The United Nations announced Nov. 8 that the world had just welcomed its 8 billionth human passenger.
As Earth’s human population keeps growing, we need to consider our collective responsibility to each child as well as the rapid growth of our population. There is no way to specifically say where that child was born, so for the sake of discussion, let’s say that our 8 billionth person was born in South King County (SKC).
Is this child born to a teenage mother out of wedlock with no family support? Or living in a middle-class home with two parents present, several siblings and sufficient income to meet the child’s needs well into early adulthood? Possibly this child lives in an apartment household shared by several generations and was born to parents who immigrated here with their family from the Ukraine, El Salvador, or sub-Saharan Africa.
SKC has been growing in recent years in its diversity as well as economic challenges. Nine of Washington state’s 11 most diverse cities are in SKC — Tukwila, SeaTac, Kent, Federal Way, Pacific, Renton, Des Moines, Burien and Auburn.
Becoming the state’s face of diversity means we have an obligation to demonstrate how to be the best at embracing what it means to be a blended community within a nation struggling to understand multiculturalism. The obligation is, for our collective cities and unincorporated area, to continue learning how to become “one” with the purpose of serving all.
So, we have added this new child to our community and recognize we have a responsibility to him or her that is greater than our parents felt because they grew up in a more self-segregated society — generally by race, religion, economic means, education, skills, and chosen neighborhood. They benefited from a homogeneous culture that served up nepotism, protected wealth, and red-lined housing opportunities. The power brokers of their day used poverty, race, religion, and ethnicity as dividers, and still, in spite of the efforts by old-school class warriors, we have continued to increase integration and societal protections.
SKC has to figure out how to be the best shepherd possible of our newest member — and those like him or her who will be part of a generation that sees an additional two billion or three billion people added to our numbers in the next 30 years.
If you were born in 1975, you may have been the 4 billionth person to join our ranks. In less than two-and-a-half generations, we have doubled our world’s population.
For our 48-year-olds, you have not looked into the eyes of our two-month-old directly. But I challenge you, as well as those older and younger, to see and feel an obligation of assuring that the safety and depth of opportunity is there for our newest participant. Their journey is just beginning and so is our obligation.
Living on the same planet, we are all on a shared journey — defined by limited time. We cannot escape one another easily and must recognize that our survival as we know it requires a new commitment to increased social interdependence.
Clean air, water, and public health are essential services we all need and they need our protection. Schools must become more free in their ability to teach beyond the test while assuring facts, ideas and thinking are protected as well as encouraged.
Those who want to ban books and ideas must not come near our newest generation. Your conspiracies and cult-like hatred of knowledge and change must be challenged now and forever. Our newest human members deserve better than you are willing to give. The clock will not be turned back by your fears and constant demagoguery of your small and insular beliefs.
Our approach to capitalism that makes each of us commodities — data points to be mined and a person only to be used to make money as a means to an end — devalues us all. As we continue to add another billion people or so, we have problems to solve. Maybe our two-month-old will grow up and help us all see a better way — a way without war, famine, extreme economic inequities, less crime and better sharing of essential resources.
Each generation is handed a set of problems to work on. In SKC, we need an infusion of resources that have been denied through political manipulation for years by Seattle special interests, wealthy Eastside suburbs and those in the 1950s-1960s that red-lined housing and shunted poverty and most industrial blue-collar jobs south of downtown Seattle.
Today we have a higher percentage of poverty, lower education credentials and more health challenges per capita than our northern and Eastside neighbors. SKC is collectively well over a half-million people, but there is no university, research institute, major hospital or clear economic engine promoting change or directly benefiting us. We are a no-man’s land without any coherent purpose except to be bedroom community fodder, supporting economic opportunities elsewhere.
So, if you are an elected leader or influencer in SKC, what are you going to do to produce the best outcome for our 8 billionth person? Are you going to invest in culture and better schools? Make sure that child care and early childhood education is affordable and accessible? Will you focus on creating quality middle class jobs relevant to our future needs?
The newest member to our SKC family, along with all of their peers, deserves better than what they have been getting. We have work to do!
Keith Livingston is a retired municipal management professional, lifelong artist and Federal Way resident. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.