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'Hope Holds Out Here'

After a divisive four years under Trump, local leaders look back and forward

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In the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election, which we dubbed "the ugliest and most vitriolic presidential contest in generations," we reached out to a handful of local individuals and organizations hoping to help start a dialogue about how to heal and move forward as a community. After what feels like four years of division, unrest, vitriol and hardening lines, we're trying again. To that end, we've reached out to dozens of community leaders, from elected officials and local Democratic and Republican leaders to the heads of nonprofits and police agencies. Noting that "issues of racism and social justice, community policing, gender equality, the climate crisis, immigration reform, foreign policy and, most recently, the COVID-19 pandemic have become political flashpoints in a divided nation," we asked them to reflect on where we as a community have been over the past four years or share hopes of where we'll go over the next four. Here's what they had to say.

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'An Ailing Democracy'

Democracy is more than just elections. As we all take a well-deserved moment of rest and catch our breath after this election cycle, it's important to remember that our work isn't over. 

Donald Trump's administration was a wake-up call to many people, like a diagnosis of impending organ failure. It was a diagnosis of an ailing democracy. There were people who warned us for years that this system was in danger and that it wasn't serving all of us, that it was in danger because it wasn't serving all of us, but we refused to hear it until it was almost too late. When we got the diagnosis, we finally took it seriously and entered into a strict fitness regimen. We marched in the streets, wrote letters, called legislators, registered voters and took on racism, in our institutions and in ourselves. We went to city council meetings and talked about politics, even though we'd been told it was impolite. We practiced democracy on a regular basis, like it was yoga or jiu jitsu or cross fit. We got fit and toned and, though it looks like the hard work is paying off, if we stop working now, we run the risk of falling back into poor health. 

Democracy requires participation, year-round and at all levels. Not just to make sure that injustices don't happen, but to ensure that justice and equity do happen. After four years of working against racist rhetoric, attacks on civil liberties and workers' rights, genocidal immigration practices, and the suicidal roll-back of environmental regulations, I am so excited to see what our toned body politic can do now that it's time to work for policies, not just against them. So, let's catch our breath and eat a snack, and then get back to work.

Caroline Griffith, North Coast People's Alliance

'Dark' and 'Cruel'

To Latinx immigrants in the U.S., the Trump regime has been one of the darkest and most cruel periods of recent history for our community. We still mourn our relatives:

The DACA Dreamers who were killed after being deported, we honor you Manuel Cano. The immigrant women who were victims of forced sterilization in a Georgia detention center. The families murdered in the massive shooting attack against the Latinx community in Texas. The children found dead in a detention center, and those who are missing after being separated from their parents at the border. Where are they? To all of our relatives who are massively infected by COVID-19 inside and outside detention centers due to the economic inequality and the persecution of ICE. 

During the last four years, we have been racially targeted. In Humboldt, the Sheriff's Office assisted ICE agents in one of the most traumatic moments for our community, the raid of Fortuna in 2017.

We have been in rallies asking for sanctuary, demanding protection for our families, the answer from the supervisors was no. That never stopped us, we have been shaping the county we deserve. We at Centro del Pueblo worked to pass the Humboldt County Sanctuary law in 2018, the first of its kind in the U.S. In 2020, we're working to support those impacted by the pandemic in our community.

Don't sit on the comfort of your vote. Follow the example of Latinx immigrants and organize for social justice because the party in the White House is symbolic until we find justice. We are living among potentially violent people with more than 70 million voters for Trump, and ICE is still threatening to separate families. Celebrate alternation, but more important, organize yourself.

Brenda Pérez, Centro del Pueblo

'Demand More'

For the past four years, the Trump administration rolled back environmental protections as if the annihilation of America's natural resources was a finish line they were racing to cross. We can expect the Biden-Harris administration to course correct — but we must keep the pressure on. Knowing the health of this planet depends on the health of our ocean, Surfrider Foundation has mapped out a plan to get where we desperately need to go if we're going to dodge the deadliest impacts of climate change, stop trashing our ocean and ensure the right to clean water is upheld for all:

Restore protections undone by the Trump administration.

Aggressively implement the Biden- Harris climate plan and rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement.

Transition to a 100 percent clean energy economy by 2050.

Stop waste exportation.

Pass legislation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Pass the Ocean Climate Solutions Act.

Pass the federal Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act.

Fund the Clean Water Act.

Rebuild the EPA.

Statewide, we need to demand more of our elected officials. The state's own legislative analysts have affirmed action on sea level rise can't wait — it's worth noting that water levels in Humboldt Bay are rising at double the state average. Gov. Newsom's proposal to set aside 30 percent of California's lands and coastal waters will further prove critical to the state's environmental and economic health.

