"There are times when silence becomes an accomplice to injustice."
— Ayaan Hirsi Ali
After a Nazi flag was flown in Fruita last month, the community rose up in peaceful protest. Condemning symbols of hate and urging equality, acceptance and justice. The Fruita City Council responded swiftly and admirably: It passed an inclusivity proclamation.
Fruita's inclusivity proclamation affirmed that "people of all races, religions, nationalities, genders, sexual orientations, physical abilities and cultures" should feel safe and welcome in Fruita. The proclamation also took an appropriately aggressive tone toward those who would propagate hateful ideologies: "We, on behalf of all Fruita residents, deplore expressions and acts of hostility, intimidation and harassment, and, instead, encourage the elimination of racism and prejudice everywhere it exists." Hear, hear.
Many community members, leaders, and organizations urged the Grand Junction City Council to pass a similar proclamation. Grand Junction has had its fair share of ugly racial incidents in the past several years. And In an age where national leaders flirt with ideas of racial superiority that plagued the 20th century, it is not merely appropriate, but necessary, for governments at all levels to make people feel safe, welcome, and valued.
And so 13 individuals from community groups around the Grand Valley drafted an inclusivity proclamation to mirror Fruita's. The proclamation went through several revisions and was approved by the city attorney, John Shaver. Should be an easy pass at City Council, right?
Wrong. It didn't have the votes. According to City Councilor Chris Kennedy: "[A] majority of the council ... didn't like some of the language. They felt it was political versus being an inclusive statement."
Let us pause for a moment and note that each member of the City Council is white and straight, like me. Our existence has never been threatened or demeaned based on the color of our skin or choices in who we love. So I'm not quite sure how the council can label a statement that seeks to include more people from more backgrounds as "political." The council members' right to exist in peace — like mine — has never had to be political. I'm not sure why others' must be.
Skimming through the language in the proposed proclamation, I wonder what council members decided was too "political." Including people of all genders and sexual orientations? Cherishing diversity? Protection of human rights? The recognition that marginalized individuals experience increased instances of bias, bigotry, and violence through no fault of their own? Supporting immigrants, refugees, and indigenous peoples? Freedom from fear of persecution no matter one's color, beliefs, gender, sexual orientation, or ability level? Expanding community engagement to empower city residents to condemn discrimination and oppression? A commitment to evaluate systems of government to ensure inclusion of all residents?
So for whatever reason, the "too political" proclamation will be withdrawn until the city attorney can rewrite it to "represent the Council's direction."
I'd really like to know what in the proclamation was too "political" to get the council members' vote. If this proclamation is not worth their vote, the dissenting ouncil members should tell its diverse residents why its "direction" doesn't include all of them.
(I'll presume that, based on the current climate, the pushback is about support for immigrants and refugees. This from a country that founded itself and flourished as a place where people can come from anywhere and feel safe. This also from a country that has sent troops to armed conflicts for 225 of the 242 years since 1776.)
I have yet to hear a good argument for less inclusivity, less tolerance, or less understanding between people. I also have yet to hear a good reason why pushing for these things qualifies as a "political" statement. Moving toward more inclusion and understanding shouldn't be a divisive or political goal. It should be humanity's singular goal.
In full disclosure: the City Council met Wednesday night, after my press deadline. For all I know, they passed the proclamation. Maybe in the pages that precede this column there's a snippet describing its passage. But if not, we must ask our City Council members why some people's right to exist and be included is "political;" why certain people's inclusion is contingent upon others' approval.
I began with a quote about silence being an accomplice to injustice. Here, the Council is flirting with something far worse: actively siding against oppressed peoples. They might stay silent, but we must not.
Sean Goodbody is a Grand Junction attorney representing injured workers all over western Colorado. Email email@example.com.