More on proclamations and social justice in Susanville

I got an email from a reader a couple of days ago expressing displeasure with my writing about councilmember Patrick Parrish, the Susanville City Council and its one-year moratorium on proclamations.

Like it or not, I guess this is a public conversation our community needs to have, and I accept my responsibility for bringing it up. So here we go.

I offered to publish this email as a letter to editor, but the writer did not respond to my offer.

This reader called Parrish “an amazing individual who I trust with my life. Not only that, but he is also humble, honorable, smart and well spoken,” and that without providing any “insight into the solution” I “choose to complain and take shots at a newer councilmember for no reason whatsoever,” and “where were your attacks on the other members who also voted in favor of this?”

This reader also asked, “Was Mr. Parrish your main focus due to being a freshman councilmember or is it because of his race? Your article does bring raise this question.”

The reader further defended Parrish and wrote, “You ask the question how can the city could be sued for a ceremonial document? Well for example, if you allow the LGBTQ+ community to have a proclamation and the city doesn’t allow a straight pride proclamation, this shows a form of discrimination which makes the city susceptible to litigation.”

And the reader wrote, “You also make claims that many in the community believe Mr. Parrish’s intent, why do you not give an actual number how many is considered many? And how can someone speak to another person’s intent?”

So, let me explain myself and respond to some of these concerns.

I did not pick Parrish as a subject for any story at random off the street. He willingly thrust himself into the public square and arena when he ran for office and was elected as a member of the Susanville City Council. I do not care that he is a new councilmember, and I do not care about his race. I do care about his actions and words as an elected official on the Susanville City Council.

I do not believe I ever questioned or commented upon Parrish’s intelligence or character. If Parrish or anyone else took my words that way, I apologize. That was not my intent. Instead, I responded to his words spoken from the dais during a public meeting. I did not create this situation — Parrish did when he threw his hat in the electoral ring.

As I’ve written before, I am very disheartened by today’s collective red or blue, good or bad, right or wrong tribal political environment. I’m fearful of what that might mean for the future of our nation, but I refuse to live in that world. I will never make those who disagree with me my enemies.

I believe as a journalist and as an American citizen I have every right to express my opinion, and I will never willingly surrender that position. I can’t in good conscience write opinions that just regurgitate the common, popular position du jour. I’m not made that way.

And further, I will always support anyone’s right to express their opinion, especially when I disagree with them. I do not fear comment. I do not fear discussion of the issues of the day. I believe those are part of my constitutional responsibility as a journalist protected by the First Amendment even though some charge the media is “fake news” whenever it expresses a contrary view.

At a recent city council meeting, Parrish commented on some dreadful opinions about Susanville he had heard at the academy including the possibility of a cross being burned in his yard soon after his arrival.

My son-in-law is a correctional officer, and he has told me Susanville has a poor reputation among correctional officers when I suggested his part of my family could move here. A friend of mine who is a retired member of our local prison brass also affirmed that perspective regarding Susanville among educators at the academy. I was happy to hear Parrish say he thought that perspective of our community is wrong, because it is. But we should not forget a cross was burned in front of a black priest’s residence after he arrived in Westwood a few years back.

Many in the community oppose Parrish’s request for a moratorium on proclamations — that’s a fact — even though I can’t report an exact number. In case no one noticed, the council chambers at the last meeting were full of them. I may be wrong, but I expect they will continue to press the city council for a proclamation in the future. I expect they will not simply go quietly into the night. And I feel pretty comfortable calling them many.

Regarding Parrish’s intent to block the Pride Month proclamation, the word I hear most often is “obvious” given the timing of his request. I’ve written it before and I’ll write it again here — I’m not willing to take that leap until Parrish says so himself. I will not infer or speculate on his intentions, even though many others in the community have already done so.

Parrish said he is concerned about big city problems coming to Susanville. He mentioned these issues —  George Floyd, Black Lives Matter, Palestine, Israel and Ukraine as potential fears. These may have been issues in Parrish’s previous home in big city San Diego, but they certainly are not burning issues here in Susanville.

There were no George Floyd protests here with angry citizens burning down the police station. No one called the National Guard to come protect us from rioters. Lassen Community College students did not create encampments on campus in protest of Israel’s actions in Gaza or in favor of Israel. No Ukraine or Russia protests, either. I’ve lived a quarter of a century in Susanville, and I can’t even imagine any events like those happening here.

