Gandhi, Davis, and the Politics of Inclusion

Sean Raycraft addressing council on Tuesday night on the issue of the Gandhi Statue
Sean Raycraft addressing council on Tuesday night on the issue of the Gandhi Statue

By Sean Raycraft

People never argue about issues on which they agree. One of the quirks I love about Davis is what we, the citizens argue about. At Tuesday’s city council meeting, the room was packed to have a discussion about Gandhi, and his legacy as an advocate for peace and non-violence. I was simultaneously very proud of the Davis community, and incredibly disappointed. Where else in this area will we find a community where a hundred or so community members will come together at a City Council meeting, for 5 hours on a Tuesday night, to have a discussion about the legacy of Gandhi, a life-sized bronze statue representing peace and non-violence, and its impact on the broader community? It was truly an amazing sight and experience.

Before I go any further, I want to state that I am not an expert on Gandhi, his life or the modern history of India. I am willing to surmise I know more than the average American, although admittedly that is not saying much given the rise of Trump and Trumpism in the American electorate. I must confess that I only learned about the statue on Tuesday afternoon, when a friend of mine asked if anyone could go to council and speak on behalf of the Phoenix Coalition during public comment. With those caveats in mind, I will do my best not to write about Gandhi the man, or the statue that will soon stand in central park. Instead, I am going to talk about the discussion that took place, and a broader trend of how we, as Davisites often fail to acknowledge the humanity of those who hold different views or come from different socio-economic backgrounds. Lastly, I am going to write about the importance of Davis values, what that means, and how we can do better going forward as a community.

Tuesday’s public comment period had some heartfelt, insightful and constructive commentary from many in the community. Unfortunately, I think most of the people who stood up at the podium missed the point. Mayor Robb Davis intended to foster an environment of reconciliation and mutual respect among those who disagree. The Mayor had mixed results, and, for the most part, he was able to keep the discourse courteous and respectful in terms of the tone of the comments, but many retreated to their pre-prepared talking points instead of genuinely considering the arguments of their opposition. For as long as I have been active in Davis politics, Davisites will gleefully attack the character of their opposition, rather than try and foster furtherance of understanding between disagreeing parties. I have experienced it in the Raise the Wage campaigns, the Measure A debate and the farm worker overtime issue.

Recently, there was quite a controversy regarding supposed classist and xenophobic comments made about the proposed hotel in south Davis. David Greenwald added a discussion of those comments to the agenda of a meeting of the HRC, in order to foster greater understanding in the community. Sadly, it instead turned into an hours-long public comment period with the majority of commenters disparaging Mr. Greenwald and the HRC over an article published on this website. I am not writing this to pass judgment on one side or the other of that controversy, rather I am going to point out the public at large missed the broader point. Public comment was filled with those who wanted to talk at, or talk past their opponents, rather than talking to them. I too have been guilty of this in my time as an activist. During the Raise the Wage campaign, I did not actively seek to foster understanding and harmony with the local business community. For their part, they went out of their way to call us communists, publicly question the integrity of myself and other members of the campaign and propagate hyperbolic arguments, not based in fact. If we aspire to be a truly inclusive community, mindful of racial and economic justice, where all citizens can participate, then our tone and commentary needs to be reflective of those values.

To that end, I really like what Councilmember Rochelle Swanson had to say about the matter. Rochelle and I often do not see eye to eye on many issues, but here I feel she really captured the feeling in the room. She spoke at length about doing things the Davis way. She said about the Davis way “It is about accommodating different people, it’s a community of different ideas and views.” She went on at length, and you can see the video here http://davis.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=2&clip_id=472  She starts at approximately the 4:58 mark.

The statue is going to be erected in Central Park on October 2. I think it is important that this statue and, by extension, the life and symbolism of Gandhi be put into proper context. Towering historical figures like Gandhi, Constantine, Martin Luther King, Jr., or Columbus are complicated people. Too often, history books paint these figures as good, or bad. This often leads to historical narratives that fail to accurately capture the humanity and fallibility of these people. I am reminded of the book Lies My Teacher Told Me, a book about how these false narratives in American history books lead to false perceptions about history in America today. Chapter one is about Columbus, and the narratives told in history books about his “heroic” exploration of the new world. Unfortunately, what is omitted is the story of genocide, the encomienda system, and the ritualistic rape, enslavement and torture perpetuated upon the native peoples of the Caribbean by Columbus and his men. Gandhi clearly was not Columbus, but he was human and thus had all the moral failings that people have. It is important, that we as Davisites pursue furtherance of human knowledge and understanding within our community. That means we must find a way to humanize Gandhi and not mythologize him in our public space. To mythologize Gandhi is to lessen the power of his movement. In 1930, Gandhi did not march to Dandi and make salt by himself. Millions and millions of people participated in peaceful, non-violent civil disobedience. I would like the statue to have an educational component, chronicling the life of Gandhi, warts and all. That would be the Davis way.

Sean Raycraft is a lifelong Davis resident and proud shop steward with UFCW 8

About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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88 Comments

  1. quielo

    Thank you Sean for writing this article. As a newcomer to Davis I have an “outsiders ” perspective. I have spent some time among the homeless and they like to spend their time arguing about irrelevant issues like ‘Niners Vs Raiders. The outcome of this argument could not possibly advance their lives but they spent time on it rather do something useful. I find it appalling that the CC wasted so much time on an issue that was settled. For what benefit?

    1. Tia Will

      quielo

       I find it appalling that the CC wasted so much time on an issue that was settled. For what benefit?”

      As another relative newcomer ( 30 years total in Davis) I can see your point of view. But I would like to share a different perspective. Since I don’t know if you were here when the MRAP controversy arose I would like to use it to illustrate. Briefly what happened in case you weren’t here. The police, using an approved policy brought the MRAP to town without consulting the city council or the citizens first. Sounds reasonable given that they were using police discretion and approved policy. There was an uproar in the community over this with a great deal of push back against the MRAP  and its removal from the community.

      So what is the connection ?  The MRAP like the Gandhi statue was a “settled” issue. And yet it was so divisive within the community that the issue was reopened for discussion. Many people presented before the city council initially against the MRAP but some in support of the police acquisition. The council, wisely in my opinion, held multiple sessions and at least one large community forum with police officers and a mediator present. One might consider all of this a waste of time. I do not. I believe that one of the goals for our community should be an engaged citizenry who desire a knowledge of the workings of their city government and are willing to put in time to engage with their neighbors to try to understand divergent points of view and to share their own perspectives.

      The major difference that I see between engaged citizens and your example of the homeless contemplating Nirvana is that engaged citizens vote, they volunteer, they serve on commissions and some even end up running for public office and sitting on our city council. I want anyone who is going to be engaged in any of these activities to be as fully informed as possible and to consider as many different points of view as possible before they embark on activities that shape the future of our community.

      1. Biddlin

        Ignoring your hilarious classism, what do you think the chances of the Gandhi rolling out of the park and trampling an innocent bystander are? This was an attempt to appease potential voters.

        1. Tia Will

          Biddlin

          This was an attempt to appease potential voters.”

          And this comment would appear to be  an attempt to pretend that you know the hearts and minds of our city council members better than others. At least I make no such pretense. ( Please note the phrase “would appear to be”).

      2. quielo

        Hi Tia,

        “so divisive within the community” is a good point. How many people, who are local residents, should petition for redress before it goes back on the agenda? 10?, 100?, 1,000?. I’m not sure what the right answer is but my opinion is somewhere around 500. In any case it seems like there were a dozen or less local residents who were concerned about this and in any case the statue can be removed later.  BTW what did they do with the MRAP? Is available for sale on a surplus basis? 

         

        1. Barack Palin

          They gave it to Woodland, but we can borrow it.  So we can still use it but it makes our local activists feel warm and fuzzy that it isn’t in town here.

        2. Matt Williams

          BP, we gave our second MRAP to Woodland (and Yolo County . . . as part of the support infrastructure of their combined SWAT Team).  We still have one MRAP (as part of the support infrastructure of the combined Davis/West Sac SWAT Team).

          All the kerfuffle about the MRAP acquisition in 2014 was about our second MRAP not the one we currently have.

        3. Matt Williams

          BP, the City’s current armored military surplus vehicle (an MRAP) resides in the exact same place that our original armored military surplus vehicle (the “Peacekeeper”) resided since it was procured in 1992 . . . the lot where all the support infrastructure resides for the combined Davis-West Sacramento SWAT Team.  That lot is (and always has been since the SWAT Team was formed) in West Sacramento because the historical SWAT Team deployments in West Sacramento outnumber the deployments in Davis by a factor of at least three-to-one.

          I do not have the exact street address of that Davis-West Sacramento SWAT Team infrastructure support lot.  The “SWAmbulance” (an ambulance solely dedicated to supporting the combined Davis-West Sacramento SWAT Team) resides on that same lot.

        4. Matt Williams

          You are attempting to split hairs, and not doing a good job of it.

          The Davis SWAT Team has been located in West Sacramento since it was consolidated with the West Sacramento SWAT Team over 20 years ago.  If we had acquired the second MRAP it too would have been housed in the Davis SWAT Team location in West Sacramento (unless the Davis Police Department changed is Standar Operating Procedures protocols that have been in place for the over 20 years that the joint Davis-West Sacramento SWAT Team has been in existence.  The two identical MRAPs would have been parked side-by-side, right next to the SWAmbulance.

        5. Barack Palin

          Matt, I followed the story and never did I hear it ever stated that the MRAP was going to end up in West Sac.  I think you’re wrong here, our local activists were up in arms because it was going to be used by our local police dept.  If were indeed always destined for West Sac we would’ve never had the local outrage.  In fact part of the argument against it was how much it would cost our local PD to get trained and learn how to use it.  Now I may be wrong but I don’t think so.

          Can David or someone knowledgable weigh in here, and be fair at the same time?

        6. hpierce

          BP… read Matt and my lips… there were/are TWO (2) MRAPs in Yolo County… one was based in W Sac from the time of its acquisition… the other one is the one the City of Davis acquired, only to be sent north…

          The COD one was NOT intended to be sent elsewhere, but WAS intended to be available to all the Yolo County law enforcement folk on as “as needed” basis…

          Hope that was ‘fair’…

      3. hpierce

        Wow… comparing MRAP to Ghandi… I’d think only the most gifted contortionist in Cirque de Soleil would be capable of that… appears I’m wrong…

        Are Boris Badevov and Natasha running around town spraying folk with “goof gas”? Where are Rocky and Bullwinkle when you need them?

        1. Tia Will

          Wow… comparing MRAP to Ghandi”

          I do not know who you think was comparing the MRAP to Ghandi. I was comparing two issues which had been “decided” and then were brought back for community discussion. I am so sorry if I did not make that clear in my post.

        2. hpierce

          Tia… if memory serves, the CC voted ‘against the MRAP’ … they voted 5-0 in favor of the Ghandi statue… by the rules of order, only someone who voted FOR an action may ask for reconsideration.  The previous action was a consent calendar item, not “vetted” by the press and public as the MRAP was… I still cannot see how one can compare the two issues… at least logically…

          BTW, I have no problem with the statue, but I can also understand where some folk, who have valid reasons not to want to see Ghandi ‘venerated’ (how many other individuals have statues in their honor in any of our parks?), felt that the issue “flew under the radar”, and wanted to say their piece.  Kudos to Robb and Brett for surfacing the discussion (which really hadn’t occurred before), and kudos to the CC for listening, and having the ****s to make a decision.