The best way to have an impact on all this is to get involved with local environmental organizations successfully doing the work. You can set up a sustaining monthly donation (no amount is too small!) and take part in actions designed to ensure clean water and a healthy ocean. Finally, stay motivated to work toward equity on all fronts — social justice, environmental justice and environmental protections are a package deal.

Jennifer Savage, California policy manager, Surfrider Founadtion

'Much Work to be Done'

It is important to celebrate a win, and electing Joe Biden to be our 46th president is a big win. But there is still much work to be done. We face multiple overlapping crises: global climate change, growing economic inequality, institutionalized racism and a global pandemic. We have survived four years of indifference to — or worse, encouragement of — these crises. For many of us, we leave the Trump years jaded by the inability of the federal government to meet the challenges of our times. Now is a time when aggressive and decisive action is necessary, but with a divided Congress, a now-stacked conservative judiciary and a loss of comity in our polity, federal action appears likely insufficient to meet our needs.

Necessity is the mother of invention. In the vacuum of federal leadership during the past four years, we have seen important leadership on the regional, state and local levels of government. At the regional level, the West Coast governments of British Columbia, Washington, Oregon and California have banded together to form the Pacific Coast Collaborative, a governmental compact to take on issues like climate change and the opioid epidemic. Collectively, our governments constitute more than 55 million people and our economy represents the fifth-largest in the world. We should build on this foundation to take bold action regardless of what Washington D.C. decides to do. Impactful action is also possible at the state and local level. Gov. Newsom hastening the transition to 100-percent electric cars by 2035 is a good example of what can be done. Eureka is also leading the way, helping tackle housing insecurity by turning little-used parking lots into high-density, low-income apartments. We should embrace the notion of Justice Louis Brandeis and champion our state and local governments to serve as laboratories of democracy. 

Tom Wheeler, Environmental Protection Information Center

'Living in Denial'

Humor me, please, with a thought experiment. In your mind, take two rolls of pennies and two plates. Empty one roll of pennies onto each plate. Now take two pennies from one plate and move them to the other. The plate with the 52 pennies is Biden's share of American votes; the one with the 48 is trump's share.

Four years ago, when the Journal asked for my feelings about trump's election, the only thing that felt right to me was to produce an attempt at comedy; how could I take seriously something that The Simpsons had run as a throwaway gag a decade earlier? The joke, of course, was on me — after four years of watching the malevolence of Trump and posse, half the country said, "Right on, dude!"

President-elect Joe Biden hit all the right points in his speech this past Saturday evening. It's a time for healing, he'll govern for us all, yadda, yadda, yadda. Basically, he gave the speech he had to give. You can't have the president-elect calling half the country nuts, mean-spirited-crazy, cuckoo, incapable of completing the word "_ICTATOR" on Wheel of Fortune. And he'd already said he was running to save the soul of the nation. If you read between the lines, that says it all.

I've learned more than I wanted to know about my fellow citizens over the past four years. But now I know. So does everyone I know. It explains a lot of stuff I'd been unable to explain because I'd been living in denial. What I don't know is what can be done. Does anyone? It feels like we're living through a zombie horror movie — that's how it feels. Are you, dear reader, a zombie or not a zombie? The odds don't look great.

Mitch Trachtenberg, local programmer and freelance writer

Localize

Democracy is not sustained by presidential elections alone. Like most things worth having, it takes ongoing maintenance.

For four years, citizens have felt an intense responsibility to watch and respond to polarizing policies. Protests, letter writing and fact-checking media reports became part of many people's regular activities. In general, we're exhausted. When decisions start being made that are less electrifying, it's likely the enthusiasm to participate in our own governing will also wane. Resist that urge. Thoughtful pressure when times aren't in chaos can be even more effective. Continue to use your voice.

Take this opportunity to expand your view from national politics to state and local races. Learn who your representatives are from the state senator, assembly member and board of supervisors to city council, community services and school board members and others. Share your opinions with them. They won't always make the decision you want, but they do want to know what's important to you. Vote in mid-term elections. Watch a council or board of supervisors meeting. You will find that decisions being made are the ones that will affect you directly.

Untangle the media mess that comes when journalists, pundits, individuals on social media, infotainment and paid trolls are all speaking at once. The media are a cornerstone of democracy, but information is only useful if you have the power to decipher the motivation of its deliverer. We can always learn to be better at it.

