One of the largest crowds ever seen by city staff gathered in the Petaluma City Council chambers on Monday, February 6, 2017, leaving many members of the public standing and packed in tight all the way around the chambers’ interior walls, the overflow crowd spilling out of the chambers and down the hall.
It was a regularly-scheduled, first-Monday-of-the-month meeting, but the times are anything but normal – Donald J. Trump being President of the United States – and this crowd was anxious and deeply concerned.
Some came for the swearing-in of new Petaluma Police Department Chief Ken Savano, a 22-year veteran of the force and native of Petaluma, who, Mayor David Glass noted later, had very encouraging, comforting words to share with those assembled before the council meeting had officially begun.
Most were there to make certain the Petaluma City Council understood the depths of concern amongst Petaluma residents over the civil rights and liberties of our Muslim neighbors, our undocumented residents, and all Petalumans more generally in light of President Trump’s Muslim ban and threats to financially sanction sanctuary cities, among countless other actions by the former reality tv star and his band of crazies and corporate elites.
They came to the council chambers to present a declaration drafted by an ad-hoc group of Sonoma County residents to Petaluma officials for their consideration, and they showed up in force to make certain officials knew that this was a demand for action.
Entitled It Won’t Happen Here, the council wasted no time, voting to place the declaration on the February 27 Petaluma City Council agenda at the outset of the meeting, but those gathered were not inclined to wait three weeks to be heard, and the subsequent general comment period set the tone for the meeting.
Speaker after speaker put Petaluma officials on notice that the kind of intolerance, bigotry and hatefulness emanating from the Trump White House and a GOP-led Congress will not be allowed to endanger Petalumans regardless of their skin color, religion, or immigration status.
The groundswell of resistance to the Trump Administration has most definitely reached Sonoma County.
Newly sworn-in, Chief Ken Savano, a native of Petaluma and 22 year veteran of the PPD, was presented with an extraordinary opportunity to communicate with a large group of people anxious to hear what he had to say, and he did rise to the occasion.
To our community: I want to remind those we serve that we are you. We value a diverse community. The quality of life in Petaluma is strong as a result of this diversity within our community and within our city organization. We understand that our city, economy, and our well-being are strengthened by this very same diversity. The City of Petaluma is open to everyone, no matter where you’re from, no matter what language you speak, no matter who you love or how you worship.
As your police chief I want to reaffirm our commitment to working with everyone here to keep our community safe and healthy and to taking care of all community members and their families regardless of whether or not they are documented citizens.
Recent actions by the current administration in Washington has created unease among many undocumented residents. I want to assure the entire community that the Petaluma police officers do not engage in law enforcement action based on a person’s immigration status alone, and we have no plans to change this longstanding policy. Nothing about our President’s executive order will change how our police officers protect and serve our residents.
In compliance with the California Trust Act, our department does not, and will not engage in federal enforcement activities. Our officers do not ask for an individual’s immigration status, and Petaluma police officers will only collaborate with agents from U.S. Customs enforcement only when the investigation involves serious or violent offenders.
It would be an understatement to write that Savano’s comments were well-received. They were embraced with joyous enthusiasm and relief.
Chuck Sher, of the Petaluma Progressives, claimed to hate public speaking, yet his clear, concise comments seemed to reflect the concerns of many of those present quite well.
“We are aware that there are Petaluma community members who are actually at risk due to President Trump’s stated policies. Among other things, there are community members at risk of being deported, which is a tremendous strain on people’s families, as you can imagine. There are people here of the Islamic faith who believe themselves to be at risk. If there is a Muslim registry that is instituted, they are at risk of being subject to surveillance and harassment. We wanted to make it as clear as possible to the City Council that mere expressions of goodwill are not enough. The situation we find ourselves in demands actual protection for vulnerable people. We consider this to be a moral imperative. I, for one, hate public speaking. I’d rather be anywhere but here,” said Sher.
Phyllis Tajii, a third generation Japanese-American, said she also was not a public speaker, but this was too important not to speak out.
“My grandfather – my mother’s father – was taken away early by the FBI and my Mom and her family were sent to a different camp. When my grandfather was able to join them, his shame and loss must have been to much for him, and he tried to commit suicide. He slit his wrists and throat. My grandfather survived, but my grandmother said he was never the same. Later in camp the government started drafting young men. My Mom’s brothers, who were both born and raised in California, became draft resisters and were almost deported for their actions. I tell my story – now this is just my Mom’s side – because I’m afraid that this is happening again to other innocent families, especially to immigrants, to those who look different, especially to those who look like the enemy, especially now. Please, as a nation, have we not learned anything from history? Even during the war, Sonoma County residents stepped up. They stood up and they took care of their Japanese-American neighbors by protecting their property. A group of teenagers in Sebastopol even stood vigil over the local Buddhist temple.”
Send the strongest message possible that such things will never be tolerated, she implored the council.
Laura Reichek survived the Nazi occupation of France. She asked those present to reflect upon their history. We all have things we should be ashamed of and need to reflect upon in order to avoid making the same mistakes – the Chinese Exclusion Act, confining Japanese-Americans to concentration camps, refusing entry to Jews escaping Europe – “that kind of stuff I will not collaborate with,” said Reichek.
“All I’m asking of you is to reflect upon your history. You have here an extraordinary county, an extraordinary city, an extraordinary Chief of Police. I feel better tonight than I have all week. So please reflect. Do feel ashamed when you have to feel ashamed. Be proud when you have to be proud, and take a resolution that will say ‘That kind of stuff I will not collaborate with, it cannot happen here.’ Let’s be progressive in our hearts and our actions. Thank you.”
