I have been protesting the statue of President McKinley on the Arcata Plaza for a long time. Why? Three reasons:
1. McKinley was not all good or all bad. However, his policies led to, among other things, the deaths of between 200,000 and three million Filipinos, most of them civilians, many of them children. (Full disclosure: I have several Filipino family members, including three grand-daughters.) For whatever else he may have done right or wrong, this alone disqualifies him from being honored in Humboldt County, much less by the City of Arcata.
2. McKinley died several generations ago. Times have changed. Values have changed. The country has moved on. American culture has moved on. McKinley has long been irrelevant to most Arcatans. It is time for Arcata to move on and choose a symbol for the heart of the city that reflects the hearts of the people who live here now.
3. I feel that an unwillingness to change and a lack of imagination have caused missed opportunities for the City of Arcata to change for the better. Arcatans have complained for years that they are unhappy with how our city is viewed and experienced, both by local residents and visitors. We have heard complaints about a large homeless population on the Plaza. Complaints about a large male population on the Plaza. Complaints about the marijuana culture. Complaints about trash downtown. Complaints about graffiti on downtown buildings, etc.
Complaining is like armchair quarterbacking – cheap and easy but not very effective. If we want change, then we must embrace change. Arcata City Council, and anyone else who complains about the Plaza or any other aspect of Arcata, hear me now. You cannot have a friendlier (changed) Plaza or a cleaner, more vibrant city if you refuse to let any change take place.
The McKinley statue is an effective dead zone. Many people don’t know who it is and many who do know, do not like it. No-one is allowed to touch it or interact with it. It is not colorful, it is not a thing of particular beauty, nor does it make a pleasant sound, nor make children laugh. I think we can do better.
The statue is not popular. I have spent at least one hour per day for 17 days during the month of December, standing across the street from the Plaza, holding a sign that requested that the statue be removed. On average, there were about fifteen positive responses for each negative one.
Taking down the McKinley statue gives the City of Arcata a chance to re-brand itself, to set into motion a series of events and changes that transforms the culture, the vibe and future business opportunities in Arcata.
What can we have at the center of the Plaza instead of McKinley? Ideas abound. 1. Nothing at all – just open walking space. 2. A replica of the gazebo that used to be there, before the statue. 3. A labyrinth, inlaid into the walking surface. 4. A water fountain. 5. Built-in tables and chairs for playing chess. 6. A redwood tree. 7. A kinetic sculpture. 8. A playground for young children. Again, ideas abound.
How do we re-brand Arcata? Here is one idea. What if Arcata decided to honor women in a big way? How about installing statues of two women on each corner, statues of real women with stellar accomplishments, from the U.S. and around the world?
There are so many to choose from and they are so poorly represented throughout the U.S. New York City has only five statues of women. Arcata, with eight, may end up as the city with the highest concentration of statues honoring women.
How would this affect the self-esteem of all the girls and women in Arcata? How might this affect tourism? What great programs might spring from this focus? What new small business opportunities might this give rise to? Might more girls and women aspire to leadership roles? How might increased tourism by women and more women’s leadership affect local social policies, especially with regard to the homeless and others who need a hand up?
As I have a personal interest in the topic of honoring women, I offer my services to raise all the funds needed to make a complete make-over on the Plaza. Therefore, there will be no city budget or taxpayer impact.
It makes little sense to stay tethered to a distant, barely relevant past. History will neither be erased nor changed by taking the McKinley statue down. But taking down the statue will provide an opportunity to clarify and express our collective vision for the future. Let’s move forward.
Fhyre Phoenix was a one-time candidate for Arcata City Council and a resident of Arcata for 20 years before recently moving to McKinleyville.