By Abel Sanchez, Chair of Parks & Recreation Commission
The Aug. 7 deadline has passed and Congress could not come up with an agreement on the next stimulus package. This is despite wide support amongst many lawmakers that Americans desperately need assistance during these tough times. Congress has, for several years now, voted primarily down party lines and this unwillingness to listen to each other and collaborate has led to their disapproval by many. Because I want to avoid a similar division in our own city, I reiterate my call for a compromise on the future of the George Washington bust in the City Plaza.
I am not advocating for one side of the argument over the other, but, instead, encourage a collaborative approach. My indifference on the topic stems from a desire to avoid bigotry as I do not want to discredit the emotions held by the community.
Based on the public comments made at this month’s Parks and Recreation Commission (PRC) meeting, it’s clear that the community is split on the statue’s removal. There was passion in the words that were said which often came at the expense of others. If we want to avoid a deeper division in our community, we must remember to always treat others with respect. That’s the Golden Rule that many of our parents taught us and for good reason. If someone holds a different opinion than our own, it doesn’t mean they are to be shamed. Freedom of speech is one of the greatest liberties we have as a nation and this is to be honored.
There was palpable pain and frustration expressed by the community. Zealous voices were heard for more than three hours for what is being perceived as injustice from both sides of the dispute. Make no mistake, these discussions are not over a simple granite statue but are more deeply entrenched in culture and identity—feelings that were always there to some extent but only recently became amplified. We all come from a different upbringing, one that has afforded us a unique perspective of life. This diversity should be celebrated and cherished, not hidden or condemned.
Don’t misunderstand me. A lot of upsetting comments have been made on both sides of the issue that should make us feel uncomfortable as neither racism nor anarchy should have any place in our community. Discriminatory behavior begets discriminatory behavior which is why we should not magnify any hateful speech. We have a lot of leaders in our community and each one of us can make a difference through our interactions with our neighbors, friends and family. We all want to live in a healthy community and the only way to overcome our current pain is through healing.
Some believe that healing comes through vengeance. While seeing a perpetrator suffer as a consequence for a wrong they did could provide temporary relief to some, this approach comes at the expense of passing along the pain to others. Until this chain is broken through forgiveness, pain and anger will continue to circulate and could even make its way back to us. For this reason, I encourage forgiveness, which is the act of renouncing anger altogether. The choice is ours. I personally was discriminated against for suggesting that we collaborate in finding a solution for this issue but that chain of anger ends with me as I have chosen not to reciprocate that same feeling to others.
The City is listening and encouraging a collaborative effort. City staff will be working with the authors of both petitions (one asking for the removal of the bust and one asking that it remain) and will create a survey to solicit greater community input. Town Hall meetings will then be scheduled in October to discuss survey results and develop options to be presented to the PRC in November. Note that the PRC typically meets the first Monday of each month at 6:30pm, but due to the Labor Day holiday, September’s meeting will be held on Sept. 21.
None of us want to see our city further divided. For this reason, I’m challenging each and every single one of us to contribute in making this our collective Watsonville and not my personal Watsonville. Let’s avoid the same impasse that our members of Congress are currently experiencing and show them how we can work together by living out our city motto, Opportunity through diversity; unity through cooperation.
Abel Sanchez is the Chair of the Parks and Recreation Commission for the City of Watsonville. His opinions are his own and not necessarily those of the Pajaronian.