Want to suggest the need for a Straight Pride proclamation to even the playing field and keep the city out of litigation? Please, be my guest, but recognize the urge of a Pride Month proclamation is to bring attention to the prejudice historically inflicted upon the gay community. Straight Pride is the norm in our society and no one I know of suffers discrimination on that account. You have my blessing if you feel the need to go there.

We’re not exempt from national or state issues erupting here. I can remember Tea Party events, a drive-through event protesting the COVID-19 lock downs, the annual right to life marches, and even Gay Pride parades, and all of them had a distinctive local flavor. I remember someone wearing a Proud Boys T-shirt at a local event.

But for the most part our concerns in Susanville focus on us — the homeless encampments on the river, low income housing, how do we improve Uptown and Main Street, LMUD rates, the high cost of food and fuel and the need for economic development. Yeah, we’re a staunchly conservative and religious community with, as one friend of mine noted, a thousand churches. We’re a rural community, and for the most part the big urban issues in Sacramento and the national issues in Washington seem to be of much less importance to us than do our local, homegrown concerns popping up right here in our own front yard. In fact, our biggest issues with state and federal government generally center on them imposing big city solutions to problems that don’t even exist or are impractical here in Susanville and Lassen County.

As I wrote earlier this week, if the council has concerns about guidelines for proclamations, let the city create them. I’m completely for that. The only problem I have is how long it will take. Six months? Really? I think the city attorney and city staff should be able to quickly figure out guidelines that are both legal and appropriate for our city if they will just take the time to gather together and have that conversation. We’re out in pretty deep water if our elected officials can’t figure out how to regulate proclamations in a way that makes sense for us here in Susanville.

I’ve spoken to old-timers  in town and no one can remember a single lawsuit resulting from a city proclamation. I can’t even remember a single city proclamation that’s caused much heartburn, although as I remember the council did have a discussion a while back about the appropriateness of proclamations regarding the longevity of local businesses. No one threatened litigation.

So — should the city of Susanville issue a proclamation acknowledging June as Pride Month? I leave that decision to the elected officials who represent us. It’s not my call. It’s their call. The feds have done it. The state has done it. It’s not a proclamation of something that’s new and unknown. Should the council decide such a proclamation is too controversial or too offensive to too many people in Susanville, so be it. I’m good with that, if that’s their choice. What I’m not so good with is the council just kicking the can down the road for a year to avoid making what may be a hard decision. Time has come today.

In my lifetime, the U.S. Supreme Court has gone from upholding laws criminalizing homosexual acts to legalizing gay marriage. Gays have gained other equal rights protections in many areas under the law all the rest of us enjoy. Some fear the conservative make up of the current Supreme Court may put those protections in jeopardy. We’ll have to wait and see.

I am a staunch believer in our nation, its founding principles and its unrelenting march to secure our rights. Here’s my bottom line.

Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed … ”

Despite the fact when he wrote the declaration — a brief mission statement for our new nation followed by a lengthy list of grievances against the King — unfortunately, it did not include freedom for the slaves (although slavery is alluded to several times in the Constitution), the right to vote for women or any recognition of any rights at all for the indigenous people upon whose land and nations the Europeans had disembarked.

Instead, the Founders nobly envisioned a government and a society no one had ever imagined before. They knew they couldn’t achieve it in their time, so they left a guide for us to follow.

It may not be popular to note these days that our nation is and always has been a work in progress with a government that at its very moment of creation specifically dedicated itself to the single, explicit purpose of securing our God-given rights. To me, it’s the great vision of equality the Founders knew they couldn’t attain or achieve and left to us to complete that forms the true basis of America’s exceptionalism. We have stumbled and fallen in the past, and we surely will do so again in the future. I trust the guiding light of freedom that burns so brightly before us will never be extinguished.

Here’s the rub. All of us, including those in the LGBTQ+ community, either enjoy these God-given rights or we don’t. There is no middle ground. Government either dedicates itself to securing those rights or it doesn’t. Again, there is no middle ground.

In the end, I believe Parrish and the Susanville City Council will make the right decision for our community.

Thank you to all for reading and joining me in this important local conversation. I also apologize for being so long winded today. I’m gonna step outside and come up for air, I promise!