And as I've been known to say, be patient with yourself and kind to your neighbors and family. Regardless of your politics, we're still in the middle of a pandemic. Our resiliency will not just depend on policies from the top, but how we treat each other where we live. No election needed. That power is solely in our hands. 

Susan Seaman, mayor, city of Eureka

'No Place for Hate'

I have been repeatedly amazed by the resiliency and community I have witnessed since moving to Humboldt four years ago, which I imagine will persist regardless of who lives in the White House.

However, there are also deep political divides here, and the fear, anger and greed coming from the highest levels of the government has hurt our community at the local level. It is strange to me that national politics has such a strong grip on locals behind the Redwood Curtain.

There will always be different perspectives on how to handle the toughest issues, but cooperation rather than conflict will build resilient communities faster than fear and competition. Maybe now that the national pressure has shifted to be less intense and chaotic, we can make space to listen to each other without so much fear and anger. 

My hope is that the last four years have taught us enough about ourselves and each other to allow us to see ways forward that include gradually increasing trust in each other without feeling like we need to compromise our core values or defend ourselves and our families from "the other side."

There is no place for hate or systems of thinking rooted in hate. Racism keeps valuable members of our community separated from the whole. If we think of ourselves as a baseball team we aren't playing with a full bench when we discriminate against one another based on skin color, sex or culture. 

The next four years could be about Humboldt County leading the world in cooperative resiliency. What if our board of supervisors could communicate and act collaboratively instead of competitively? Humboldt should be the example in California about how to build the safest, strongest, most resilient communities in the state and it begins with rest, peace and trust. 

Danny Kelley, chair Humboldt County Democrats

'It's Time'

Hope has been restored. The democratic process works. The time has come to stop fighting among ourselves and to unite as communities and one country for the betterment of all people. Change is good and it's time. 

Brian Ahearn, chief of police, Arcata

'Decency, Respect, Civility'

Our nation has been extremely divided over the past four years. While that division did not begin in 2016, it certainly has expanded to an alarming degree. And our country has grown weary of it. Divisive rhetoric, callous speech and outright bullying have infiltrated our everyday lives and do nothing to help us advance toward a greater, healthy union.

The public discourse and "social media" platforms have trended toward suspicion and conspiratorial thinking, and away from critical thinking and seeking truthful information. That approach disregards and does not address the simple concept of honest disagreement and, therefore, limits the potential for finding agreement through honest discussion.

Decency, respect, civility, integrity and accountability are the traits that allow us to coexist with each other and are the hallmarks of good leadership.

A challenge can be viewed as an opportunity to work together for the greater good or can be seized upon to further political gains.

We humans have proven over and over again that disaster can bring us together. Recognizing that "we're all in this together" spurs actions that move us to think of the whole community rather than our own little sphere of interest. As we help each other, we better the outcome for all. The COVID-19 pandemic is that kind of challenge. It affects our health, our family lives, our livelihoods and our financial security. Humboldt has, for the most part, done well, but not without our share of divisiveness.

As we move into another phase of this pandemic, I believe Humboldt is in good shape. And I take heart in knowing that our incoming administration has pledged to work alongside us as we take on this challenge together. Not only will that help us fight the virus. It will also set a tone that may heal more than the wounds of that deadly plague.

Estelle Fennell, chair, Humboldt County Board of Supervisors

'National Climate Emergency'

Climate change is here and only going to worsen unless we take bold action. But with a likely Republican controlled Senate, climate legislation seems unlikely. That's why, on his first day in office, Joe Biden should declare a National Climate Emergency. If you're wondering whether he has the authority to do that, just look to Trump's Border Emergency declaration. To refresh, in February of 2019, when Congress refused to appropriate money for Trump's wall, Trump declared a National Border Emergency and then proceeded to spend $8 billion unappropriated dollars on the border wall. Congress responded by passing a bipartisan resolution to end the emergency declaration, which Trump promptly vetoed.

Several states and nonprofits then sued the Trump administration, arguing that the emergency surpassed his constitutional authority. While a District Court and the Ninth Circuit agreed, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that Trump could continue to spend money on the wall while the slow moving litigation process unfolded. The Supreme Court will finally hear the actual case on the merits next year but by then the money will have already largely been spent. Even if Trump does eventually lose the case in the Supreme Court, which seems unlikely given its composition, he'll already have achieved what he and his voters wanted.

Biden should do the same thing. Biden should use an emergency declaration to divert military funding toward renewable energy projects and curtail domestic oil and gas drilling. If such actions are challenged by Congress or states, he can rely on the precedent Trump has set. And if the Supreme Court hears a case on the climate emergency and decides that presidents don't have this kind of authority after all, well, that will set an important precedent for our democracy. Otherwise, who knows what kinds of emergencies will be declared in the future.

