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Debora Juarez
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Why you should listen when Councilmember Debora Juarez speaks up

Seattle Councilmember Debora Juarez at a Monday, May 14, 2018 council meeting. (Matt Pitman, KIRO Radio)

Councilmember Debora Juarez offered a single sobering moment amid high tensions when the Seattle City Council passed a head tax on Monday.

RELATED: Plenty of drama in Seattle council chambers

Juarez doesn’t often speak out during city meetings. At least, she doesn’t in the manner others do with pep rally speeches, disparaging comments against others on the dais, and large groups of protesters who disrupt meetings.

When Juarez does choose to speak, she gets to the point.

Like in August 2016, when Councilmember Mike O’Brien attempted to explain to Juarez — who describes herself as Latina and member of the Blackfeet Nation — how racism works. She didn’t let that slide, telling O’Brien that the issue at hand (a proposed police station) was not appropriate for scoring political points or creating a divisive atmosphere.

What Juarez said Monday was an echo of that sentiment, pointing out that council members should be colleagues who work together, not rivals; that bullying is an unacceptable tactic; and that there are serious issues beyond T-shirts and chants. At its core, it was a message of unity shortly after Councilmember Kshama Sawant taunted others on the dais. More often than not, Seattle council meetings have the ambiance of a tailgate party filled with opposing sports fans.

Debora Juarez doesn’t need a “slogan mill”

Here is Councilmember Debora Juarez’s speech during Monday’s head tax meeting before the council voted:

My name is Debora Juarez. I’m a member of the Blackfeet Nation. I’m also a Latina. I was born and raised in this country because it is my country. I will not impugn the integrity or the motives of any of my colleagues, because you are my colleagues. You are not my rival­­. You are not my competitor. You are my colleague. And I represent all of the residents and the people of the City of Seattle.

Eight council members worked hard to get to ‘yes.’ Sometimes you have to lead. Sometimes you have to compromise and not bully. Sometimes you have to look beyond your own echo chamber and your own movement. Sometimes you have to look beyond your own personal worldview, political lens, and slogan mill. Sometimes you have to do that. As a woman of color, I did not get here by being in the pocket of corporations, big business, slumlords, corporate Democrats, or the prison industrial complex – all things that I’ve been accused of. Because God forbid I use my mind, and my education, and my upbringing, my wisdom to bring what I believe is leadership.

As an indigenous woman, as a Latina, because I like many of my sisters up here, worked hard, and I know you don’t just get what you want because you want it. Sometimes you get what you want because you work hard for it and it comes in increments. My people did not get the right to vote until 1924. I know what it is like to fight hard, and to be an activist, and to be an advocate and to move the ball forward. And that’s how you get there. That’s called leadership. I understand discrimination, racism, disenfranchisement. I know what it’s like to be homeless, to live in a hut home, to have food stamps, to be poor. I get all that. I’ve been there.

So I will not sit here and have somebody impugn who I am and how I got here; that I don’t care about people who are unsheltered. I am proud that I worked with my colleagues this weekend. I am proud that I sat down with labor. I sat down with social services. I talked to business. I talked to everyone across the spectrum. I want to particularly thank Councilmember Mosqueda, Councilmember Harrell, Councilmember Herbold, Councilmember González because we worked hard. And if you can’t see that, then I am sorry. But I’m going to vote yes today because I plan on being here. I plan on moving this forward. I plan on sheltering the unsheltered. And I don’t just give up.

And I don’t need a T-shirt to feel that.

There are plenty of points to disagree with Juarez on. She’s not a perfect politician and has been accused of toxic politics herself. Juarez has even been caught using foul language on mic in  council chambers. During public comment, she objected to a verbal attack directed to a single council member (however, it can be refreshing to hear leaders speak as the rest of us do). Next week, Juarez could very well vote for, or against, something that we may disagree with.

But agree or disagree politically, what Juarez said Monday was true. Seattle would do much better with nine Debora Juarezes on the council than with one Trump, er, I mean, Kshama Sawant.

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