        1. quielo

          Maybe we could leverage our relationship with UCD to melt the statue and recast it as someone more relevant. My suggestion would be to use the metal to make a statue of Julie Partansky. I like the dark sky.

        1. Matt Williams

          Actually Misanthrop the City Council had formally authorized Chief Black to renew the City’s participation in the Military Surplus procurement program (the then-current term of participation/membership was coming to a close), and to actively pursue procurement opportunities for the replacement of the “Peacekeeper” armored vehicle acquired in 1992.

          In fairness to all involved, the makeup of the Council had changed since that formal authorization was given to Chief Black, and he should have given people a heads-up, but he was both authorized and within budgetary guidelines . . . so in fact, it was effectively a do over.

    2. Alan Miller

      The outcome of this argument could not possibly advance their lives but they spent time on it rather do something useful.

      Them and whole helluva lot of homed people as well.

  2. David Greenwald

    I’m not going to play this game. This is an article on a local political discussion, do not attempt to divert it to national presidential issues. Don will remove the comments all day.

    1. Biddlin

      “Debating Moderator Practices. An article’s comments section won’t be used to debate these guidelines or a decision of the Content Moderator. Concern about the removal of a comment should be addressed in an email to the Content Moderator”

      1. quielo

        My comment was on editing the article to remove extraneous assertions that are not central to the point of the article and tend to draw extraneous comments.  Extraneous begets extraneous and rather than putting work on moderators guide or edit the authors. In this particular article the mention of a certain presidential candidate is not central to the theme, however it is likely to draw comments.

    1. Alan Miller

      You realize your comment is completely out of context since whatever it was refering to isn’t there anymore?

      In other words, why not remove your comment so it isn’t commented on (like I’m doing)?

  3. Tia Will

    Sean

    Public comment was filled with those who wanted to talk at, or talk past their opponents, rather than talking to them.”

    Thanks for the article. I appreciate the thoughtful approach of both Rochelle Swanson and you to this emotionally charged issue. I also believe in a respectful hearing of all views as an essential part of “the Davis way”. I would however like to point out that the very nature of public comment at CC and the commissions prevents people from talking to or more importantly with their opponents. Direct interaction in these venues is specifically prohibited. This is necessary to the ability to hold a time sensitive meeting. For me this illustrates the importance of holding and participating in public forums, mediated if necessary in which individuals have the ability to exchange ideas and hopefully arrive at some understanding if not agreement of the points of view of others.

  4. Sam

    “I know more than the average American, although admittedly that is not saying much given the rise of Trump and Trumpism in the American electorate”

    So Trump voters are uneducated dullards? This quote in an article about listening to the other side of an issue. What irony! Have you ever thought that maybe some people can’t bring themselves to vote for an unethical habitual liar? Your statement shows no mutual respect or inclusion.

    [moderator] I’ve removed several other comments about the presidential election. Everyone: please keep comments on the local issue, not presidential politics.

        1. Justice4All

          Curious, you left out the white nationalism bit. The broader point is that even in Davis, we fail to adequately talk to each other, rather than talking to them. That is the the point of the whole piece, not Trump.

        2. Barack Palin

          Then why did you feel you had to make the demeaning Trump supporters comment part of your conversation?  If you want everyone to adequately relate to each other then maybe a good way to start would be leaving out divisive comments like that.

        3. Sam

          It is not just a mistake. It is offensive. If I wrote an article and started out “I know a little more than the average local grocer about economic policy but after reading their articles that is not saying much.” That is offensive.

          Just because 95% of the readers agree with you it does not make the statement less offensive and that statement discredits the rest of the article about inclusion.

        4. South of Davis

          Sean wrote:

          > Including the Trump bit was clearly a mistake.

          > Can you admit when you make mistakes BP?

