Federal Way and the American dream

Since incorporation, this city has worked to realign its foundation, but at present it is mostly a blank slate that gives us an opportunity to rewrite the community’s future.

As Americans and residents of Federal Way are celebrating our 243rd Independence Day, we believe we are living in a privileged land due to our sense of freedom, legal protections, and egalitarian values favoring individualism and opportunity. Those values are a well-crafted image and in this land of America and Federal Way, those values are not working well for all of “us.”

Woody Guthrie, when he wrote his song “This Land is Your Land” in 1940, recognized that the promise of America was not universal. His song’s message of “this land was made for you and me” is an acknowledgment that the independence our forefathers fought to gain as well as the rights our Constitution provides are being abused by elected elites and oligarchs entrenched by power.

The song is an anthem for our nation’s soul and has a place in the heart of every individual and town in America that is struggling to find their American dream. Mr. Guthrie knew that success for all comes when “we the people” choose to lead and share in the risk, the reward and demand that “government by the people” be respected and protected and that the wealth of our “nation” not be hoarded by American royalists.

Federal Way, in its current iteration, is a victim of a lot of bad policies that looked good at the time. In 1960, this area was a planning district of King County. Much of the land was owned by Weyerhaeuser and it was their resource to exploit for the benefit of their corporation. The land was logged in the 1960s and home construction soon followed.

They built a planned community based on their needs of supporting a new corporate headquarters and separate office buildings for their subsidiary companies. Today, what is left is an empty vessel and an awkward legacy.

This city was not built with community sustainability as a primary focus or with an engaged public having any real say in what was done. In addition to the choices made by Weyerhaeuser, our present has also been shaped by real estate redlining practices supported by King County officials and bankers in Seattle during the 1950s and 1960s that pushed minorities, the less educated, and lower-skilled workers south.

Since incorporation, this city has worked to realign its foundation, but at present it is mostly a blank slate that gives us an opportunity to rewrite the community’s future. As the city tries to shape-shift into being a desired relocation target, we need a new leadership manifesto capable of defining a future based on maximizing education, our diversity, communal energy, and embracing a commitment of being an entrepreneurial startup location focused on world connectivity.

Federal Way has a long way to go to achieve those suggested goals. Overcoming the rot of being a company town with a libertarian bent that undervalued our school system, preferred ineffective governance and reluctantly is embracing its growing diversity will take time. However, this city does not have the luxury of time in this competitive world.

What we do have is the potential strength of diversity, which at the moment is a largely untapped resource. Our mayor has changed the occupants in his policy office frequently based on politics. What he needs is a small business specialist who knows how to be entrepreneurially strategic in growing start-up enterprises into economically stable concerns. A natural target for this type of effort can be found within Federal Way’s diversity of globally connected residents.

At the moment, this city has no clear identity, but accepting diversity and challenging our school district to prepare our students for the employment rigors of the next 30 years is necessary for this city’s future. Many of our students are bilingual, and that is a plus we can build on. Commerce, trade and business are not community centric. Commerce is global and by extension, due to our diversity, this city is global.

Choosing to rethink our city’s purpose and working collaboratively with our community’s diversity will go a long way toward establishing Federal Way as a global enterprise zone. The office space to support the effort is readily available. We need to find the will to define and seize our potential of being a community of entrepreneurs competing on a global stage.

The Fourth of July is generally the one day each year reserved to celebrate our diversity and our notion of being “one nation” by honoring our immigration history and hosting naturalization ceremonies granting citizenship. We know that as a nation we are not well served when American royalists operate the rest of the year to connive and maintain power. Our nation’s laws and tax structures need to be leveled to assure that opportunity is open to all.

As we celebrate our nation’s independence, we must embrace and renew our values of being a “nation of us” built on immigration, assimilation and fairness. In Federal Way, our job is to embody the diversity of “us” every day in a manner that exemplifies Mr. Guthrie’s words of: “this land is your land, this land is our land, and this land was made for you and me.”

Keith Livingston is a longtime Federal Way resident and community observer. Contact keithlivingstondesign@gmail.com.


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