By Julie Muhlstein Herald Columnist
Snohomish County is a safe and comfortable place — for all of us.
Agree or disagree?
That’s the gist of questions on a survey just launched by the Snohomish County Commission on Human Rights. The topic is also a conversation starter.
Meg Winch, chairwoman of the year-old commission, hopes the subject of human rights in our county will bring thoughtful people to public meetings later this month.
One member of the human rights panel and one Snohomish County Council member will attend each of the four meetings, to be held Sept. 17 and Sept. 18 in Mill Creek, Monroe, Everett and Lynnwood.
Commission members, volunteers appointed by the county executive and confirmed by the County Council, are advisers to county officials and agencies on human rights matters.
Now, though, they want to hear from people who don’t hold public office or lead an agency. They want to hear from you — whether you live in a city or rural area, are young or old, gay or straight, black or white, new to this area or a lifelong resident.
They want to know about hurdles you have faced, and if you have ideas for change.
“Honestly, I don’t know if there is a hot-button issue here,” Winch said Friday. “Many of us stay informed about human rights across the world, with a national and international perspective. Our desire is to learn what human rights issues are happening here at home.”
Since its start in July 2011, the commission has worked with the state Human Rights Commission, the Latino Civic Alliance, the Everett-based Communities of Color Coalition, and other groups and political leaders.
“The common piece of advice was that rather than be isolated, we need to get out into the community, and get the community to tell us what they think,” Winch said.
Snohomish County has seen highs and lows in its responses to diversity.
In 2004, a cross burning at the Arlington home of a black pastor was shocking news. The following year, on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, civil rights leader Morris Dees spoke at Arlington High School, where two teens who pleaded guilty in the crime had once been students.
Earlier this summer, almost 50 local counterdemonstrators turned out to peacefully protest the presence of Westboro Baptist Church members outside Everett area churches. The Kansas-based Westboro group brings its anti-gay messages to military funerals and other events around the country.
Winch said people of Snohomish County stood up to the Westboro protesters without engaging in violence or hate speech themselves. “I was pleased,” she said.
The human rights commission has seven positions, not all currently filled. “Right now there are five, and a sixth has been nominated,” Winch said. Other members are Timothy Loney, Rodney Greene, Ronald Harrell and Kevin Young.
It’s a diverse group that includes a full-time student and a sheriff’s deputy, said Winch, 50, who lives in Mill Creek and owns a management consultant company. “We bring a variety of perspectives,” she said.
The short survey, which is online and may be available at this month’s meetings, is an effort to learn about attitudes regarding diversity and needs. “We’ll be putting all the data together. I’ll be spending late nights with my team,” Winch said.
The survey asks for suggestions, and whether people want to get involved.
In its first year, one big event the commission worked on was the May vigil held to honor the life of 9-year-old Brisenia Flores.
The girl was shot to death in a 2009 raid at her Arizona home near the Mexican border. Shawna Forde, a former Everett woman and anti-immigration crusader, is on Arizona’s death row after being convicted in the killing of Brisenia and her father, Raul Flores.
The Everett vigil May 30 drew about 80 people, including many county officials. “We stand here as a community to say ‘Never again,’” Winch said at the event.
Winch said Friday that some people stayed long after the vigil to talk.
“What I found really cool, it moved from a conversation about Brisenia to how we could learn from the tragedy and educate people about human rights. The youngest person was 13, and there was a 75-year-old woman there,” she said.
“I just sat back and listened,” Winch said.
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460, firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Snohomish County Commission on Human Rights plans several public workshops. A Snohomish County Council member is scheduled to attend each meeting. All meetings to be held from 6:30-8:30 p.m.
Mill Creek City Hall Council Chambers, 15728 Main St., Mill Creek.
Monroe Senior Center, 276 Sky River Parkway, Monroe.
Alderwood Water District Community Room, 3626 156th St. SW, Lynnwood.
Evergreen Branch Everett Public Library, 9512 Evergreen Way, Everett.
The commission is also conducting a public survey. To participate: