I Go To City Council Meetings

What does a Dinosaur Cart look like?

JULES MARSH

On February 16 the Northampton City Council held its third meeting of the year. Councilor Murphy (Ward 5) was not present because he is recovering from knee surgery. The Council Chambers were packed with people overflowing into the hallway. Approximately 50-60 people attended the meeting. A reporter for the Gazette was present.

Public comment was largely about the the Resolution calling for DHS to Extend Temporary Protected Status and multiple orders that sought to amend Council meeting rules. Undocumented community members from El Salvador and Guatemala attended the meeting and shared details about their life in the U.S., why they came here, and how they would be affected if their Temporary Status Protection were to be revoked. Speakers who are responsible for taking their children to regular doctor’s visits and who are the financial support for their families voiced their concern about losing their driver’s license along with their TPS status. TPS recipient and community member Eva Munoz, who has lived in the U.S. for 17 years, said, “Many Salvadorans were obligated to come to this country due to the war in El Salvador but that war was financed by the United States, this government has to assume that responsibility.”

Pioneer Valley Worker Center Leaders Rose Bookbinder and Diana Sierra emphasized the importance using the resolution to also hold the U.S. accountable in its role of displacing people in Latin America. Sierra recommended that the resolution have language that included DACA recipients and undocumented folks and language that includes the role of U.S. military aggression. “It is important to name the reasons why people are forced to come here. It is not just external wars, but that the U.S. financed those military regimes that in Central America resulted in the death of 300,000 people.”

Members of the public who opposed the proposed Conduct Clause on the meeting agenda, displayed signs, an action they feared would be banned if the conduct clause were to pass. The signs said, “Do not codify white supremacist culture,” “The First Amendment is still a thing,” “Shame,” “Better Sound System” and “Do you plan to ban this sign?”. Rather than limit public expression, those who commented emphasized that the Council has much more to gain by welcoming public expression in all of its diversity and emotional content.

A member of the public shared their concern about the expansion of hunting areas in Northampton.

Another member of the public, Eric Fernandez, told a fantastical story about Alec Baldwin, his friend Jose, and a dinosaur cart with such great delivery, that I felt I was watching the events take place in the room. He recounted, “Jose built a dinosaur cart for Daniel, it was a great piece of work, I wish I had taken a picture of it…The dinosaur cart in the area somewhere a relic I wish I had a photo.” I wish he had taken a photo too. His fantasy fiction was a wonderful addition to the vibes in the room and goes to show that imagination is an important part of city government. For if Northampton is ever in need of a dinosaur cart, we have all begun to imagine what it might look like.

While the TPS Resolution was passed unanimously at the Council’s last meeting, the sponsors of the resolution, after learning that the Pioneer Valley Workers Center (PVWC) has been crafting their own version of a resolution that would also include DACA recipients and all undocumented immigrants, decided to withdraw the resolution and redraft a version that includes the PVWC content. The resolution would usually be recrafted in a Legislative Matters Committee, however it was referred to Community Resources Committee because Legislative Matters is currently overloaded with the expansion downtown retail through the legal commodification and regulation of marijuana. A more in depth and inclusive version of the TPS resolution may not pass through legislation until early April. It is important to note that sponsor Councilor Nash (Ward 3) introduced the resolution upon the encouragement of state legislation. The Shoestring wonders if this process might have been different if Councilors had been listening as closely to community groups like the PVWC as they do to the state legislature.
Later in the meeting The Council took up the Order to Make Various Amendments to the Council Rules. This order is best described as a bundle of 4 amendments proposed by Councilors Nash, Sciarra, and Bidwell that would alter existing Council Rules. After its introduction at the last City council meeting, the bundle was referred to Legislative Matters Committee which met on Monday, February 12th.

It took a good chunk of two City Council meetings and a Legislative Matters Committee meeting for all members of the Council, INCLUDING THE SPONSORS, to come to the conclusion that all of the amendments proposed in this bundle were redundant and unnecessary. The only real source of disagreement was that the sponsors expressed that their unnecessary, emphatic amendments were worth proposing because they had created an important dialogue. Supporting the Conduct Clause proposal, Councilor Sciara stated, “through the exploration of this topic, we are reminded that this is covered through open meeting law and mass general law which of course we are sworn to (inaudible) that.” Thus, by exploring these amendments, the sponsors were able to use valuable time to remind the public and their fellow councilors that their rules were simply the same thing as rules that already exist. However, having the floor to repeat these rules again and again, and re-wording them so that they would require armed guards, created an eerie environment in which the public was forced to find meaning in the sponsors’ self-proclaimed exercise in redundancy.

At the close of the meeting, Councilor Nash thought it necessary to defend the City Council by saying, “We are not the enemy that is going on at the national level.” To the contrary,, during the Legislative Matters Committee meeting, Councilor Nash shared the specific conduct violations and forced removal by armed guards procedures of other “progressive” cities like Berkeley and Cambridge. As The Shoestring has reported, in order for the Conduct Clause to pass the First Amendment test, it would have to be as specific as the examples that Councilor Nash shared with the public. Thus, by passing out this information, the sponsors of the Conduct Clause were in fact informing community members of the threats of force they were to face if the amendment passed the Council.

One positive outcome of the ultimately abandoned Conduct Clause for the public, was that it allowed them to share with the Council what actually prevents them from hearing and seeing in the Council chambers. These barriers include the fact that the amplification system in the Chamber is inadequate and that the podium blocks the public from seeing almost half of the council. In addition, despite the large number of Spanish speaking community members who attended the meeting, the City Council did not arrange to have an interpreter for this meeting.

The fact that this meeting did not have a translator demonstrates that while Council members have spoken up for frightened business owners to feel comfortable in the Chambers when people disagree with their opinion, they do not deem it necessary for our Spanish speaking community members to have basic access to City Council meetings. This goes to prove a point that Councilor Klein who when commenting on Conduct Clause, brought up the fact that the council and Northampton as a whole is “very white” and that codifying certain cultural norms would most certainly keep people who practice different cultures, out of the council chambers.

 

I left the meeting with 2 questions:

Can we trade in the City Council van to pay for a translator at City Council meetings?

Can we trade in the City Council van for a Dinosaur cart?

 


Jules Marsh is a co-editor of The Shoestring. They are alive in Northampton, MA. 

We rely on readers to support our work! Please donate to the The Shoestring on Patreon.