By: Zoë Muntaner
An update from the Office of Civic Wellbeing was presented to Santa Monica City Council under the Special Agenda Items at the September 12 meeting. The buzzwords are diversity, race, equity. On the heels of the renewed call for the removal of the historic Stanton Macdonald-Wright City Hall mural, one of its most relevant highlights involve intensive staff training on racial equity led by the Center for Social Inclusion and Government Alliance on Race and Equity.
“Don’t let your learning lead to knowledge. Let your learning lead to action.”~ Jim Rohn
Activists have viewed the mural an expression of racism that parallels the Confederate Flag. Julie Rusk, Chief of Civic Wellbeing watched protesters cries of the blatant symbol of colonialism from the balcony of City Hall, a day before her presentation. Yesterday, she accompanied Deputy City Attorney Gary Rhoades to the Pico Neighborhood Association Meeting for his presentation of a policy proposal affecting immigrants. Coincidentally like the Wellbeing Index, the law is about data. The City is considering a law that would limit the gathering and use of information about a person’s immigration or religious status. It seems they can’t escape the historical legacy of local disenfranchised populations. The law is designed to empower the City Attorney’s Office to file lawsuits on behalf of marginalized immigrants. Oscar de la Torre, Chair of PNA stated: “the policy offers a false sense of security, this is another instance of a white organization teaching people of color about social justice” Mr. Rhoades said: “We use discretion and don’t want to file false claims” Oh, the irony of ironies… a story for another post. Stay tuned.
“What we need today are universal values based not on faith but on scientific findings, common experience and common sense.” ~Dalai Lama
Back to the mural. The Santa Monica Landmarks Properties website offers a brief history of the mural–President Franklin Delano Roosevelt helped cure the country of “The Great Depression” by allocating several billion dollars to Public Works Administration projects, as a means of providing employment, stabilizing purchasing power, improving public welfare and contributing to a revival of the American industry. The City Hall walls feature murals documenting the city’s and the state’s history. Stanton Macdonald-Wright (1890-1973) created one of the most extensive mural cycles in Southern California at the Santa Monica Public Library in the mid-1930’s, unveiled on August 25, 1935.
The Mural’s history is chronicled at the Santa Monica library’s website. Macdonald-Wright, had plywood panels specially prepared. This technique, termed “portable murals,” was also utilized by famed Mexican muralist Diego Rivera. Such a procedure enable easy removal from the wall if necessary. This is exactly what happened in 1965 when the library moved to a newly-constructed building located at 1343 Sixth Street. Deemed too old-fashioned, the Depression-era mural cycle was not transferred to the new facility, and the federal government took possession of all the mural panels. Alas, removal has precedent.
According Dr. Noah Bardach, an art-historian and co-founder of Universal Human Rights Initiative (UHRI), a non-profit focused on human rights education, “The WPA murals at the entrance to City Hall, depicting two American Indian men at the feet of a conquistador and a Franciscan friar, communicate prominent themes of white supremacy over Native Americans and other people of color.” Local activists demand the murals be moved to a local museum. Dr. Bardach further explained: “These images glorify two historical tragedies for indigenous peoples, the Conquest and forced conversion by the Catholic Church, both of which resulted in the decimation of local populations from violence and sickness. The loss of life suffered during this period can rightly be thought of as a Native American Holocaust. Paired with this message of Native American subjugation and suffering is a mural of Caucasians at leisure. Together, these two murals convey a vision of Santa Monica as an enclave for the pleasures of the White leisure class, one where people of color are kept in an inferior status and hidden out of sight. The City of Santa Monica must recognize the central message of these works for what it is: white supremacy. This is not representative of the diverse, inclusive Santa Monica of today and it must not be the sentiment that greets visitors to our City Hall. To live up to our highest ideals as a City, and in recognition of the wrongs that have been visited on minorities in our City’s past, the City of Santa Monica must take immediate steps to relocate the mural to a museum, or other suitable location, where it can be appreciated as a historical document.”
