Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union
ARCATA – Organizers of the petition drive to keep the statue of President William McKinley on the Plaza have completed their signature gathering in time for the Monday, May 21 deadline to turn them in. The initiative seeks to place a measure on the Nov. 6 ballot which, if approved, would override the City Council’s Feb. 21 decision to remove the statue.
While 961 signatures of Arcata voters were required in order to qualify a ballot measure, Councilmember Michael Winkler – the sole vote against removal and a co-organizer of the petition drive – said that some 1,769 signatures were collected.
He said by comparing the signatures to voter rolls, he determined that 452 of them weren’t valid, mostly due to obsolete addresses. But that still leaves 1,317 valid ones – enough of a margin for the petition to comfortably qualify a ballot measure.
Winkler said pro-statue advocates are “open to a compromise that honors our histories – plural.” Options include installation of an interpretive plaque near the statue which would offer historical context, and creation of another statue or display honoring indigenous peoples.
Wiinkler said he expected anti-statue activists to attempt to invalidate the petition. “We have legal representation and will deal with that as necessary,” he said.
Both pro-statue petitioners and statue opponents report being harassed by some of those who hold opposing views.
Winkler said he was followed by an angry man for five blocks, with the fellow barking out rhetorical questions at him. Eventually on the Plaza, two citizens confronted the man and asked him to stop, and he hasn’t further acted out since.
While gathering signatures in a downtown business, Winkler said an anti-statue activist tried to dissuade citizens from signing his petition. The activist even blocked the door of the business for a time, preventing his exit, but eventually relented.
Professional petitioner Louise Brotz (also a Union contractor) reported numerous harsh comments by statue dislikers, particularly as she tabled outside the Arcata Co-op. “You just can’t let the minorities win one, can you?” asked one person.
Last week, a woman wearing an “FBI” cap hovered around Brotz, supposedly taking video of her. Brotz returned the favor, shooting video of the woman with her cell phone.
Winkler said he appreciated those with opposing views who managed to remain focused on the issue of the statue. “I want to give kudos to the people on the opposite side who are behaving respectfully and concentrating on the issues and avoiding personal attacks,” he said. He cited activist Fhyre Phoenix as pursuing statue removal in a cordial and responsible fashion.
The last City Council meeting included several calls for Winkler to be both censured and censored by the council for his pro-statue petitioning and for referring to the raucous crowd of anti-statue activists at the Feb. 21 council meeting as a “lynch mob.” So far, the rest of the council, all four of whom voted to get rid of the statue, has shown no inclination to discipline their dissenting colleague.
Anti-statue advocate and removal fundraiser Fhyre Phoenix also reported harassment. He said that while protesting the statue outside Jacoby’s Storehouse recently, a man claiming to be a Wiyot Indian locked onto him and revved up a stream of abuse. The man asked numerous questions, but interrupted the answers and argued with him. The man then went and sat in one of the display chairs outside Arcata Exchange and called him names for a time, yelling “nasty” things across the intersection of Eighth and H streets. The would-be Wiyot also went over to Brotz, who was petitioning outside the Post Office, held up her pro-petition sign and told Phoenix his efforts “don’t matter at all.”
Meanwhile, Phoenix’s fundraising to cover statue removal expenses is proceeding apace. The cost has been estimated at up to $65,000, and as of last Thursday, Phoenix had raised $800 and turned over a $500 check to the City of Arcata. Last Saturday, he was to host a potluck party in his McKinleyville front yard to raise more funds.