Sunday, July 14, 2024

Letter to the Editor

Listening not Whistling for a Leavenworth for All


It’s hard to hear clearly when others are making a lot of noise.  For instance, I hear a lot of groups, forums and publications claiming to represent our Leavenworth community voice.  But all we seem to be hearing are complaints about change coming from a select group in our community.  Changes in zoning, opposition to increased density and fear of the perceived threat to the quality of life for longtime homeowners, retirees, and second homeowners.  

But what about our workforce community…

All of us have heard the term workforce housing.  But do we truly understand the term workforce and whom this encompasses? Many might think that I am talking about the hardworking services and hospitality workers that keep the lifeblood of our tourist town running, and this is true. But it also includes the people critical to our community like healthcare workers, teachers, tradespeople, city workers and even doctors. These are the people that make up a healthy and vital community.

I cannot hear our workforce community represented in any meaningful way.  They are not represented in specialized targeted publications like the Whistle. They’re not represented in Facebook groups like Leavenworth Residents Community Forum (former Friends of Leavenworth group), and they’re not represented by some of our political candidates who are focused on “preserving our way of life” for established homeowners or “restoring pride” for the non-workforce citizenry.

These self-proclaimed community entities don’t represent our true workforce demographic. How is our workforce supposed to be represented in a forum that is opaque as to who is running things and managed on a platform (Facebook or email) that is rarely used by our younger workforce demographic. Even if they did stumble across them, many of our workforce citizens are working so hard they don’t have the luxury of even attending forums. Whether intentional or not, these community entities are by design a biased representation of our community.

A specific example of the inherent bias of these so-called community entities was on display at the recent candidate forum for mayor.  It was clear to those in attendance that many of the questions were designed blatantly to promote one perspective and were full of assumptions. And for some of the questions, candidates were forced to answer yes or no without providing context or details to their answers. It was so obvious that the audience began to chuckle at the absurdity of these questions. None of the candidates seemed happy with this format either as they were repeatedly asked to answer only yes or no or pick from a list, and not allowed to go into the depth needed.

We also heard the word community at the candidate forum. Over and over again; it was hyper emphasized.  The problem was most people in attendance were in the dare I say, the “above 50 crowd”.  As if to point this out, one of the questions from the audience was “how often do the candidates speak to anyone under 45?”  The answers included such gems as “I talk to my son all the time” and “I talk to my students”.

How are the workforce citizens’ voices being represented?  Who is trying to hear them?  What we need is an effort to really hear workforce voices; an effort to better understand their needs, to make sure we have a city government that has the desire and conviction to support those whose voices are not always heard. Because without their presence in our community, it will cease to thrive.

So, I am trying to listen, and here is what am I hearing:

I am hearing how Cascade Medical is struggling to hire or retain healthcare workers. Case in point, recently, I had to visit a doctor in East Wenatchee who told me how she used to work at Cascade Medical but found the commute painful and could not afford to buy a home closer. So, she opted to quit and work in East Wenatchee.

I am hearing about the dropping enrollment in our schools because families are opting to live elsewhere.  And for those that don’t know, our schools are funded proportionally to our enrollment.  As enrollment drops, so does our funding for teachers, facilities, programs, etc.

I am hearing the voice of a server at a favorite local restaurant who shared how he and many of his coworkers and friends struggle to find a place to live here. He was a rare workforce member who was able to attend the recent mayoral candidate forum, and he was frustrated that issues important to him were absent in the questions the forum chose to focus on. He felt “invisible” to the audience.

Unfortunately, what’s happening today is very vocal groups like The Whistle, or the Facebook group: Leavenworth Residents Community Forum (former Friends of Leavenworth group) and even our political candidates are representing themselves as the Leavenworth community voice.  The reality is they’ve become an echo chamber for the non-workforce citizens of the community, and surprisingly, I’ve discovered some who don’t even live in our community anymore! We can’t hear our workforce voices due to the loud and shrill whistle of non-workforce complaints being repeatedly blown by these groups.  Because of this, we all must work harder to listen and truly hear from the “whole community” for it to be vital and remain a Leavenworth for all.

Celeste Peterson, Leavenworth


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