In Our Opinion: Those fighting for racial equality should focus on county government

It’s a little ironic, but perhaps not surprising, that so much of the discussion about racial equality and inclusion on Whidbey Island in recent years has been centered on the city of Langley.

After all, it’s a progressive little city where people are involved in local government like no other community around. From large meetings over the inclusive city issue to a council vote this week to include an anti-racist and social equality goal in the comprehensive plan, residents have strong feelings about social justice and are willing to debate.

But those South Enders demanding meaningful change might be focusing on the wrong place.

Island County government has a far greater impact on people’s lives, especially the more vulnerable populations. Under the umbrella of county government is the law-and-justice system, elections office, tax collector, Public Health and a human services department that includes housing, behavioral health and veterans support.

County officials are currently struggling to bring equity to COVID-19 vaccinations; it’s an effort that is commendable and deserves more support from the community.

The coronavirus pandemic has spotlighted inequality in the county’s health care system. Recent studies show people of color in the county are disproportionately impacted by the virus while being less likely to be vaccinated.

Officials had acknowledged the problem previously but had been both slow and stymied when it comes to action — until recently. The commissioners created an inclusion advisory committee, which one of the commissioners stressed should have a membership that reflects diversity. The committee is supposed to begin meeting right away and help the county reach underrepresented communities with vaccinations.

The county is also holding a pop-up vaccine clinic at a local church at the request of the pastor and is working with an immigrant rights representative to share community-based information and set up a future strike team clinic.

While Langley still needs its watchdogs and gadflies, those concerned about social justice would be wise to turn their attention to Island County government, where strides are being made but more needs to be done.