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LISTEN: A community organizer offers his hope for what comes after Election Day

Sameth Mell is project director with Partners in Change, a division of the Equity in Education Coalition. He organizes around pandemic issues in King County.
Parker Miles Blohm
Sameth Mell is project director with Partners in Change, a division of the Equity in Education Coalition. He organizes around pandemic issues in King County.

Throughout the pandemic, local grassroots organizations have stepped up to help people in need, by getting people things like food, child care or rental assistance. They’re often trying to fill the gaps left by federal and local governments. 

This work likely will be impacted by the outcome of Tuesday's election.

Sameth Mell is with Partners in Change, a division of the Equity in Education Coalition, which has been doing this kind of thing in communities of color around King County. He says that he traces his interest in organizing to his family’s experience getting out of a refugee camp following the genocide in Cambodia.

Mell spoke with KNKX Morning Edition host Kirsten Kendrick. Listen to their conversation above or read the transcript below. Both have been edited for length and clarity.

Sameth Mell, Partners in Change: So I ended up here (in Seattle), just really growing up in poverty, realizing all the systemic dynamics that really put us in a space where it was difficult for our family to thrive. I was very passionate to understand why. So that's where I come from with this passion and knowing the fact that as a brown person walking around, I'm treated differently in so many different ways.

Kirsten Kendrick, KNKX: And you've been doing this work with the pandemic. And we also have the election looming. And I'm interested to know what you've been hearing from the communities that you serve. What are the concerns? What are the challenges that you're hearing?

Mell: Yeah, I think there's a few stories, and I know that it all ties into economic injustice: People who lost their jobs, and we'd had communities, they're whole, like, nine people as a part of their family circle tested positive for COVID-19, and the impacts of people having to basically look for funding to keep their family afloat in these times. You can tell that our families work two or three different jobs, that have kids and siblings that have to take care of their own siblings at home while their parents are gone. I mean, these are stories that are real, stories that are not being addressed, stories that are telling us that our system has truly failed the people who need them the most.

KNKX: Well, given everything that has happened in the country in the last four years and even just this past year, how are the communities you serve doing emotionally? 

Mell: I feel like we're all kind of just emotionally tapped out. It's very emotionally taxing for us to continue to organize for our community, but have to organize against the policies that are coming out of the administration. Just every day there's always something new that's attacking our community. We've heard about the kids at the border, the folks who can't even find their parents anymore  just inhumane stuff like that.

I mean, even before, we knew what was going to come down. In 2016 when President Trump won that election, I was in Cambodia, and we were in a van traveling seven hours. And the minute we found out the result on that, everyone was tapped out. We all just needed space and we needed time. And people, you know, some of them were actually crying. It was just that emotional, knowing the fact that our lives are going to be so hyped up, so crazy, just so impacted negatively. And we see that now, right? And four years later, it's like, oh my God. It's a huge hot mess.

KNKX: And then we have the election coming up. And the results nationally and statewide could impact the work you do. What is your biggest hope for the communities you serve after Election Day? 

Mell: After Election Day, I think what's really important is we need to take a breather. We've all been talking about (how) we just need to really be there for each other, be able to be available to really support one another, either is showing up in Zoom, talking with people, being in community. But also one of the things that we're working on right now is that regardless of who wins this election, we need to think about what ... a stimulus package looks like. And we need to make sure that dollars and monies in that stimulus package will be supporting and will be directly influencing the lives of folks in our region.

A Seattle native and former KNKX intern, Simone Alicea spent four years as a producer and reporter at KNKX. She earned her Bachelor's of Journalism from Northwestern University and covered breaking news for the Chicago Sun-Times. During her undergraduate career, she spent time in Cape Town, South Africa, covering metro news for the Cape Times.