          Glad to hear Sean admit calling out Trump fans was a mistake (despite the fact that I agree with him that Trump “fans” are for the most part not the smartest of Americans).

          > I have been active in Davis politics, Davisites will

          > gleefully attack the character of their opposition

          It is important to separate an “attack” from pointing out a “statement of fact”.  If someone “ask” a guy making minimum wage if he will get a raise it is not an “attack” just like “asking” a  business owner if keeping wages where they are today will result in more profit to him is not an “attack”…

      1. hpierce

        That’s why I’m seeing a doctor today… hopefully, there is an antidote covered by my insurance… it is a virulent infection, but am hoping early intervention will keep it in check!

  5. Bill Habicht

    Sean.  This is such a good piece!

    Davisites often fail to acknowledge the humanity of those who hold different views or come from different socio-economic backgrounds.

    …many retreated to their pre-prepared talking points instead of genuinely considering the arguments of their opposition.

    Yes. I often wonder how we, as a community, could help equip the citizenry (including myself) with new skills/tools to help us move toward honoring the inherent value and viewpoints of others. How can we “foster furtherance of understanding between disagreeing parties”? Is there some structural change we could make to promote dialogue prior to public comment? 

    If we are to seek the well-being of our community where all life flourishes, then we’ve got to find a way to move into constructive dialogue with one another rather than confrontation.

    An excellent article, Sean. I think it’s time we sit down for coffee. You game?

     

  6. Sam

    I think because I quoted a particular name in my first comment it distracted everyone from my point so I’ll try again.

    The quip in the beginning of the article shows that when the author debates say minimum wage you should have a civil conversation over the amount of the increase. But, if someone takes the position that minimum wage should not be increased then they are stupid, rude and racist. That type of “inclusion” is dismissive and divisive. If you want to actually be inclusive, include everyone, not just those who share your ideas.

    1. Justice4All

      If you continued to read, you would see that I state that I have not always been the best at inclusion. I’ll endeavor to do better, as should all of us. With that said, I never said “racist” or “stupid”. I am not sure where you are getting all that.

      1. Sam

        “anti intellectualism and white nationalism”

        True, you can say that someone spends the weekend reading the Cat and the Hat while their white hood is drying on the line and technically you did not say they are “racist” or “stupid”.

         

  7. Marina Kalugin

    you are an excellent writer, Sean, and I often find that regardless of whether you and I share the same view on something or not, that you really are interested in learning why and how come people may differ in their viewpoints and how to find inclusion and points of understanding

    I am looking forward to sharing the tea which we first discussed back at the end of April when I first found the DV… and we ran into each other…

    You are looking more and more like your mom and dad – though I would never recognize you after the 2 decades have passed.

    Though it may seem that you and they do not share some of the same viewpoints right now either,  you are so fortunate that they encouraged you to think and question and to speak out…..

    Many here in town are thankful for what you do….

     

     

     

  8. Alan Miller

    I would like the statue to have an educational component, chronicling the life of Gandhi, warts and all.

    That’s gonna be one big-ass plaque.  I can’t wait for the 10-hour council meeting to approve the wording.

      1. quielo

        Sean, what I think you could have included is whether Davis should consider these types of donations at all. What is the advantage in being a pawn in other people’s political games at all? With an all up value of $22K we can afford to put statutes on our own agenda rather than someone else’s. It’s not as if this particular statue has some historic or artistic value.

        If we could get a Stalin or Lenin statue from the former Soviet Union then I would be in favor of erecting it for it’s artistic and historical context while I would not be in favor of a new statue.

        Accepting it because it’s free is a mooch tactic and not attractive from my point of view.

        1. Biddlin

          ” It’s not as if this particular statue has some historic or artistic value…Accepting it because it’s free is a mooch tactic and not attractive from my point of view.”

