Guest Commentary: Our Community’s Struggle Over Symbols

Mayor Gloria Partida

By Gloria Partida

This week we saw the Milwaukee Bucks boycott after the shooting of Jacob Blake. This boycott was largely supported by the professional sports industry. It follows a growing trend of mainstream America moving to an acceptance of the idea that institutional racism has not been resolved.

It has not gone without notice that Colin Kaepernick’s boycott exactly 4 years to the day of this boycott was met with a very different response. Kneeling has since become commonplace and we can shrug the differences of the responses to the two boycotts off to Kaepernick being ahead of his time.

Or that people needed a minute to get behind the movement.

I question, however, whether there would have been such a strong reaction to Kaepernick’s boycott if had not been a boycott to the National Anthem. The National Anthem like many symbols has an emotional attachment to it, the psychology of which is complex and hard to untangle.

We have seen similar struggles in our own community over symbols. Whether it be the recent Black Lives Matter street mural, the police flag after the death of Natalie Corona or the Gandhi Statue in Central Park. We are deeply moved by fixtures that we believe stand for and represent our identities.

A perceived disrespect is an affront and rejection to many on a very personal level.

As a council, decisions that go beyond the standard and formulary are the most challenging because there is often community emotion involved.

This is highlighted in the two projects recently moved through the planning commission. The University Mall and The University Research Park.

While they are both CEQA streamlined because of the proximity to transit, both mixed use vertical, both initially exempt from affordable housing requirements one was resoundingly rejected by the planning commission. While we have yet to hear from the community I doubt that, even though some on the planning commission remarked on the look of this project, we will hear as many people come forward and protest the monolithic look of the buildings.

I know the reasons community reactions reach varying degrees of responses are not as reductive as this. The power of the voices that lead the response, the level of nostalgia tied to a project and degree of change all add up.

It is often difficult to see through emotion to greater good but I have great faith that our community’s character is not bound up in fixtures. That every generation will change and contribute to our community and maintain the thread of all the elements that make us unique.

From our inception as town that sprang from a meeting of railroad lines to host of an extension of the California University’s flagship, it is in our DNA to be forward facing.

Gloria Partida is the Mayor of Davis.  This will be a monthly column.


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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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15 Comments

  1. Alan Miller

    This is highlighted in the two projects recently moved through the planning commission. The University Mall and The University Research Park.

    Well, that took an unexpected turn.  This started out as a deep look at symbols and I thought it would get into the meat of the matter, but never did and then somehow tried to conflate symbolism with large developments, doubt that people would complain about how ugly the monolithic buildings are (Alan Miller says they butt ugly), and a clarion call for the “greater good” and “it is in our DNA to be forward facing”, which to me are dog-whistles for “let’s build lots of ugly stuff cuz we need housing”.

    What happened to the direction this column was going — a deep discussion on race and symbolism in our community?  I guess if we build lots of ugly housing, all that will be solved.

    1. Bill Marshall

      Alan… I agree, but need to cut GP a bit of slack… J/R/D &/or ‘growth’ has become a “symbol” to many… getting rid of the measure would, to some, be like banning all crosses, stars of David, crescents, etc., from public view.  For too many, it borders on both politics and a sort of ‘religion’… based on some of the rhetoric we’ve seen…

      But back to your comment… yes, it neglects other ‘symbols’ that the community is ‘divided on’… I, too, was hoping for more as I read the headline… yet, it’s a start…

  2. Ron Oertel

    Pursuit of growth (to reach some undefined, never-achieved, and ever-expanding “goal”) has historically been held up as a “symbol of progress”, and has been embedded within American culture.

    Within the past few decades, that symbol has been questioned.

    But what is disturbing is that some who claim to be “progressive” have recently aligned themselves with that earlier, unsustainable “symbol of progress”.

    1. Richard McCann

      Asking the question about how do we build a sustainable economy that does not rely on growth is important one, but just saying “stop growth right now” is a foolish response. You’re being selfish if you think that closing growth in your community without doing anything else or proposing viable solutions will have NO effect whatsoever on changing this paradigm at the national and international level. (And ironically, you poo pooed the notion that Davis has demonstrated leadership in environmentally-sustainable policies in the past, so don’t try to claim that Davis slamming shut the doors on growth will lead to other communities following us.)