Carol Lemlein, President of the Santa Monica Conservancy filmed the demonstration on Monday. “I personally think there is little equivalency with the use of the Confederate flag and erecting statues of Confederate icons, most of which took place long after the Civil War and which were, for the most part, erected in defiance during the Jim Crow era.” said by email statement. She offered some food for thought courtesy of African American historian, Alison Rose Jefferson. “The Association for the Study of African American Life and History has issued a statement which in my mind offers a much more constructive and unifying approach than what I heard at City Hall on Monday.” she wrote.
The intention of Santa Monica Wellbeing Office is to hone in on partnerships as an effective path to address concerning aspects of community wellbeing, one would think this is an ideal opportunity to address those intentions in a tangible way. Local equity issues debated through education, affordable housing, street food vendors and authentic inclusion are on the line.
The Wellbeing Index was deemed a “game changer” when it won the first-ever Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Mayors Challenge in 2013. Will they talk a good game or play a good game? We can only guess what Mike Bloomberg would say about sportsmanship. In his 2016 Annual Letter on Philanthropy, he wrote: “Teamwork wins championships, as any sports fan can tell you…But having a full roster is a far cry from having a great team, to say nothing of winning a championship. Success will require leadership that unites everyone behind a common mission and gets everyone to work together by promoting communication, collaboration, and coordination. It’s a role that Bloomberg Philanthropies has fully embraced.”
“Truth is an inseparable companion of justice and mercy.” ~Pope Francis
Santa Monica does not have a good track record when it comes to inclusive teamwork. A lack of viable and sincere city government leadership have residents at wits ends. After multiple emails expressing a desire to co-create with Compassionate Santa Monica, Wellbeing Project Manager Lisa Parson, in patronizing superiority, said is not my place to define inclusion. I thought we were getting along fine. At Council Chambers, multiple boards & commission community leader Albin Gielicz divulged they are still trying to define what wellbeing means in Santa Monica. I’m confused. What have they defined all this time? Chief of Wellbeing Julie Rusk and Senior Strategist Libby Carlson have made it clear there is a gatekeeping policy. When confronted by the question of how City Attorney staff will assure fair enforcement/compliance with policy/ordinances given the fact that intensive staff training on racial equity raises flags of historical bias, she admitted: “We have a lot of work to do, yes”. With new findings showing a community in need of social connection, economic security, and stress management, one would think their approach would be more inclusive. The launch party of the new findings of the Wellbeing Index at The Water Garden excluded key groups and advocates that have been tirelessly working towards equity, parity and good racial relations in Santa Monica. Missing the mark as the best opportunity to start making those connections and affirming the sincerity of the message, does not sound promising. “Perhaps this is not the best example of an inclusive event,” said City Manager Rick Cole. He is right. “There are clear areas of disparity, and the overall strength of a community is measured by its ability to help all members thrive, including its most vulnerable members. The latest Wellbeing Index tells us that we have work to do and we want to enlist the entire community in bridging these gaps,” said Mayor Ted Winterer. Off the gates, the entire community was not included. The flaws seem to be in the design. Authentic Wellbeing Mantra: “Meet people where they are, but tell the truth”. Let’s frame it with that intent.
“In the absence of love and belonging there will always be suffering” ~Brené Brown
We’ll have to wait to see Rick Cole’s game plan. He adopted this project two years ago when he became City Manager. Does he have what it takes to win? Can he do the work of becoming a real team outside of the cheerleader’s squad? Is this another ploy of City Hall’s expensive PR Machine? Is he an authentic agent of change? Are we being played? What kind of inheritance we want, one of money or one of values? Innovation thinks outside the box. Unless we fundamentally practice democracy, wellbeing is a hashtag code for privilege. The ball is in their court.
Speaking about games, the Compassion Games are currently being played around the world. Santa Monica has a team on the map. To learn more visit The Global Unity Games: Building Bridges a 16-day challenge to unify communities around the world in an expression of globally synchronized intentions with locally organized compassionate action. Today”s Mission: Nourishing the Diversity of Life.
Are you optimistic about your future?
#CompassionUnites #SantaMonica #BuildingBridges Game On.
“In a time of universal deceit – telling the truth is a revolutionary act.” ~George Orwell