Work To Do

IT’S BEEN SAID THERE ARE TWO PANDEMICS IN THE U.S., ONE NEW – COVID-19 – AND ONE VERY OLD – RACISM. The two are coming together in Pacific Grove in a confluence signaling a move toward inclusiveness in the mostly white city of 15,500 people, where for decades Indigenous and people of color have long said they don’t feel welcome. And in fact, they weren’t welcome as was explicitly stated in home deeds during the 20th century.

“[T]he premises herein described… shall not be in any manner used or occupied by Asiatics or Negroes;… [buyers] agree not to sell or lease the said property… excepting to persons belonging to the Caucasian race… ,” is how one race-restrictive covenant reads from the past.

Covid-19 prompted local governments to go digital with Zoom meetings. That has created an opportunity for new, younger voices to speak up at Pacific Grove City Council meetings. Chelsea Lee, 32, who grew up in P.G. and lives there now, is one of those new voices. Where Lee and some of her peers have not felt comfortable walking through the doors of City Hall, they do feel comfortable walking through a digital door. Lee calls it “the magic of Zoom,” creating more equitable access to government for people who find the “very white, intellectual, older space” of local government a barrier.

Lee and others spoke out at a City Council meeting on June 17 and again at a town hall about policing on July 22 about a P.G. police officer who displayed anti-government, pro-militia decals on his truck. In their call for change within the police department, they also called for defunding police, diverting funds away from the police budget toward social causes. Lee also called out P.G.’s past.

As a white child growing up in Pacific Grove, she was troubled by the Feast of Lanterns pageant, seeing other white girls wearing Chinese costumes and yellow face makeup, while knowing that a Chinese fishing village within the town over a century ago burned to the ground around the time the festival was first conceived. Believing that P.G.’s status quo does not represent her generation’s values, she’s now a part of a new group, Community Before Cops, that has become active since the killing of George Floyd.

“It’s important for locals like me and white women like me to stand up in solidarity and demand changes that reflect that reflect the changing world,” Lee says. “In places like P.G. it’s about building community in a real way, where we share different perspectives so we can solve these problems with a little more creativity.”

Sue Parris has lived in P.G. five years longer than Lee has been alive, and as chapter director of the nonprofit National Coalition Building Institute Monterey County, she sees “a general awakening” among some white people, including in Pacific Grove, since Floyd’s death. Parris notes that there have been at least two Black Lives Matter marches in P.G. this summer, the first ever she’s aware of, as well as the policing town hall, where people she’s never seen before in activist roles take part.

As a white woman herself, Parris has had her own hard realizations, like the time she gushed about what a great place P.G. is to live to a Latina mother who moved to town so she could send her children to “good schools.” The mother said her experience was one of “constantly walking on eggshells,” and feeling generally unwelcome – and asked how Parris thought that made her feel.

Parris sees an opportunity to consider white privilege more broadly in this time of reckoning. “I step back and look at our larger community, about how much we tolerate Feast of Lanterns, inappropriate traffic stops, families of color feeling isolated,” she says. “We let that stuff go on and think it’s not that serious.”

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