Real Recognize Real Or
a Tale of Two Candidates on Social Justice
On Friday, October 9, The Ashland Tidings endorsed Tonya Graham, who currently serves on the Ashland City Council, for Mayor this election, November 3, 2020.
Being a small town newspaper, The Tidings does not have a large staff. Two reporters are listed on its masthead. More than those two persons are given bylines inside of the paper, bringing the representation on October 9 to approximately six reporters.
Six reporters for a population of 22,000 sounds reasonable. This allows for reporters to earn trust, overcoming the stigma the media is battling during this season of COVID-19. Unfortunately, this stigma was reinforced when Steven Saslow purchased The Tidings in the summer of 2017. He attempts to build trust by participation in the annual The Peace Commissions’ Global Peace Conference.
It is not known if it is the reporters or Saslow who decided to compose and publish the following sentence. “We think Graham possesses the qualities Ashland needs as the city transitions to a council-manager form of government.” We? Who is this, we?
To understand that sentence, I searched the City website for the definition of a “council-manager form of government.”
Here is the job description for the council-manager position. “If approved, this measure would amend the Ashland City Charter to create the position of city manager, eliminate the position of city administrator, and transfer executive officer duties from the Mayor to the city manager.
The city manager would be the administrative head of the City, with all administrative authority over city government functions except for those administered by the Parks and Recreation Commission.
The City Council would appoint a city manager based on education and experience with local government management and without regard to political considerations. Among other duties, the city manager would administer all City ordinances, resolutions, franchises, leases, contracts and City utilities; appoint, supervise and remove City employees; prepare the City budget; and work with the Council on development of City policies.
The city manager would have no authority over the Mayor and Council or other officers who are appointed directly by and report directly to the Council, such as the city attorney. The result of a no vote: Ashland ' s current administrative structure would remain in effect.” (Source: City of Ashland Website.)
When COVID-19 restrictions first entered American life, Ashland fiercely discussed the direction self-governance should take. On the table is, and was, a number of considerations. State restrictions changed everything for Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s business model. In the face of this change, a pathway forward was introduced. It hints at the request for more responsiveness from local governments.
Three-time former Mayor (1988 - 2000) Cathy Shaw, published an editorial in the Tidings. As the youngest person to ever hold the position and first woman, her word carries weight. She argued in the editorial the strong mayor position she served from was very responsive local government and worked.
Her signature issue was the environment. A concern bubbled up among residents. It became more than talk. Action was demanded. Shaw rode this wave of activism into the Mayor seat and the environmental concerns were addressed. This is responsiveness, in her mind.
The current mayor, John Stromberg agreed with Shaw.
The residents of Ashland did not. On May 19, 2020 they passed the amendment to the City charter to include a new position: council manager.
If we choose to agree with the former mayors, that responsiveness is the barometer for deciding the next woman mayor of Ashland, then, I have a story to tell.
On Memorial Day, the American landscape felt the aftershocks of George Floyd’s public 8:49 minute murder by four Minneapolis police officers. The video was so visceral, the fear Black and Brown bodies have towards police department culture was felt by most of the population. Those who had been able to ignore the desperate cries of the Black Lives Matter movement for seven years, could not ignore the public murder of George Floyd.
In response to the request that something effective be done, Julie Akins bravely facilitated the creation of The Truth and Conciliation* Council. If you are just now learning of this Council - GOOD! It began on Facebook. Being an experienced public communicator, Akins started a Facebook group after posting a status explaining the direction she wanted to go. Healing is the solution, not more conflict avoidance techniques to keep a negative peace of equanimity.
The group went the way of Facebook groups. It was more emotion than anything else. However, because of trust, Akins was able to recruit a steering committee of Black, Indigenous, Persons of Color (BIPoC) willing to explore this pathway towards our collective healing. Racial battle fatigue is real. While the new found energy behind Black Lives Matter was enjoyed and appreciated, those on the frontlines of racial healing have the battle wounds of the past seven years of resistance to honor.
White tears flowed, ego deaths happened and some, who thought they were actively deconstructing their whiteness, learned their efforts did not land well with the BIPoC leadership who stepped up to do the work. A clear boundary was erected. There was a rejection of performative allyship and a standard for real engagement towards healing was established. Clarity emerged as refinement occurred and Native women practiced a leadership model that has endured for over 10,000 generations.
While this process fashioned a viable pathway, Graham crafted what she called a Social Equity and Racial Justice Resolution. Because those who were newly awakened to the concept of race, racism and whiteness having real world impacts, and not just perception blocks, this resolution generated a lot of drama. Over social media, Graham felt compelled to defend herself. Her website presented her side of the controversy.
At the City Council meeting of July 7, 2020 Medford’s Mail Tribune article was reprinted in the Ashland Tidings, detailing a fight Graham and Akins got into over the Resolution. Graham argued that she received communications from BIPoC employed by The OSF and Southern Oregon University that BIPoC leadership wanted white allies do more heavy lifting.
Akins correctly countered that “heavy lifting” is not to be decided by white allies.
It is argued that White allies currently practice the Golden Rule: treat people the way you want to be treated. They need to practice the Platinum Rule, which is to treat people the way THEY want to be treated. The Resolution landed with those organizing the Truth and Conciliation Council as performative Golden Rule allyship, not the Platinum version, which the Council represents.
Regardless, the Ashland City Council voted for the resolution, just like they have consistently voted every time a social justice issue has arisen: 5 to 1. Graham’s resolution passed. The lone, consistently dissenting vote was Julie Akins.
Over the past three years, Julie Akins has consistently been the lone vote dissenting from the City Council’s open practice of colonial norms.
Here is the statement composed by The Truth and Conciliation Council and published on social media on August 26, 2020. Reproduced here are the parts relevant to the discussion. (Please follow this link for the full statement: https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=149906910090721&id=100116605069752)
Last month, when the Social Equity and Racial Justice Resolution was released to the public, the Truth and Conciliation Council reviewed it and submitted a statement that requested Council to pause and consult with us before pushing the Resolution through. We were denied. The very Resolution that was written for us, for our people, went through without our input. Our request for pause and consult was not only reasonable, but it was justified, and would have been easy, and an act of good measure, to honor.
Please know that the Truth and Conciliation Council will be continuously addressing any and all issues that impact Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) and all members of our community who are vulnerable and marginalized.
I disagree with former Ashland Mayor Cathay Shaw, current Ashland Mayor John Stromberg and the “we” at The Ashland Tidings newspaper, just like Ashland voters did this past May.
I strongly suggest Julie Akins is a better candidate for responsive local government than Tonya Graham.
Please choose to vote Julie Akins for Mayor of Ashland. I trust her to practice the Platinum Rule of local governance.