The Arcata City Council votes to remove the McKinley statue on Feb 23. amid strong support from the community.
Footage by Stephanie McGeary and Garrett Goodnight. Edited by Stephanie McGeary.
“Hey! Ho! McKinley’s got to go!” Humboldt State students shouted as they marched to the Arcata Plaza on Feb. 23. Supporters stood up for their support of the removal of the McKinley statue and Jacoby Building plaque. A crowd of people then crammed into City Hall to participate in the city council meeting where the council voted to remove the statue.
“It’s like pulling the thorn out of a festering sore,” 64-year-old activist Fhyre Phoenix said.
Phoenix was among the many who came to show his support for the removal of the statue, which he has been protesting for several years. Since December, Phoenix spent 26 days on the plaza demonstrating against the statue.
“My goal was to start a conversation with 100 people every day I was there,” Phoenix said. “I found the response overwhelmingly positive. I had 15 positive responses for every one negative.”
Among others supporters were the people of the Weott, Yurok and Pomo tribes, the Seventh Generation Fund for Indigenous Peoples, Earth First, Humboldt Unitarian Universalists Fellowship and HSU students.
Elijah Lechman, 25, is the board of directors representative of Associated Students. Lechman says the Historic Justice Alliance, a group which includes Seventh Generation, HSU’s Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan, or MECha, and AS Lobby Corps, worked hard to get the word out about this pivotal moment. Lechman says it doesn’t matter if there are plans to replace the statue with something else. The bottom line is it needs to be removed.
”It’s distressing people having it there and it would be hurting no one to have nothing there,” Lechman said.
Chris Peters, president and CEO of Seventh Generation Fund for Indigenous Peoples, spoke during the rally on the plaza of his concern that the city would try to delay this issue again.
“They raise issues of cost and environmental impact reports,” Peters said. “We need to make a firm stand that we are adamant.”
Cost issues were presented during the council meeting. City manager, Karen Diemer, estimated the cost to remove the statue at roughly $65,000.
The decision to change the Jacoby Building plaque, however, seemed easy to agree on. Owner of Jacoby Storehouse Bill Chino agreed to help cover costs for that project.
The main issue of the meeting was voting on the removal of the statue. Although member Paul Pitino voiced clear support, other council members were on the fence about the issue. There was the discussion of placing the issue on a ballot, to have the public vote in November. Mayor Sofia Pereira did not support this option.
“I think we lose the nuance of people’s perspective on it,” Pareira said. “As a council, we should give our best effort to resolve it at this level.”
In the end, the city council did resolve the issue. In a vote of four to one, the council voted to remove the McKinley statue from the Arcata Plaza.
The estimated $65,000 cost still presents an issue, but Phoenix offered to help run the campaign to earn the funds. The project is currently in the early stages.
Phoenix said the community support will make this an achievable task.
“People who want to help move forward can donate to the campaign,” Phoenix said. “This is for people who didn’t make it to the rally or to the meeting to show support. Here’s your chance to make a mark.”
People interested in contributing can inquire by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story has been changed from its original version on Feb. 27 at 4:22 p.m.