Councilmember-elect M. Lorena González
Ceremony following the administration of the Oath of Office
Speech as delivered
November 24, 2015
Mayor Murray, Council President Burgess, [other elected officials] friends, family, sisters and brothers, I stand before you today with sincere appreciation for the opportunity I have to represent our community in the state’s largest city as the first Latina sworn into the Seattle City Council.
I’ve recognized other elected officials here today but I want to take a moment to recognize another group of important people in the room – my family.
Not all of them could be here today but this moment is as much there’s as it is mine – whether they’re here or not. Amongst my two sisters and three brothers, we are a lawyer, a pharmacist, a locomotive engineer, a grocery store worker and an aspiring lineman. Each of us made sacrifices to get to where we are today. But no one made a sacrifice greater than my mom and dad.
Make no mistake: I am the child of immigrants. Not just any kind of immigrants but undocumented immigrants from Mexico. My parents with courage and vision to provide greater opportunity to their yet unborn children left their family and the only country they knew to pursue the American dream. This historic moment is more theirs than mine.
You were the hardest of workers. You believed the American dream was achievable – and for us it was.
I am eternally grateful for the sacrifices you made.
My dad, Emigdio Gonzalez Berber, who died 5 years ago in Mexico, is not here but he is represented in me, each of my siblings and my nieces and nephews. He taught me work ethic and pride of work. Whether I was slopping what appeared to be meat into a taco shell at Taco Bell or folding sheets at a hotel or standing in front of a judge advocating for workers or a victim of the abuse of power, my father b elieved all work merited respect and pride. I will carry that with me every day in this hall of power.
My mom, mi ama, que se enseno como escribir, lear, y hacer la matematica, who taught herself how to write, read and do math, it was your unfailing support that helped me -- to achieve the dream that is unfolding here tonight.
Gracias. Thank you.
I don’t have the background of a typical politician. Mine is a lived experience rooted in the reality of overcoming poverty and injustice. I am living proof that access to opportunity, coupled with hard work, is a recipe for success.
I graduated high school in the face of overwhelming odds. I worked several jobs to enroll in community college and relied on scholarships and need-based grants to earn my bachelor’s degree – and then law school – by working in a food plant, a bank, a retail store, a fast food chain, a daycare and a hotel.
This much about my background you might’ve known.
But what you don’t know is growing up as a migrant farm worker outside of Yakima also meant that my family and I traveled between camps, and witnessed countless acts of injustice, and experienced a few too.
I remember vividly being just 8 years old and sliiiii-iding my school I.D. across the counter at the office of an orchard. I was there to get out into the fields and pick cherries. I could barely see over the counter, but I was ready to work – sometimes two or three hours before the school day started. Often in an environment where I was sprayed with pesticides, or working without access to a bathroom or water…
But I didn’t know any better. It’s what my entire family had to do just.to.survive.
It’s these formative moments and experiences that inspired me to want to be an advocate, a champion, for those people who I see myself in -- even to this day -- and especially for those who haven’t had a strong voice in government.
They live in the shadows, and I did too – until I saw a path and, with the help of my family and community, climbed my way out. I now have a seat at the proverbial “table” and by virtue of that so have others that are still living in the shadows. This is also your moment.
Tonight I'm reminded that a life, like all things, is built day-by-day, choice-by-choice, with diligence, hard work and opportunity. It's so easy to feel lost and doubtful and even despair.
Many in Seattle might be currently feeling this doubt and despair amidst so much economic growth. Indeed, we are living in a city where the rich are becoming richer and the poor are becoming poorer.
In a single year, we saw that our homeless population grew by 20%. We’ve also seen that the wealth gap has become increasingly wider between the 1 % and the rest of us, impacting communities of color and immigrants even more profoundly than others.
So what will we do about these growing disparities?
Cesar Chavez, a civil rights leader and found of the United Farmworkers Union once said, “It’s amazing how people can get so excited about a rocket to the moon and not give a damn about smog, oil leaks, the devastation of the environment with pesticides, hunger, disease. When the poor share some of the power that the affluent now monopolize, we will give a damn.”
Tonight, I give a damn. We give a damn. And, together we will stand up for the poor. We will stand up for the underrepresented. Together, we will change the face of the table that represents power.
There remains a great deal of work ahead. Hard work.
My first order of business is going to be digging into issues of affordability and growth.
In the year ahead, this Council will continue to work to ensure that no family is on the streets at night, in our otherwise rich city, without decent shelter for them and their children.
Our city has some of the lowest unemployment in the nation - but not for all Seattle residents.
We need to not only create more jobs, we need to create jobs for Seattle residents - particularly from the high number of unemployed youth in our communities of color and other underrepresented communities.
We can agree that growth and prosperity are good but the market alone will not provide prosperity for everyone.
I want to turn my attention now to my constituents -- to the thousands who voted for me, and to the hundreds of you who worked tirelessly on our campaign, I thank you. Thank you for placing your trust in me.
To you, I pledge that I will do my utmost to represent the underrepresented, the poor and the oppressed.
And to my Council colleagues, my word is my deed.
It’s right here, in *these* chambers that – together – we will discuss, sometimes debate, amend, and tackle local issues, with national significance. (That’s what we get for living in and governing on behalf of The Most Progressive City in America.)
Together, we will continue the hard work on which you’ve embarked already, and to make sacrifices, knowing that they likely pale in comparison to those that so many Seattle residents make each and every day.
I have dedicated my life’s work to defending workers’ rights and will continue this fight – in the name of wage theft on behalf of a cook, or defending men and women against retribution in all its forms. I’ll continue my quest to stand up for dignity in the work place, and in my work here at city hall on behalf of workers.
In closing, I’m truly humbled. In my career as a trial lawyer, police-reform advocate and former mayoral adviser, I’ve applied my core values of hard work and justice. On the Council, I will not back down from tackling tough issues or seeking solutions that build a stronger community.
And we will not waste time: tomorrow I officially embark on my career at City Hall. We’ll begin with a community-wide open house, and next week we’ll tie up loose ends, and then turn our attention to the New Year.
But tonight, as the first person of Latino descent to hold elected office in Seattle, let’s enjoy this moment – together, we are on the precipice of history.
Together, we were elected to this body to help people. So, let’s work together towards compromise, civility and compassion.
Together we were able to make history, and together we can continue building a City that works for all. Together, we can do great things for the people – all people – of Seattle.