Social Justice and Equity Commission

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Help us create a new Commission to build a more equitable, just and thriving community

We want Olympia to be a place where we all belong. We know that the people most impacted by institutional racism and oppression have had the least decision-making power. This needs to change, and we are starting today. We will follow the lead of those who have been harmed, especially the youth, while acting now to protect Black lives.

Help us build a commission of accountability, to create a more equitable, just and thriving community in Olympia.

We will gather and compile the information we receive to present a final recommendation to City Council about the new Commission’s formal name, make-up and terms, scope of work, and first year work plan.

Be part of the change!

We want this commission to reflect the voices in our community. We are trying to capture the untold stories of our most invisible and marginalized people in our communities. More opportunities to share your insight will be added soon.

Help us create a new Commission to build a more equitable, just and thriving community

We want Olympia to be a place where we all belong. We know that the people most impacted by institutional racism and oppression have had the least decision-making power. This needs to change, and we are starting today. We will follow the lead of those who have been harmed, especially the youth, while acting now to protect Black lives.

Help us build a commission of accountability, to create a more equitable, just and thriving community in Olympia.

We will gather and compile the information we receive to present a final recommendation to City Council about the new Commission’s formal name, make-up and terms, scope of work, and first year work plan.

Be part of the change!

We want this commission to reflect the voices in our community. We are trying to capture the untold stories of our most invisible and marginalized people in our communities. More opportunities to share your insight will be added soon.

  • General Government Committee joint work session with the Founding Member Work Group

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    On August 31, the City Council General Government Committee held a joint work session with the Founding Members Work Group (FMWG) that is leading the process to establish a new Social Justice and Equity Commission.

    The purpose of the work session was for the FMWG to share what they heard from the community, what they learned from researching different commission frameworks, and to discuss with the Committee their preferred options for establishing a new Social Justice & Equity Commission.

    The FMWG shared that the new Commission’s purpose should be to eliminate racism and fulfill human rights for a just and equitable Olympia for all people. They recommended that it continue to be called a Social Justice & Equity Commission and that its scope includes:

    • Investigation of complaints of racial discrimination and other forms of oppression;
    • Mediation to help resolve complaints;
    • Advice for City staff on education and outreach; and
    • Providing advice to Council and staff on eliminating racial discrimination and systemic barriers to achieving equitable outcomes for all community members.

    Next steps

    The FMWG will next develop a final recommendation to share with the General Government Committee at their meeting on October 27, 2021. The recommendation will include a Commission name, purpose, jurisdiction, membership, and scope. The recommendation will be considered by the full City Council on November 9, 2021.

    It is anticipated that recruitment for the new Commission will open in November, with new members being interviewed and appointed January-March of 2022. Newly appointed Commissioners will start their terms on April 1, 2022.


  • General Government Committee and Founding Members Work Group work session scheduled for August 31

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    On August 31, 2021 from 5:30-7:30 p.m., the City of Olympia General Government Committee will host a work session with the Founding Members Work Group of the Social Justice and Equity Commission. The purpose of the meeting is to share reflections from the community listening sessions and findings from research done on different commission models. The Founding Member Work Group will also share and discuss their preferred option for setting up Olympia’s first Social Justice & Equity Commission.

    The meeting will be virtual via Zoom. Register to attend after August 26 via the City's public meeting calendar at olympia.legistar.com/Calendar.aspx.

  • Founding Members Work Group profiles

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    We are entering a more public phase of the process to form a Social Justice and Equity Commission, and the Founding Member Work Group are pleased to introduce themselves to the Olympia community.

  • Actions that are underway

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    In April and May this year, the Founding Member Work Group hosted five community listening sessions with Black, Indigenous, People of Color and intersecting marginalized groups (LGBTQ+, immigrants, disabled and unstably housed).

    Out of these sessions came input on different areas and ways in which the City can contribute to addressing inequities and bias for marginalized community members. The Founding Member Work Group and conversation participants have asked: What’s currently being done at the City in response to what was heard in the sessions?