Matt Simmons, Environmental Protection Information Center

Humboldt County Sheriff William Honsal holds a microphone for protester Malia Haley as she addresses a crowd asking them to listen to what local law enforcement leaders had to say during a May 31 Black Lives Matter protest in Eureka. - MARK MCKENNA
  • Mark McKenna
  • Humboldt County Sheriff William Honsal holds a microphone for protester Malia Haley as she addresses a crowd asking them to listen to what local law enforcement leaders had to say during a May 31 Black Lives Matter protest in Eureka.
'Hope Holds Out Here'

This has been a turbulent year in America and around the world. For many of us in law enforcement, it feels as though we have lived through a decade in one year: PSPS, a global pandemic, unrest and uprisings, natural disasters and, of course, an election year. While Humboldt County often escapes the brunt of national incidents, even the Redwood Curtain could not keep Humboldt from feeling 2020's impacts.

Despite the tension, the Humboldt County Sheriff's Office has witnessed something amazing in our small community. We have seen our county come together despite the challenges. We have seen our communities helping each other through the power outages, our citizens marching and kneeling together — local law enforcement included — against racism, people and businesses have stood united to watch out for each other during an unprecedented pandemic by providing food and comfort to those in need, and we have seen the generous outpouring of support for our neighbors throughout Northern California impacted by devastating wildfires.

We at the sheriffs' office believe it is an honor to get to serve the people of Humboldt County each day. The men and women in at the sheriff's office dedicate every day to helping this community persevere through the challenges each day brings. Hope holds out here. With that hope, we look toward the next four years in our community. There is still a lot of work to do to meet our vision: to be the safest rural community in California where peace, justice and freedom thrive.

In pursuit of this vision, we will continue to dedicate ourselves to the truth and finding justice for all victims of crime. We will continue to work to build trust and unity within our community, working together with our community partners to address racial bias and meet the needs of our BIPOC community. And as peace officers, we will continue working to restore peace within our community, being responsive, professional and demonstrating integrity in all situations we encounter.

While we hope the end of 2020 marks a close of this difficult chapter for our community, we look forward to writing the next chapter together.

William Honsal, sheriff, Humboldt County

'A Ferocious Assault'

In mid-November 2020, American environmentalists find ourselves in a place not unlike the heroes in The Lord of the Rings after the battle of Helm's Deep.

We have survived — more or less — a ferocious assault. The protections for imperiled species and wild places, for clean air and clean water, for the climate on which we all depend, have been demolished. Laws, regulations, policies and programs are much easier to destroy than to rebuild.

And we still face a greater peril. Trump himself has been defeated, if not yet removed. Bitter anti-environmentalism, indeed anti-science, is a cultural marker for Trump's reactionary politics. The interests who pushed for this destruction in detail, who have secured dirty deals from Trump's appointees, remain dominant in the GOP, and influential among centrist Democrats.

Biden's team has signaled it intends to unroll Trump's environmental rollbacks, to return to where we stood at the end of the Obama administration. We need to aim much higher to regain the ground we have lost.

As well, the Trump administration presents unique challenges for its successors. Many of Trump's environmental appointees have been involved in criminal acts. The new teams must not only clean up enormous messes, but hold their predecessors accountable. Prosecuting the William Perry Pendleys, David Bernhardts and Scott Pruitts of this administration for their crimes will be difficult but essential to prevent Republican recidivism.

However, unless Democrats win the runoff elections for Georgia's two Senate seats, Senate Republicans will hamstring Biden's administration as mercilessly as they did Obama's.

Especially when it comes to environmental issues, the six Republican partisans who now dominate the U.S. Supreme Court may be the most dangerous of all. These "originalists" will happily find their opposition to environmental regulation reflected in the Constitution itself, and thus off-limits to Congressional action.

Scott Greacen, executive director, Friends of the Eel River

'A More Hopeful Future'

These tumultuous times have seen the house of medicine respond by moving toward more inclusive representation of experiences. This year, the California Medical Association (CMA) reformed its infrastructure to include a new permanent committee: the Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (JEDI) committee. The CMA also demonstrated its commitment to equality and created a new mission statement: "To promote the science and art of medicine, the care and well-being of patients, the protection of public health, the betterment of the medical profession, and to achieve health equity and justice."

