Last night I was thankful to be part of a beautiful discussion of an ugly subject: racism, misogyny, and other forms of bigotry here in Salem, Oregon.
The City Council meeting was held in the Library's Loucks Auditorium because so many people were expected to speak about the resignation of Ward 6 councilor Daniel Benjamin following his Facebook sharing of a video showing Black Lives Matter protesters being rammed by cars.
That expectation came true.
The auditorium was almost filled to capacity when the meeting started. (I took this photo earlier than that.) Dozens of people used the public comment period to talk about Benjamin's bigotry, and their own experiences with the darker side of this town. It took about two hours for the City Council to hear everyone who wanted to speak for a maximum of three minutes.
Below I've shared three videos I made from the full CCTV recording of the meeting. These will give you a feel for the marvelous honest outpouring of concern, anger, hope, fear, and other emotions expressed so thoughtfully by a wide variety of people. Almost all were from Salem; a few were from Portland.
It was an amazing experience -- a hugely satisfying display of citizen activism.
The dismaying election of Donald Trump helped stimulate the fervent cries for tolerance, compassion, equity, and other civic virtues that are sadly missing from our president-elect's vision of our national future. But speaker after speaker made clear that discrimination and bigotry have been part of the Salem scene for a long time.
So the City Council's censuring of Daniel Benjamin, and the acceptance of his resignation, wasn't the Big Story last night. This happened at the beginning of the meeting and was marked by a dismaying degree of self-congratulatory excess from the Mayor and seven remaining councilors.
Four city councilors, the City Attorney, and Mayor Peterson
Each member of the City Council had to make a mini-speech about how intolerance won't be tolerated in this town; how disturbed they were by Benjamin's actions; how Salem isn't the sort of place where racism can take root.
When motions were made to censure Benjamin and accept his resignation, every city councilor frantically waved a hand in the air to indicate how badly they wanted to second it. Understand: there wasn't anything wrong with this display of political self-righteousness. It just struck me as an awkward attempt, aimed in part at the cameras from Portland television stations in the back of the room, to paint Salem as a town where These Sorts of Things Just Don't Happen, Aside from This One Time.
After which, the dozens of people basically replied, No, let me tell you how it really is.
I'm a white guy liberal from south Salem. I share the views of the people of color who spoke; of the LBGTQ people who spoke; of the community action/social agency people who spoke.
But I haven't shared the experiences of these people. So it was a gift to sit in my Loucks auditorium chair and be exposed to emotions and thoughts from individuals who were dealing directly with problems I knew existed, yet don't touch me personally.
I scribbled notes to remind myself what was said last night. I'd intended to summarize these into themes, systematizing the raw energy of the people who addressed the City Council. Now I've changed my mind. Whatever more I could say here isn't nearly as compelling as what was actually said at the meeting.
This is the entire CCTV video of the City Council meeting. The public testimony runs from about the 00:27 mark to the 2:22 mark. I encourage you to watch it. Most of the speakers were pleasingly compelling; a few were weird, yet still compelling in their own way.
And here are the three videos I made from the public testimony.
This is the three minute testimony of Francisco Lopez. I liked both his style and message.
This is a six minute video of the testimony by Catherine Moore and Cameron Kershel -- whose names I've gotten phonetically right but likely written wrong. In between them, Mayor Anna Peterson gets irked at the applause that followed Moore's remarks. Peterson should have been more relaxed, but she's a stickler for following rules rigidly, which is one reason among many I'll be glad to see her term in office end soon.
Last, and definitely least, here's my own testimony. I talk about how Daniel Benjamin came to be, and how we can try to prevent more "Daniel Benjamin's" from being elected to the City Council.
Great words by all shown here. Brian, your experience shows with the preface about where he came from. That turned the mirror on the council very eloquently and I hope they see your point.
Posted by: JT | November 30, 2016 at 01:41 AM
Thank you Brian for your testimony. Mr. Kershel exposed one "elephant in the room." But you exposed the other elephant in the room -- the take-over of our City government in the past 14 years by the Salem Area Chamber of Commerce. Since Daniel Benjamin was elected in 2014 the Chamber has not been very influential in electing City leaders. Their candidates, Warren Bednarz and Jan Kailuweit were beaten badly this year. They would have to have a lot of gall to come up with a replacement for their boy Daniel Benjamin in the Ward 6 special election on March 14th. We'll need to watch that very carefully and hope for a very strong progressive candidate who can be effective and represent the interests of Ward 6 residents, not special interests.
Posted by: Jim Scheppke | November 30, 2016 at 07:55 AM