    While the Founding Member Work Group and staff are continuing to review the input received, there are actions that are underway to address some of what was heard in the sessions. This list is not complete; it does not encompass all that was heard or all that is being done and will continue to evolve.

    Equity in Hiring
    Session participants asked for more diversity and representation of marginalized communities among City staff, and specifically City leadership. Diversity and Equity Coordinator Tobi Hill-Meyer is working to address the percentage of Black, Indigenous, People of Color and women who work at the City so as to better represent Olympia’s demographic make-up. This includes adding equity questions to all City job applications and interviews, identifying opportunities for collecting more employee demographic information, adding an equity statement to all job postings, and providing additional training and guidance to Hiring Managers.

    Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Leadership Training
    Session participants wanted to see City staff and City leadership do more to acknowledge, learn about and address systemic racism. The City has hired a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion consultant to facilitate multiple work sessions with both the City Council and the City’s Executive Leadership Team.

    Guidelines and Plans for Protests
    Participants in the listening sessions called for the City to investigate its response to protests and establish new principles and policies. In light of the 70+ demonstrations the Olympia Police Department (OPD) responded to in 2020, the department has produced the following guidelines and future actions needed for how they plan for and approach demonstrations: olympiawa.gov/~/media/Demonstartions-CrowdControl-Guidelines.pdf?la=en

    In addition, the City is currently undertaking a comprehensive review of OPD policies, practices, and training related to public demonstrations and crowd control responses in 2020. This study will provide specific recommendations on policies, training, mutual aid agreements and pre-demonstration communication protocol to ensure OPD responds to public demonstrations in a way that is unbiased, ensures public safety and upholds the first amendment rights of all individuals.

    Reimagining Public Safety
    Session participants discussed wanting the City to better understand and address the safety needs of marginalized community members, as well as host safe spaces for continued discussions on racism. The City has launched the Reimagining Public Safety process to define what public safety means for Olympians, and to reduce inequities and bias to create a public safety system that works for everyone. A Community Work Group made of 10 community members has been formed to lead this process and will be hosting community listening sessions in late summer and early fall.

    Improving the Complaint Process
    Session participants called for an easier and more transparent way in which to file complaints about City staff. An April 19, 2021 report from the City’s Police Auditor recommends that the City expedite the review and revision of the Olympia Police Department complaint process in order to “maximize public confidence in the Department.” In response, the City’s Office of Performance and Innovation is launching a project aimed at improving the OPD’s process, and also the City’s overall complaint process.

    Improving Alternative Criminal Justice Programs: Familiar Faces and Olympia Community Court
    Session participants asked for more programs that provide an alternative to conventional criminal justice. When it began, the Familiar Faces peer-navigator program was a pilot project. As of June 29, 2021, this program is now permanently funded and fully housed within the Olympia Police Department. Familiar Faces identifies people who have complex health and behavioral problems and frequent contact with the City’s first responders and provides them with daily, wrap-around care to help connect them to the services they need.

    In June, Olympia Community Court was named one of seven recipients of a grant from the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance. Already recognized as a national model, Community Court will use the money to increase its number of case managers, assist with housing and shelter costs, and launch an innovative peace-making program that brings participants together with the victims of their crimes. Community Court began operating in Olympia in 2016 and is a non-traditional approach that works to provide practical, targeted justice solutions rather than traditional punishment for its participants.

  • Notes from Community Conversations

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    The Work Group held four sessions centering the voices of marginalized groups (Black, Indigenous, People of Color, LGBTQ+, Immigrants, People with Disabilities and Neurodivergent) and one open to the community at large.


  • Reflections on the Process to Create a New Equity Commission

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    By Olivia Salazar de Breaux, Equity and Inclusion Coordinator

    It has been quite a journey for the Founding Members Work Group and I as we have embarked on the extremely daunting, high profile and emotionally taxing work of building a new equity commission that will ultimately help the City of Olympia become the anti-racist, affirming organization and City we want it to be.

