DEI is not a box-checking exercise
At every task force, board or commission interview series, the City posts the names and interview times of each applicant; normal and reasonable. Now, let's talk about how the City took identifiable information from Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) task force applicants (on application: What groups do you identify with?) and turned that into "Areas of Interest" and posted it publicly at City Hall during last week's DEI Task Force interviews, i.e., "XYZ Lake Oswego Resident: persons with disability, women, sexuality, faith, business owner, people of color." I don't have the time or word count to even begin to unpack how absolutely unaware, daft and incompetent someone has to be to "out" citizens publicly at City Hall. Especially when these applicants had chosen to be part of a volunteer task force to address diversity, equity and inclusion. I mean really, you cannot make this stuff up.
I reached out to multiple people at the City about this issue. For some reason no one would answer very basic questions about who made this decision, why this decision was made and, if this is a City best practice, why isn't it used for every other task force, board and commission? Seems reasonable, right? I personally sat at the DEI task force concept meetings and heard Councilor Nguyen make an excellent case for hiring a DEI consulting firm or at least an expert to help the City navigate these systemic issues. He was met with such adversity, this idea was shut down. In hindsight, it seems not hiring a consultant was a missed opportunity when here's our first elected person of color, City Councilor Nguyen, acknowledging the need for expertise.
This narrative is not just about people of color or underrepresented groups; this is about basic and fundamental humanity. How we treat each other in every space that we interact matters, how we see each other as human beings matters, and how we honor each other as fellow Lake Oswego citizens matters. We have leaders running our City who lack respect and understanding of the human condition affecting our citizens. The systems in place have served one type of leader in our city very well for a very long time, and I am tired of sitting on the sidelines and being lumped into a group that's just well-meaning. We each deserve representation that is considerate of our human conditions, not just people who look, sound, behave, believe and are apathetic like the status quo who think they dominate City politics.
To City leadership: You have used the people of color and other underrepresented groups within our community to fix systemic issues for free for far too long. It's about time we demand our leaders have a real commitment to DEI. Hearing, seeing and acknowledging the collective pain that rips through our citizens is only the beginning. We need leaders with an understanding that they aren't experts and don't have the capacity to fully address the breadth and depth of DEI and how to actually begin using this lens to impact the well-being of all Lake Oswego residents. Our leaders need to know we are watching, we care and this is not a box-checking exercise to put on display at City Hall. Our citizens aren't actively participating in City government because of our elected leaders, and we shouldn't be so afraid to say that out loud and stand together as one human group united, demanding better.
Melissa Fireside is a Lake Oswego resident.
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