To monumentalize or not to monumentalize? That is the question! The answer seems to be, "Yes," if you're willing to be selective about history, and "No," if you want to think beyond "monuments to white men."
The controversy surrounds erecting a monument to 26th U.S. President Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt in SLO's Mitchell Park, to commemorate Teddy's May 9, 1903, stop in SLO Town, where he toured Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa and gave a 15-minute speech to a crowd of 10,000 before hopping back on a train to meet John Muir in Yosemite.
In one corner is former SLO City Councilmember John "White Guys Rule" Ashbaugh, who's spearheading the effort to get artist Paula Zima's proposed sculpture cast and installed, and in the other corner we have SLO Mayor Heidi "I've Had it Up to Here with White Men" Harmon, who thinks the U.S. needs another white man with a checkered past monument like it needs more coal-burning power plants.
Ashbaugh thinks Roosevelt was a great man worthy of celebration for his environmentalism. He's willing to ignore the whole Native American genocide thing, which also—by the way—occurred at our local mission. I wonder if Teddy's tour included viewing Indian whipping posts.
"I think all of us deserve to be judged in the context of our times," Ashbaugh told New Times.
Yeah, I get it. Like Andrew Jackson, our seventh president, who's hilariously on the $20 bill even though he opposed both the National Bank and paper money. In his farewell speech, Jackson said, "The Constitution of the United States unquestionably intended to secure to the people a circulating medium of gold and silver."
Before that, of course, Jackson—whose nickname was "Indian Killer" and "Sharp Knife"—was a wealthy slave owner and infamous Indian killer who recommended U.S. troops systematically murder Indian men, women, and children. Great guy in his time, right?
More embarrassingly, Jackson's the founder of the Democratic Party. How in the hell did the GOP get "Honest" Abe Lincoln while the Dems got stuck with this asshole?
My point is, in his time, many thought Jackson was a great man. Plenty of people loved Adolf Hitler. I hear Genghis Khan was worshipped. The Marquis de Sade was a blast at parties. Just because someone got away with egregious behavior "in his time" is no reason to give him a pass "in our time."
And just because someone did some good things doesn't mean we celebrate him and ignore the bad things. Hitler was an avowed Christian and pen pals with Mahatma Gandhi. He stamped out usury. Nice work, Adolf! Now about those 6 million Jews ... .
"The way I look at it, if [Roosevelt] had not come, if he had bypassed SLO on this trip, we would probably be a different place than we are now," Ashbaugh also claimed.
Different how? Would Heidi Harmon be driving a diesel monster truck instead of riding a bike? I know you're an Allan Hancock College history lecturer and all, John, but how the hell do you know we'd be in a different place if Roosevelt hadn't stopped in SLO to deliver a 15-minute speech?
Ashbaugh is nothing if not tenacious in his defense of Roosevelt: "He's entertaining Booker T. Washington in the White House in 1901. He advocates against the most evil, abhorrent aspect of the Jim Crow era, lynching. By the time he's elected president in 1904, he has six Native American tribal [chiefs] marching in his [inaugural] parade, so you can cherry-pick things he says here and there that make it look like he's fundamentally racist, but he's not."
Um, just like you can cherry-pick good things he did to make it look like he's not fundamentally racist, when he is.
"Look at my Native Americans over there. Are you the greatest?" I imagine Roosevelt pointing and saying, Trump-like. And an African-American leader in the White House? Feel you, Kanye! And saying it's wrong to lynch black people. Wow. So progressive!
I have an idea! How about we don't have any monuments to historical figures? The mission has a statue of Father Junípero Serra, who was real fond of saving Native American souls, teaching them farming, and whipping the shit out of them if they didn't capitulate. Maybe we should stop with just that one, eh?
I like public art like kinetic sculptor Jeffrey Laudenslager's Olas Portola-Fuenta Seca, which greets downtown visitors at the intersection of Higuera and Marsh. It's fun to watch when I'm super stoned.
And speaking of super stoned, one final note—SLO Police Department Chief Deanna Cantrell just released a press release about the 2018 crime report, which had a mix of good news and "areas for improvement," it euphemistically stated, including this gem: "After several years of an unprecedented increase in crime, 2018 ended with a 2 percent increase overall," which basically means, "Good news! The crime increase is slowing!"
Slow. Clap. Clap.
My very favorite part, however, is when Cantrell states that the "upcoming 2019-21 financial plan will include funding for two additional officer positions to address cannabis integration in SLO."
Huh? Now that cannabis is legal you need two more officers than when it was illegal? Head scratcher, eh? Δ
The Shredder demands a life-size statue of itself ... the full 18 inches. Send ideas and comments to email@example.com.