Submitted by Julie Anderson, Pierce County Auditor
Only 19% of registered voters returned a ballot in the August 1st Primary Election. Unfortunately, this is a routine occurrence for off-year primaries, which feature mostly local government measures and candidates.
Is America falling apart? Is Pierce County a wasteland? Absolutely not. But if you are concerned about low voter turnout, focus first on our community’s civic health.
There are many ways to measure the civic health of a community. Are citizens active in a group or organization, fund raising for charity, and regular volunteers? Do we contact elected officials or follow government and public affairs?
Several things make me optimistic about our civic health.
First of all, from Black Lives Matter to Redline Tacoma and the Women’s March, the past three years have been filled with resistance movements. To raise your voice and march in the streets requires courage and shows a very personal commitment to change. While uncomfortable to participate in and sometimes intimidating to see, protest is a sign of a healthy community.
Second, Pierce County citizens displayed a significant amount of engagement when 292 individuals filed for elected office in May. From Park Commissioner to City Council Member, we’re seeing new faces and new voices, fueled by a love for community and a passion for issues. People are stepping up.
And finally, we have leadership legacies that have set examples for us. On Saturday, I turned out for Dr. George Tanbara’s memorial service and had a good, long cry with hundreds of others. Over his life, Dr. Tanbara held 39 different community service positions in Pierce County. From Chairman of the United Way campaign, to member of the Chinese Reconciliation Project Foundation and one of the founding members of Tacoma’s Human Rights Commission, Dr. Tanbara was an immensely productive person. He was a quiet, humble, hardworking man who led by example and dedicated his life to the health and well-being of low-income and marginalized neighbors.
Dr. Tanbara exemplified an increasingly rare type of citizenship. His involvement in democracy took the form of joyous and generous service to others, quiet influence of institutions using persistence, personal example, and graceful words. He had a knack for inspiring bystanders with his shear charismatic presence.
No one would have blamed Dr. Tanbara if he had chosen to raise his fist at injustice and be an angry firebrand, waging war against political leaders. As a young adult he and his family were “evacuated” to Japanese internment camps. Upon release, he faced incredible discrimination. He witnessed all people of color face crippling prejudice.
While some found their voices in the street, Dr. Tanbara quietly toiled, giving service to his community. Through service, he made connections and inspired admiration. Soon, he amassed an incredible reserve of political capital. And with that capital, Dr. Tanbara made possible the creation of Community Health Care, among many other “impossible” projects.
“Civility costs nothing and buys everything,” said Mary Wortley Montagu (1689 – 1762).
My hope for Pierce County is that we balance protest with civility. That we balance our demands for immediate justice with the longer, less obvious work of community service. Dr. Tanbara and other civic lions have shown us the amazing results that can be accomplished over time through the simple practices of joy, generosity, and civility.
I believe that he’d want us to engage, regardless of whether it’s on the streets, at volunteer events, or on the ballot.
Just. Show. Up.