This article appeared in the June 26, 2020 edition of the Monitor Daily.

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Of statues, democracy, and a way forward

Jacquelyn Martin/AP
The base of the statue of former President Andrew Jackson is power-washed inside a newly closed Lafayette Park, Wednesday, June 24, 2020, in Washington, which has been the site of protests over the death of George Floyd, a black man who was in police custody in Minneapolis. Floyd died after being restrained by Minneapolis police officers.

I’ve lived in Washington, D.C., 32 years, but don’t ask me to identify most of the city’s statues. Sure, I have my favorites, starting with Joan of Arc leading the charge from Meridian Hill Park. Some, like Andrew Jackson in Lafayette Park, can be appreciated as art, but have become flashpoints. President Jackson forcibly moved Indigenous people from their land and enslaved people.

Earlier this week, protesters vandalized and tried to topple the Jackson statue, but were thwarted by police. Now it’s protected by a chain-link fence, awaiting its fate. 

A radio interview Thursday with former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu spoke to ways of dealing with controversial statues that involve a full spectrum of voices and force the whole community to wrestle with the past. Several years ago, during planning for the city’s tricentennial, renowned Black musician Wynton Marsalis suggested that the city’s Confederate statues be removed. 

Mayor Landrieu agreed, and thus was launched a process: months of debate, a public hearing, a city council vote (6-1), a vote in the legislature, and court challenges. Finally, under cover of darkness to protect the workers, the statues came down.

Later, Mr. Landrieu used the experience as the frame for his memoir, “In the Shadow of Statues: A White Southerner Confronts History.” 

“Here is what I have learned about race,” he wrote in an essay for Time. “You can’t go over it. You can’t go under it. You can’t go around it. You have to go through it.”

By doing that – and having a truly inclusive conversation guided by democratic processes – the public landscape changed. 

This article appeared in the June 26, 2020 edition of the Monitor Daily.

Read 06/26 edition
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