Sunday, November 29, 2020

Black Lives Matter

It wasn’t an easy conversation. What conversation about racism and how your community is dealing with it, or not dealing with it, is?

The Crested Butte Town Council had that conversation for more than three hours Tuesday night. It was long and it was at times emotional but in the end the council members voted unanimously three times to take a stand and support the new Crested Butte Black Lives Matter Committee.

The seven council members voted to keep having formal meetings about how to address the issue in detail and refine the early recommendations of the subcommittees formed just a few weeks ago to study the problem; they voted to look at a proclamation at the next council meeting officially taking a stand against racism in the community; and they voted to have the town paint a Black Lives Matter mural at the intersection of Third and Elk. That was the real hot-button issue.

While not without voiced concerns by those in the spotlight, the council voted unanimously to support a group of locals asking for some help. The group, which includes many people of color living in the valley, has been working hard to reach out and explain their predicament to their neighbors. I met with some local BLM representatives last week and came to better understand their discomfort in the place they live and work. My home is their home too, and the fact they could go into a local establishment and be made to feel less than—is simply not right. The council’s actions Tuesday night won’t change everything tomorrow but it is a start. It is an acknowledgment that we can and will do better.

As the council discussed the issue, one could feel the frustration oozing through the Zooms. Despite the charge of dithering, the council was debating valid questions.

They wondered about the timing of the requests, given that the original meeting agenda did not include all of the topics discussed. When it came to painting the street with a BLM mural, they questioned the legalities of what the council could do without opening up the street as a free-for-all public forum that would turn Elk into a graffiti canvas where the KKK could post its message along with everyone else.

They wanted to know what the recommendations made by the subcommittees actually involved. They wanted to understand what the term Black Lives Matter really meant for this group, not just the words but the deeper meaning behind those words. That discussion is not easy and having been on the other side of the table I know how difficult it is to face your neighbors pushing for a resolution immediately when you still have questions you want to ask. Kudos to all seven council members for asking their questions and speaking their truth.

And their truth ended up being one powerful message that Crested Butte is a place where racism, whether overt or systemic, is not welcome. It is a place where people of color are welcome to live and to work, to visit and to play. Reading the book Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson, it is evident this is a difficult struggle anywhere in America, now or in its long history. Crested Butte is not immune.

There was no discussion Tuesday of how supporting the movement would turn Crested Butte into a Marxist version of Cuba with blunts instead of cigars. The discussion was one of basic human rights. Formed in large part by what was witnessed on the national stage with people like George Floyd and Elijah McClain, the Crested Butte Black Lives Matter sentiment is not based on any national organization but rather on a feeling of compassion for all, equal justice under the law and inclusivity.

The discussion took a few weird turns and those opposed to any of the issues did not speak up at the meeting. The insistence by some council members that 48 emails represents an entire community wasn’t quite right… they represent a group. Listening to the first two-plus hours of debate, I figured the idea of painting Elk could go either way Tuesday and pass or be turned down in a tight vote—but really had no doubt it would pass unanimously at the next meeting if it was delayed; after all, this is still a small out-of-the-box town with a rebel streak in the mountains.

But it seemed the core point came about 10:30 when Laura Yale and then Kyle Anderson spoke. Basically, they said that the decision to support the local Black Lives Matter was not the end of any fight—it was a beginning. The decisions being considered Tuesday, including the one about painting Elk Avenue, were about members of this community. They told the council that if they were truly listening, they would be acting upon what they were being told by community members impacted by racism in this valley. “There’s only one right side to this,” Anderson concluded.

In the end, the council vote was about supporting Black people in this community who are affected by racism, even here—especially here—every day. The vote was about supporting neighbors who normally keep a low profile but who this time put in the very public work to make clear to the council how they did not feel safe in their town and send the message that they wanted to be members of the… community. A diverse and vibrant community.

It wasn’t an easy conversation to have Tuesday, but in the end, the council listened… and acted on the “one right side.”

—Mark Reaman

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