Mehtab Khan of the Islamic Center of Petaluma thought he should “put a face to Villain #1 in Donald Trump’s crosshairs.”
“We believe that it won’t happen here, but it’s community leaders like yourselves, through your actions and through your speech that ensures that it doesn’t happen here,” said Khan.
He continued, “We are fortunate to live in Sonoma County, which is a very liberal and accepting community, but let’s not be complacent. Who would have thought four years ago, that we would be having this discussion over here. We don’t have to look too far. It happened in Europe in the Nineties where neighbor turned against neighbor.”
Rabbi Ted Feldman of Petaluma was speaking “as a Jew in front of our community’s leadership.”
“America First” so reminded him of the phrase “Deutcheland Uber Alles,” uttered frequently during another period of extreme intolerance.
“That is a scary thought, and that’s what brings all of us together here tonight – Muslims, Latinos and everyone here. We are united as a community. Thank goodness we have each other.”
Petaluma resident and civil servant Maurissa Ray noted the escalation of fear and stress, as well as the fact that Vice President Mike Pence denounced a Muslim ban as unconstitutional in 2015, “so why the change of heart now?” she asked.
“We will not change our minds. Petaluma is better than this, and we will not passively wait in hopes that things will change come 2020. We are changing today. In the words of Senator Bernie Sanders, we need ‘an offensive approach and a defensive approach.’ Myself and many of my fellow Petalumans are willing to go out there and fight the good fight. We will be the offense, but we need you, our city officials, to be our defense,” said Ray, pledging the public’s support for placing human rights over politics and closing with a quote by Saul Alinsky, “tactics mean doing what you can with what you have.”
“So let’s control local issues, address local disparities and not engage in hate. Change is grassroots, so let’s get started.”
Sam Tuttelman, one of the Petaluma community organizers behind the IWHH declaration, said that “What we need from you is a clear and unambiguous proclamation that insures that every Petaluma city employee has been given clear direction to protect all of our community members. We will not accept that you, our elected representatives, have done your jobs if you pass a watered down proclamation that is filled with platitudes but fails to make it clear that our city will not cooperate with federal government actions that violate the law and human rights. This is a time that calls for courage and taking risks.”
“I ask all of you to look into your hearts and imagine how you will explain to a young person in 2020 why you didn’t do everything possible,” said Tuttelman.
The outpouring of community concern on February 6 was a joy and an inspiration to behold. Another big turnout is anticipated for the Petaluma City Council meeting on February 27. The entire community is invited to attend in order to make certain Petaluma city officials here the public’s call.
The It Won’t Happen Here declaration is reposted below in its entirety, in English and Spanish.
Please encourage your communities of faith, local businesses, non-profit organizations, clubs, advocacy groups and others to endorse the declaration.
Individuals can sign the online statement and read more information about how it came about here.
It Won’t Happen Here
WHEREAS, to safeguard the equal and inalienable rights and inherent dignity of all people that is the foundation of the relationship between a government and the people;
AND whereas, we recognize that the rights and dignity of all people are under threat;
WE, the undersigned individuals residing in Sonoma County, CA, call upon all Sonoma County governing authorities and law enforcement agencies to pledge in writing to protect all of the County’s community members;
FURTHERMORE, we call upon these authorities and agencies to proclaim publicly that they will refuse to cooperate with any demands from the federal government to institute detentions, deportations, registries, conversion therapies, imprisonment or any other acts that target or discriminate based on immigration status, race, ethnicity, religion, country of origin, ability, political affiliation, economic status, age, gender-identity or sexual orientation;
FURTHERMORE, we, the undersigned individuals, in obedience to our consciences, pledge to protect, to the best of our ability, all community members and will support our local governments as they move to resist these undemocratic and un-American practices in order to reaffirm their commitment to inclusivity, respect and dignity.
ESTO NO SUCEDERA AQUI – Resistencia del Condado de Sonoma a la Agenda de Trump
CONSIDERANDO que, para proteger los derechos iguales e inalienables y la dignidad inherente de todas las personas, que es el fundamento de la relación entre un gobierno y el pueblo;
Y CONSIDERANDO que reconocemos que los derechos y la dignidad de todas las personas están amenazados;
NOSOTROS, los abajo firmantes que residen en el condado de Sonoma, CA, pedimos a todas las autoridades gubernamentales del condado de Sonoma y las agencias de aplicación de la ley que se comprometan por escrito a proteger a todos los miembros de la comunidad del condado;
ADEMÁS, exhortamos a estas autoridades y agencias a proclamar públicamente que se negarán a cooperar con cualquier demanda del gobierno federal para instituir detenciones, deportaciones, registros, terapias de conversión, encarcelamiento o cualquier otro acto que apunte o discrimine basado en el estatus migratorio, Raza, origen étnico, religión, país de origen, capacidad, afiliación política, condición económica, edad, identidad de género u orientación sexual;
ADEMÁS, los abajo firmantes, en obediencia a nuestras conciencias, nos comprometemos a proteger, en la medida de nuestras posibilidades, a todos los miembros de la comunidad y apoyaremos a nuestros gobiernos locales en su intento de resistir estas prácticas antidemocráticas y antiamericanas para reafirmar su compromiso con la inclusión, el respeto y la dignidad.
Image courtesy of Mima Cataldo.