“No. I’m sorry, no. This is my event, so no. Thank you anyway. Thank you for being here. I appreciate your support.”
–Kathy Watanabe, 31 March 2021
That was the response I received from Santa Clara Councilmember Kathy Watanabe when I asked to say a few words at a #StopAsianHate event she helped stage with Mayor Lisa Gillmor this week.
In addition to some elected guests, including County Supervisor Susan Ellenberg, Assemblymember Alex Lee, and former Assemblymember Kansen Chu, Councilmembers Anthony Becker and Suds Jain were also in attendance, along with members of the council-appointed diversity task force. After guests and task force members gave short messages of support, Councilmember Watanabe made motions to wind down the event. I was not sure if other councilmembers would be given a chance to speak, but there were still about ten minutes left and I had a short message. It made sense for a councilmember of the AAPI community for whom the event was held to say something. (I posted what I wrote here: https://kevinpark.org)
Given the dynamics on council, I was prepared to be rebuffed when I approached Kathy, but it was her manner that surprised me. I was not sure how much other people heard at the time, but Susan Ellenberg and Alex Lee were the first to approach me with their condolences. Supervisor Ellenberg was shocked at Kathy’s “tone deaf” comments and feared that they had undermined the messaging of the event. These kinds of comments were not unusual from Kathy, and I had a community meeting to go to and a family to attend, so I brushed them off and went about my day.
It soon became clear that words matter, and they have repercussions. A flurry of calls and text messages lit up my phone. After a few media interviews, I took time to reflect.
Kathy said it was “her” event, but that is not true. We will never have change if we allow politics and politicians drive our social causes.
What we can do to make events like this more impactful and less politicized is to put citizens at the forefront and have politicians be the guests supporting such movements.
A number of people have asked if I would set up another event — or have “my own event” in District 4. But having similar events at different times in a city the size of Santa Clara actually detracts from the larger message: Unity. Rather than have politicians host events, even in pairs or groups, we should support citizens with their events and help their efforts get more reach by using our positions to invite everyone.
I am reminded of the song “Alice’s Restaurant” by Arlo Guthrie: if only a few people do something, it may look crazy and people may not take it seriously; but if lots of people do it, it can look like a movement. And that is what we need for society to progress: movement.
Stop Asian Hate. Black Lives Matter. We do not need more ways to divide the victims of prejudice. Equality needs to be more than just a movement, or even a series of movements with uncertain paths. Hate needs to be a point in time, with a definitive end. And when that happens, it certainly will not be Kathy’s event.
For all minorities who have experienced discrimination and hate;
For all people who are committed to equal time, representation, and voice;
For all friends of oppressed people everywhere:
This Is Our Event.
Kevin Park, Santa Clara