      What we have to do in the near term is catch up with the lag we’ve created in current housing needs here to lower the walls of segregation that we’ve created. Talking about symbols is meaningless unless we develop ACTIONS that have real meaning. The single most important action we can take is make housing in Davis more broadly affordable to communities of color that have substantially less wealth than the white households that predominate here, particularly as homeowners.

      The next action is to develop an economic vision for the City that both acknowledges are responsibility as host to UCD which is among the most important institutions in the nation (the NY Times published a study showing this that I shared here) in providing opportunities to students from underprivileged families, and leverages the economic opportunities that UCD presents to our community for sustainable economic activity. If you don’t want to be part of that kind of community, I suggest that you move somewhere else that isn’t interested in being part of those solutions.

  3. Don Shor

    There is often great resistance to change because of emotional attachment to existing institutions or conditions, even when that change is to the benefit of the community. The intensity of resistance is not necessarily proportional to the degree of change proposed. Changes to the highly-visible University Mall engendered strong reactions; changes to a less prominent commercial center are not likely to engender equally strong reactions. Both projects are dramatic changes to the way things have been done in the past, but they both meet current planning guidelines and community development goals.

    .

    The national issues she cited are examples of why and how there is variable intensity and how progress is incremental.

    Hope that helps.

  4. Matt Williams

    I question, however, whether there would have been such a strong reaction to Kaepernick’s boycott if had not been a boycott to the National Anthem.

    I am an avid ice hockey fan and a direct descendant of Francis Scott Key.  I mention those two connections because the Canadian and United States anthems have been sequentially sung many times recently.  The words of one, written by my ancestor, are jingoist, building on the images of war.  The other avoids those confrontational overtones and instead sounds the much less aggressive  note

    From far and wide,
    O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

    God keep our land glorious and free!
    O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

    O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

    Why do I raise that point?  Because to me, the actions of Colin Kaepernick on the field were very much in alignment with the following sentiments.

    From far and wide,
    Oh USA, we stand on guard for thee.

    God keep our land glorious and free!
    Oh USA, we stand on guard for thee.

    Oh USA, we stand on guard for thee.

    Unfortunately that wasn’t “Might makes Right” enough for our President and a lot of jingoist Americans.

      1. Bill Marshall

        The ‘Pledge of Allegiance” was generally accepted, until the phrase “under God” was added during the McCarthy (and I don’t mean Gene) era… right around the time I was born…

        Again, not my issue, but am sensitive to the fact that it is, for some…

        1. Alan Miller

          The ‘Pledge of Allegiance” was generally accepted, until the phrase “under God” was added during the McCarthy . . .  era

          When is the McCarthy era going to be over?

        2. Bill Marshall

          When is the McCarthy era going to be over?

          When paranoia and demagoguery are no longer prevalent, and tolerance, reason, and understanding are fashionable… so, not in our lifetimes… the far left and far right actually seem to like fomenting paranoia, and use demagoguery to foment… McCarthy was a Republican, but Democrats learned ‘useful tools’… McCarthy was devout… by many accounts, a devout alcoholic… had forgotten he was from Wisconsin… [Rod Serling now walks out, to the tune “do, do, do, do, do, do, do, do…”]

          IMO…

      2. Matt Williams

        Even within the same Religion there are significant differences in the “personality” of God.  The Old Testament God in Christian traditions is frequently characterized as “harsh” while the New Testament God in those same Christian traditions is frequently characterized as “loving.”

        So, references to God can have a rather nuanced associated variability.

  5. Matt Williams

    We are deeply moved by fixtures that we believe stand for and represent our identities.

    A perceived disrespect is an affront and rejection to many on a very personal level.

    .
    It is worth noting that the Puritan and Quaker religious beliefs of our Founding Fathers and their immediate ancestors were being prosecuted and persecuted for standing for ideals that did not represent the identities of England at the time … and that standing for those ideals was a perceived disrespect, affront, and rejection to what it meant to be “English” on a very personal level.

    1. Bill Marshall

      Please add the Catholics… that would be the early colony of Maryland… Pennsylvania was the Quakers (Society of Friends)… several Puritan colonies… all, by the way, “undocumented immigrants” to the ‘New World’… and not legally endorsed by the inhabitants at that time… so, technically, ‘illegal’/unlawful immigrants…

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