The Clark County Council and several local organizations have agreed to hold moderated listening sessions with public input on systemic racism.
Representatives of the NAACP Vancouver, YWCA Clark County, Southwest Washington League of United Latin American Citizens Council 4701 and the Clark County Volunteer Lawyers Program participated in a weekly council time meeting Wednesday. The county council unanimously agreed to be a part of the listening sessions.
The agreement comes after county council Chair Eileen Quiring said on June 24 that she does not believe systemic racism exists in the county. Several requests for her resignation, including from LULAC and the local NAACP chapter, followed.
On June 30, the four organizations penned a letter to the council requesting a listening session. Vanessa Yarie, director of services and mission impact with the local YWCA, signed the letter.
In addition to requesting a listening session, it called Quiring’s statement about systemic racism “offensive and wholly inaccurate.”
“We implore Chair Quiring to learn about systemic racism in our country and in the county she oversees. We strongly recommend Clark County Council make a plan for how all elected officials will contribute to addressing systemic racism throughout its leadership, services, programs and staffing,” the letter reads. “It is incumbent for Chair Quiring to recognize and acknowledge systemic racism is real.”
The letter also said that the organizations “look forward to engaging in difficult but necessary conversations so we can all learn, grow, and move forward together.”
Quiring said during a council time meeting July 1 that she was “taken aback” by the letter, saying it insulted her and her viewpoint. But the other four councilors agreed to allow representatives of the organizations to participate in Wednesday’s meeting.
“Systemic racism is bigger than any one person,” Elizabeth Fitzgearld, executive director of the volunteer lawyers program, said Wednesday. “It, frankly, is a different conversation than any one councilor.”
Quiring said Wednesday that words can seem harsher in print than when they’re said out loud.
“I want to tell you how much I appreciate the tone of the meeting today,” Quiring said.
Yarie said in an email that she was “hopeful” coming out of the meeting.
“This is one of the reasons why the … organizations chose to focus on the county council. Understanding that this work would help move forward eliminating racism across Clark County,” Yarie said. “The goal … was to bring the experiences of systemic racism of (residents) of Clark County to the council. We were able to achieve this goal today, and I feel that this is the beginning of a process to bring longer term change to the community.”
The council and organizations agreed Wednesday to discuss further specifics of the listening sessions, including a schedule and the selection of a moderator.
“These discussions are not a debate, but an opportunity to learn about the Clark County area as a whole,” LULAC Washington State Director Diana Perez said.