    The truth is this: racial justice work is unlike anything we have ever done as a City organization. This isn’t just a typical advisory commission we are putting together. It is about human rights and livelihood. This work is deeply personal for all of us and it isn’t just work. It is about our lives and those of our families, our friends and our beloved community members.

    We took on this task understanding and feeling an incredible weight of responsibility to make lasting positive change. We understood it would be messy, it would feel impossible at times because we are working within oppressive structures, and we are doing this under a microscope of distrust. We don’t take this mission lightly. We have committed wholeheartedly while understanding it would also take a personal toll on us. We linked arms and said YES.

    After coming together as a team in December 2020, we chose consultants (Fernell Miller and Dr. Jen Self) in February to help with meeting design and facilitation. We initially envisioned doing four community conversations to gather stories, solutions, and concerns from marginalized folx in our City. Soon we realized we needed to expand those sessions and create more opportunities for smaller discussions with vulnerable populations.

    In between February and April, we determined which groups to reach out to and our schedule and strategies for each session. We launched our public engagement phase in April.

    What we have heard and learned

    We have hosted four focus group sessions, centering the voices and experiences of different groups:

    • April 24 – Black, Indigenous, People of Color
    • April 29 – Black, Indigenous, People of Color, LGBTQ+
    • May 1 – Black, Indigenous, People of Color, Immigrants
    • May 8 – Black, Indigenous, People of Color, People with Disabilities and Neurodivergent

    At each session we’ve heard concerns and stories unique to people’s lived experiences. It has been an honor and privilege to share space in which these community members can be vulnerable and speak authentically. It has been a testament to why it is important to continue providing these types of spaces that center the voices of people who are marginalized.

    Here are some themes we have heard in multiple sessions:

    • Making a stand and being accountable: Community members feel that the City should make a strong public stance against racism and White supremacy. We need to own up to past and current actions by taking responsibility for and recognizing our own racism/biases and their impacts to marginalized people.
    • Hiring more people of color: Community members want to see more cultural diversity represented within City government: City elected officials, leadership and staff and service providers.
    • Relationships and engagement: Community members ask that City staff actively build relationships across jurisdictions and with community organizations to increase reach, represent community needs and leverage resources.
    • Policing and criminal justice: At least a third of the input from our focus groups have been about police/criminal justice reform. This data will be incorporated into the City’s Reimagine Public Safety community process, which will critically analyze and re-think the City’s public safety systems including policing, corrections, prosecution, public defense and courts.

    Throughout this process, we have been sharing notes with session participants and City staff, including City leadership. While the future Commission will not directly advise City staff, leadership has welcomed the Focus Groups’ and Founding Members Work Group’s input on operations. They are responding to what has been heard at the Focus Group Sessions by identifying short and longer-term tasks, such as anti-bias training/coaching for all City staff, incorporating equity/racism questions into hiring practices, improving website accessibility, and establishing a more efficient and effective way for community members to submit complaints. When we solidify the list of likely responses, we will share it out on our Engage Olympia webpage.

    What comes next

    With completion of the all-community conversation on May 22, we will transition to our formal data-analysis and recommendation-drafting phase. Over the next several weeks, we will dive into the stories, the concerns and the solutions shared with us from our community and put together a recommendation on what this new commission will look like: its focus, its first-year work plan and even the name.

  • Fifth Focus Group Canceled

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    Our original plan was to hold a fifth focus group session centering members of Olympia's unstably housed community. The Work Group sought out guidance from community advocates and subject matter experts to ensure that we structure the conversation thoughtfully and in a trauma-informed way. We learned that - before asking for their input - we need to invest in long-term relationship building with this community and have resources available to respond to immediate support requests. Realizing that this was beyond the scope of work for the Founding Members Work Group, because of the limited time and resources available, we decided to cancel the fifth focus group.

    Does this mean that the unstably housed population does not get to provide input to the formation of the Commission? No. We will draw from stories, concerns and solutions gathered from them during 2019’s One Community Plan to help us craft our equity commission recommendations for the City. We are also discussing how the permanent Commission can continue engagement and partnerships to support the unstably housed community.

Page last updated: 21 September 2021, 09:53