1. South Carolina wasn't the only place grappling with a flag controversy this week.
As South Carolina governor Nikki Haley was weighing the pros and cons of the confederate flag Monday—"For many people in our state, the flag stands for traditions that are noble...traditions of history, of heritage, and of ancestry.... At the same time, for many others in South Carolina, the flag is a deeply offensive symbol of a brutally oppressive past"—here in Seattle, city council member Kshama Sawant was giving a speech in council chambers about another flag—the flag of the former South Vietnamese government.
"On the one hand, it connects rightful aspirations and hopes that many of you have," Sawant said. "On the other hand, for others, it connects to a history of colonial oppression."
While Governor Haley was proposing removing the confederate flag from the state house grounds—"for those who wish to show their respect for the flag on their private property, no one will stand in your way.... But the state house is different....," Sawant was casting a dissenting vote in opposition to another flag, the former flag of South Vietnam—a bright-yellow flag adorned with three red stripes, known to Vietnamese immigrants as the "heritage and freedom flag." (The country's current flag, a yellow star on a red background that harks back to the Communist North that ousted the U.S.-backed government at the end of the Vietnam War.)
Council member Bruce Harrell had just proposed a resolution to officially recognize the Southern flag—which flies all over town in Vietnamese neighborhoods such as Little Saigon and in the Rainier Valley—as the symbol of Seattle's Vietnamese community "and who you really are."
The crowd of Vietnamese Seattleites who packed council chamber to cheer Harrell on were stunned to hear Sawant explaining her lone no vote:
All of you here are free to attach your own meanings to the flag. It is your right in a democracy. The city council, however, as the city’s highest elected body, has a duty to not uncritically endorse these projections and interpretations in the name of the entire city without a fuller understanding of the history of the flag. I personally believe that it is a mistake for the city council to endorse the flag of the former South Vietnam, a flag that is highly controversial and painful to many. When it comes to democracy, the former South Vietnamese government was also a dictatorship...
It was a first for Sawant. Despite doing her best to show solidarity with the crowd—"as an immigrant woman of color myself"—Sawant, accustomed to booming applause for her speeches, drew derisive shouts from the immigrant crowd for her Howard Zinn history lesson. "No...no!" they yelled as council president Burgess had to quiet them to allow the proceedings to continue.
When order was restored, council member John Okamoto drew cheers. "I don't view this resolution as taking sides," he said. "This resolution honors our local Vietnamese community."
Not even super lefty Nick Licata—who's actually part of the American generation that opposed the Vietnam War (Licata was at Woodstock)—stuck by the 1960s/early '70s Hanoi Jane script Sawant was channeling. (I kid you not. I was once at a party with some older lefties from that era who casually noted that "we had won the Vietnam war." "We" being the anti-imperialist left, I guess.)
"This resolution," Licata said, "recognizes the Vietnamese community and the suffering it has endured."
Sawant, undeterred by public testimony from people like Sang Ban, who fought alongside U.S. troops in Vietnam, said:
The U.S. war and occupation of Vietnam was totally undemocratic and was fought to suppress the right of the Vietnamese people to determine their own fate.
The U.S. war in Vietnam, which killed millions of Vietnamese people and tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers, was opposed by a majority of Americans and the majority of the people in Vietnam and across the world.
I think that as an elected body of a major metropolitan area we have a duty to support these antiwar activists of the past, and of the present, and all of those who will have the courage to oppose wars in the future.
While having the greatest respect for the Vietnamese community in Seattle, I am unable to vote for a resolution that ties this community’s recognition to a particular flag that is mired in controversy.
Countering Sawant's points, one Vietnamese immigrant told council:
[I] spent many years in the Communist concentration camp after the war ended in 1975. I came here through a refugee program. I personally spent many years fighting side by side with the American soldiers for freedom in South Vietnam. Unfortunately it fell and so many thousands of American soldiers died for their flag like I have here [gestures toward flag].
This is not just for Vietnamese in the United States but also for Vietnamese in Vietnam. They now recognize the suppression of the Communist regime. They rely on us; they rely on this yellow flag for their spirit and strength.
2. Underestimating the pending announcement from mayor Ed Murray yesterday that he was creating a new executive level position, a super planning czar that would coordinate other agency projects with a universal sense of managing the city's explosive population growth, yesterday's Morning Fizz simply reported that Murray was going to create a "new big picture boss."
We had that right, but there was more: Murray proposed shutting down the Department of Planning and Development altogether while having this new top planner head up a brand new Office of Planning and Community Development; the current longtime director of DPD, Diane Sugimura, is retiring later this year. Meanwhile, a separate new agency, to be headed up by DPD's current deputy director, will handle the day-to-day permitting and enforcement minutiae, but the new global agency will replace DPD as the central, philosophical think tank for the city's planning strategies.
Murray's press release said:
The new office elevates the planning functions of the Department of Planning and Development to manage Seattle’s construction boom and job growth, while also coordinating public investments in transportation, parks and housing. This office will be composed of planners with expertise in a range of subjects across city departments.
The office will also act as a single point of contact for Seattle residents who have concerns or comments about City planning and investments.
“We need an entry-point for community concerns about how we preserve the Seattle that drew us all here in the first place,” said Murray. “And most importantly, this office will help us develop a shared vision for what kind of city we want Seattle to become.”
An urbanist victory to ensure that 21st-century policies like transit-oriented development govern Seattle's future? Or a window for antidevelopment slow growthers to fight back?
Depends on who's appointed. And who the mayor is.
3. The King County Democrats finalized their endorsements last night for this year's August 4 city council primary election.
The KC Democrats have a rigorous, in-depth questionnaire.
Some noteworthy results: The KC Democrats didn't give the nod to stalwart, popular King County Council Democrat Joe McDermott aide Shannon Braddock in West Seattle's District One; they snubbed both intense Democratic party activist Michael Maddux and go-to transit ballot initiative leader Rob Johnson in North Seattle's District Four (no Jean Godden there either); they snubbed city council president Tim Burgess; and they gave a dual nod to neighborhood activist Bill Bradburd and civil rights attorney Lorena González in Position Nine.
Last night's picks:
City of Seattle Council, District One: Brianna Thomas and Lisa Herbold (dual endorsement)
City of Seattle Council, District Two: Bruce Harrell
City of Seattle Council, District Three: Rod Hearne
City of Seattle Council, District Four: Tony Provine
City of Seattle Council, District Five: Sandy Brown and Debora Juarez (dual endorsement)
City of Seattle Council, District Six: Mike O'Brien
City of Seattle Council, District Seven: Sally Bagshaw
City of Seattle Council, Position Eight: Jon Grant and John Roderick (dual endorsement)
City of Seattle Council, Position Nine: Bill Bradburd and Lorena González (dual endorsement)