 As the local branch of the CMA, The Humboldt-Del Norte County Medical Society (HDN CMS) has been diligently striving to institutionalize traditionally marginalized perspectives by creating an Ethnic and Minority Organized Section Committee as well as a Women in Medicine Committee. HDN CMS endeavors to expand our framework by including these voices to help move medicine forward with our community priorities of education, environmental health, gender inclusivity and basic human rights. 

Through the Humboldt Premedical Education Task Committee, HDN CMS is striving to inspire the youth in our region to pursue health care careers by partnering with the Humboldt County Office of Education. And with the help of the Humboldt Area Foundation, HDN CMS is excited to offer a Future Physicians Scholarship. 

As we look forward to a more hopeful future, we need to take a moment and honor our past struggles so that we can be prepared for our future challenges. We need to take a moment to forgive our past selves so that we can be prepared to create a new way forward. We need to strive to find common ground and shared strength that will allow us to follow our scientific expertise and maintain alignment with our public health goals to defeat this pandemic together.

Stephanie Dittmer, president, Humboldt-Del Norte County Medical Society

'Bridges, Not More Walls'

Looking back at the challenges of the last four years, and especially 2020, has been a prompt to shift focus forward — to consider not what's been but what our shared future can and should be.  

It is time for unity, not further division. Time to put aside our partisan differences, fears and anger. Time to shift our energy toward healing, restoration and building relationship bridges, not more walls. Time to start finding ways to connect or reconnect with each other as fellow Americans and community members. Time to answer the questions, Where do we go now and how do we get there together? 

We've been through so much together, especially in this year of perpetual turmoil, uncertainty and crises. But we are going to be OK to the measure we have the grace and understanding to work and grow stronger together, coupled with the courage to care and to change. Humboldt is our shared home. Let us all remember to be gracious and kind to each other, especially in our respective moments of disappointment and jubilation post-election.

Steve Watson, chief of police, city of Eureka

Volunteers with Cooperation Humboldt plant fruit trees in Eureka as a part of a program to plant dozens of fruit trees throughout the city. - SUBMITTED
  • Submitted
  • Volunteers with Cooperation Humboldt plant fruit trees in Eureka as a part of a program to plant dozens of fruit trees throughout the city.
Cooperation is the Path

After the most polarizing presidential election in modern history, I know folks are yearning for a return to "normal." But let's remember what was "normal" before Donald Trump — white supremacy, the climate crisis, economic inequality. So as we muster the courage to confront the reality of our current situation, let's also recognize and remember that we are all in this together.

I think that means we need to learn how to move away from top-down, power-over domination style ways of doing politics and embrace a bottom-up, power-with collaborative style of doing things. If that idea sounds intriguing and/or inspiring, I invite you to engage with us at Cooperation Humboldt as we work to build a solidarity economy here in our community.

We believe it is possible to create new institutions that incentivize cooperation, love, compassion and kindness. This new system will be capable of supporting every person with a good quality of life in balance with the ecosystem. All we have to do is put people and planet over profit by prioritizing collaboration over competition and cooperation over domination.

David Cobb, co-founder, Cooperation Humboldt

'Rebirth'

That Trump was elected in 2016, and nearly re-elected last week, says to me that racism runs deep in so many parts of our country. All MAGA proponents are not racist, but many in his base proudly wave that banner. The wounds and scars of intergenerational and on-going trauma from racism harms the health, well-being and soul of our entire nation. And while racism cannot be fixed by peaceful protests over the past four years — at least it signifies that there are white allies who want to show support for changing institutional and structural racism. Only until leaders in positions of power are willing to get beyond election year rhetoric to actually make policy changes — not just "defunding law enforcement" — will our country begin and move beyond the healing through equitable practices and policies. This means making meaningful structural reforms across the board: education, housing, criminal justice, lending practices and protecting voter rights and access (to name a few areas). That the Biden-Harris transition team has prioritized addressing racial equity on its beginning agenda makes me hopeful.

As Sikh activist Valarie Kaur says, "What if this darkness is not the darkness of the tomb, but the darkness of the womb? What if our America is not dead but a country that is waiting to be born? What if the story of America is one long labor?" The deaths of George Floyd and others, and the lynching and massacres of thousands of Black and Native people throughout our country's history are now out of the shadows, previously unacknowledged, hidden and distorted crimes against humanity. We have the opportunity for our country to rebirth ourselves, come out of the darkness of the womb, as Kaur says, and truly become a country where all genders and races are equal and protected before the law.

Terry Uyeki, founding member, Humboldt Asisan Pacific Islander Alliance in Solidarity (formerly known as Taiko Swing Humboldt)

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