          I will try to illuminate the traditions of giving. I offer you a gift in friendship. You may politely demure or graciously accept. The entire point is lost when you act like a spoiled child.  Having not seen the statue, I will not have an opinion on its “artistic value,” but if you don’t see the historic value, you’re a bigger [edited to remove words that trigger filter] than I have presumed.

          [moderator] edited.

        2. quielo

          “you’re a bigger [edited to remove words that trigger filter] than I have presumed.” Since the adjective was edited out and you have not specified the level of the adjective I possess it will be hard for me to respond. 

          “you don’t see the historic value,” While Dude is of course an historic figure I am not aware of any historic value to the statue itself. If you want to see the statue look at the DE.

        3. hpierce

          Hey, Biddlin… must have been a rough day for you… will give you the same friendly advice I occasionally give to another ‘frequent flyer’… lose adjectives that get in the way of your posts.

          You have too much to offer (tho’ we disagree often), to lose the impact/insight with extraneous verbiage.  Frankly, (pun intended), I look forward to your contributions… feel free to keep me ‘honest’ as well… I need that from time to time…

  9. Frankly

    Where else in this area will we find a community where a hundred or so community members will come together at a City Council meeting, for 5 hours on a Tuesday night, to have a discussion about the legacy of Gandhi, a life-sized bronze statue representing peace and non-violence, and its impact on the broader community? It was truly an amazing sight and experience.

    You will find this is communities with a lot of retirees and also a lot of residents that are supported from government payments or pay… because they tend to have more time on their hands.

      1. hpierce

        No, but appears you do fit in the category of those who post under more than one ‘screen name’.  Now that I think (not sure) I have an equation between the two, I really have no problem with that…

  10. Biddlin

    “Then why did you feel you had to make the demeaning Trump supporters comment part of your conversation? ”
    You can’t blame Sean for Trump or his supporters’ apparent lack of apprehension!

    1. hpierce

      Sorry Biddlin… some folk are RICH in apprehension… what they lack is comprehension… the two terms are often, but not always diametrically opposed… there is a great Satchel Paige quote that eludes me at the moment, but I also remember, “even paranoids have enemies” (not Satchel’s)…

      1. Biddlin

        Sorry, too much time in Oxfordshire, where “apprehension” may mean “grasp” or “understanding.”
        “Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.”

        Satchel Paige

    1. quielo

      I’m glad you place such a value on context. I have a vintage Ikea dresser. Coincidently it has Gandhi’s likeness spraypainted on the front. I’ll let you have it for a good price. The “context” alone is worth thousands, as you know.

      1. quielo

        “Biddlin is actually writing about someone else’s arrogance?” 

        In the interest of honoring the memory of Gandhi I will turn to the Mahabharata and the story of Eklaivan. Eklaivan wanted to learn archery from Drona but was refused as a student. Eklaivan then went into the jungle and meditated on a statue of Drona for several years. By doing so he became one of the foremost archers in the world.

         

        I will meditate on the postings of Biddlin and thereby achieve humility.

    1. hpierce

      yeah, but…

      What works for me is to write EXACTLY how I feel/think… then try to wait an hour or so, and re-visit before I hit the “send” button… still cathartic, less “blow-back”… yet, I still manage to ****-up from time to time.

  11. Justice4All

    Sadly, this thread is illustrative of the concepts I was writing about. Personal attacks on character, talking past one another, and totally missing the broader point. I wrote this piece for two reasons, one to challenge people to open their minds to differing opinions, rather than entrenching their own narratives, and two to talk about my own opinions about larger than life historical figures. I am glad that many people have reached out to me outside of the comments section to tell me what they have thought about it in constructive ways. I must say I am disappointed in the vitriolic commentary here though.

  12. Barack Palin

    rather than entrenching their own narratives

    How about your vitriolic commentary?

    “I know more than the average American, although admittedly that is not saying much given the rise of Trump and Trumpism in the American electorate”.

    A little advice,  if you really want constructive dialogue you might want to leave out those types of divisive statements in the future.

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