I was shocked and saddened when I heard that the Arcata City Council bypassed the voting citizens of Arcata and moved to remove out a 112-year-old statue of President William McKinley. I was further horrified to hear about the mob-like condition the council allowed the meeting to take place in. I am told a group of mostly outsiders stormed the meeting and started shouting down any opposing voices and even threatening violence, if the council did not do their bidding.
People like myself, in Arcata, had been hearing whispers about removing the statue for years and were even aware it could possibly be on the ballot in November. Very few of us gave the matter much mind and we were confident of two things:
One: That the City Council would never dare bypass the voice of the voters on something as substantial and controversial as removing this long time fixture of our community.
Two: When the people of Arcata were given the chance to vote on the issue there was no possibility they would vote to remove the statue.
Susan Ornelas wrote, rather defensively I thought, that she voted to remove the statue not because of the presents of the mob, but in spite of it. She clearly gave thought to the fact that the council created an unsafe space for all voices to be heard. She was fine casting her vote in a room where only sycophants could speak without being shouted down. The fact is only one single individual had the courage to stand off and speak truth to power, even if he did it with a shaky voice. The council allowed the mob to be the power in the room that night. As far as I am concerned, the council owes that young man the highest recognition, for valor, it has to offer.
Susan did acknowledge that William McKinley put his life on the line and fought to end slavery during the Civil War. She also acknowledged that he gave unprecedented positions to minorities in his administration. She then made the vague suggestion that she thought he could have done more to end lynching that took place in the south and that that justifies his removal.
The day after the decision I felt great frustration and did the only thing I could think of. I started a Facebook page with the goal of raising awareness and working toward the goal of getting enough signatures to forces the issues to be voted on by the people.
I was quickly overwhelmed with support. People were asking where they could mail a check even before I had considered raising money. I began inviting a few of the most vocal supporters to join in a strategy meeting. I soon discovered the effects of the lawless behavior that the council allowed did not end with that meeting. People were expressing trepidation about publicly expressing their disagreement with what happened, even when they had strong feelings about it. I do not blame them for wanting to remain anonymous. I wanted to remain anonymous at the beginning, for the same reason, but it quickly became impossible.
When you have a genuine stake in the community, like owning a home or having a family here, it becomes a truly scary thing when you witness your own government all but sanction mob-like behavior, when it comes from those they politically agree with.
I believe if this iconic fixture of our community is removed without the consent of the people, this council will cut a wound so deep in the city that it will last for decades.
Arcata resident David La Rue is spearheading the Save Arcata's Historic McKinley Statue Facebook page.