographics in Washington are changing: people of color currently represent nearly 30 percent of Washington residents, and that number is expected to grow. Nearly 1 in 5 of Washingtonians are either Latino or Asian and our state is home to over 886,000 immigrants.

Despite these shifting demographics, staggering racial disparities exist across almost all social indicators. These disparities are largely a result of policy decisions that are made every year by the Legislature on issues such as education, housing, taxation, health care, civil rights, and tribal sovereignty.

"Legislators have a choice," said Paola Maranan, the Executive Director of the Children’s Alliance and a speaker at the release in Seattle. "And their votes can either increase access and opportunities, or reinforce barriers that deny some families the opportunities they need to thrive."

Many legislators are not making the grade when it comes to racial equity in Washington. Sixty legislators (40 Representatives and 20 Senators), or 41 percent of the legislature, received failing grades. Of those failing, 19 legislators live in a district with over 30 percent constituents of color.

The legislature can and must do better. To assist the legislature the events were solution-oriented. By focusing on the missed opportunities indicated in the report (bills that would have advanced racial equity in Washington but did not pass the legislature), each release reinforced the message that a new chapter begins next session and that there is a clear path forward for the legislature.

The path toward racial equity includes the expansion of Medicaid and the implementation of the Basic Health Option, the Washington Voting Rights Act, prohibiting mandatory e-verify, abolishing the death penalty, and bills that would protect worker safety and stability, expand access to dental care and broaden access to early learning.

The coalition also called on the legislature to raise revenue and ensure that everyone pays their fair share. "We can’t afford another all-cuts budget this legislative session," said Jack Johnson, Tacoma member of Washington Community Action Network. "Our state’s tax structure disproportionately burdens the low-income. If legislators are serious about creating prosperity for all Washingtonians, it’s time they make the wealthiest pay their fair share to support health care and education."

The report is the latest in the series of Washington Community Action Network reports to move citizens and legislators of Washington State to action.

The following organizations have endorsed the report. Allyship, American Friends Service Committee, Arab American Community Coalition, Children's Alliance, El Centro de La Raza, Entre Hermanos, Got Green?, Para Los Ninos, Latinos for Community Transformation, Faith Action Network, Minority Executive Directors Coalition, Seattle King County NAACP, National Association of Social Workers - Washington Chapter, Washington State National Organization for Women (NOW), Alliance for a Just Society, OneAmerica Votes, People's Institute Northwest, Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane (PJALS), Parents Organizing for Welfare &, Economic Rights (POWER), Real Change, Seattle Office of Civil Rights, Race and Social Justice Initiative, Senior Services, Skagit Immigrant Rights Council, Statewide Poverty Action Network, UFCW Local 21, Washington Low Income Housing Alliance, Washington State Labor Council, WFSE/AFSCME Council 28, Race and Social Justice Community Roundtable, SEIU Healthcare 775NW, Washington Christian Leadership Coalition (WCLC), United Black Clergy of Washington, Greater Mt. Baker Church, The Lands Council, Northwest Fair Housing Alliance, Community Building Foundation, APICAT for Healthy Communities, Center for Multicultural Health, Asian Pacific Americans for Civic Empowerment (APACE), WIN/WIN Coalition, Seattle Human Rights Commission, SEIU 1199NW, Tacoma NAACP, Washington Defender Association, Washington Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Spokane Ministers' Fellowship, M.E.Ch.A. of Eastern Washington University, Casa Latina, Seattle Indian Health Board, UAW Local 4121, Tacoma Ministerial Alliance

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