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OPINION: Not left behind in the new year, new times

by John Pixley

“Nothing here has changed. It’s calm. It’s a totally different world. You forget about what’s happening in the outside world—the big city.”

This is sort of true. And it’s sort of not true.

It is true that things are pretty calm here in Claremont. This is a quiet town, in general. It’s not a sleepy town, with nothing going on, as in years past, but it is a quiet town, relatively speaking.

It’s not like “the outside world—the big city.” And it easy to “forget what’s happening in the outside world—the big city.” Or it can be.

But this quote isn’t so true about Claremont.

Actually, this quote isn’t about Claremont. It is from a Los Angeles Times article a couple weeks ago about Weed, the small town in the northern reaches of California. Actually, Weed isn’t such a small town in the rural area way up there on Highway 5, where Highway 5 isn’t so big, in the shadow of Mt. Shasta. The article was about how the community continues to get along, despite its having a large Latino population and voting for Donald Trump for president, unlike most of state.   

While Claremont, like Weed, is a small town that goes about its business, where it’s easy to “forget what’s happening in the outside world—the big city,” it is not only a very suburban town, not so far from the big city. It’s also not a town where nothing changes.

A friend recently wondered why everyone takes down their holiday lights so soon after the New Year. Why can’t they leave the lights up for a while to shine through the dark, cold winter, he wondered. I can understand. I have enjoyed seeing a few lights left up here and there, shining into the new year, and I also see lights up and glowing all year, inspiring me to leave a strand visible, bright in the night.

But the fact is that things have moved on, and there has been change. The calendar has changed—and not just a page in the calendar. We have a new calendar, with a new year, and it has already moved on, well under way.  

As if to make sure we get this message, the holidays ended with a fence going up around the small cottages owned by Pomona College on College Avenue, right behind the library. And a picture on the front page of the COURIER recently made it even more clear: the cottages are being torn down. Indeed, they may already be gone by the time this is read.

The cottages are giving way to the new art museum that Pomona College has been planning and is now set to build on the site. There will be even more change soon, as the historic Renwick House south of the cottages will be moved across the street, also to make way for the new museum.

 Talk about ringing out the old, ringing in the old. And it’s happening come hell or high water (pun perhaps intended, with all the rain during the demolition), whether it’s liked or not. The siting of the museum has been a source of heated debate, with some saying it shouldn’t be on the west side, the town side, of College Avenue, and a group calling itself “Citizens to Save College Avenue” has filed a lawsuit against the city and the college in an effort to stop or delay construction. No matter. The project, like the new year, is well under way. It’s moving on.

If anyone needs any more of a sign that it’s a new year with changes and things moving on, it couldn’t be more clear with the presidential inauguration happening today. There can be no more talk of vote recounts and putting off the tally, and awe and outrage are old news, something on last year’s calendar. Today is the day we wake up and see that the election of Donald Trump wasn’t a wild dream or a nightmare. It wasn’t a television reality show.

There has been much shifting and adjusting, with folks making other plans and setting other priorities, as this reality—not reality show reality—sets in and everything moves on. One such shift, one such adjustment, is something Claremont is doing on an official level in reconstituting its Committee on Human Relations.

This is a case of Claremont being a small town but definitely not one where nothing happens and nothing changes. Not only is Claremont not doing nothing here, but this is a small town being very much a part of “the outside world—the big city.”

The effort to reboot the Committee on Human Relations, with Paul Buch, Ellen Taylor, Lauren Roselle, Rose Ash and Michael Edwards, is really about the election and today’s momentous transition. It is being done after the Islamic Center of Claremont, along with other local mosques, received a threatening letter in November. The unsigned letter called Muslims “filthy,” said that they have to leave and cited the election of Mr. Trump, calling him “the new sheriff in town.” This wasn’t an isolated event; there have been many such incidents of threats and violence against Muslims and other minorities, inspired not only by Mr. Trump’s election but also his candidacy.

The Committee on Human Relations was first created in 1996 and was quite active, especially in the wake of the lethal shooting of an African-American motorist by Claremont police. But, after a while, things quieted down, and there was a lack of activity and a lack of quorum on the committee. The committee was dissolved in 2013, replaced by the Human Relations Community Response Team, an action committee focused solely on assisting victims of hate crimes.

Some have wondered why the Committee on Human Relations should be revived, especially when the response team has hardly ever been utilized. (Most of the hate crimes in Claremont happen at the Colleges, which have their own support structure, making the response team redundant and irrelevant.) What will happen when things quiet down again, sooner or later after the mosque incident, and the committee finds itself with nothing to do and no reason to meet?

As Butch Henderson, who heads the Community and Human Services Commission, put it, what process can be taken “that guarantees we won’t have another fizzle-out of the human relations committee?”

It is certainly important that the committee has a reason to exist on a on-going basis, that it isn’t just sitting there, or, worse yet, not even sitting, and it has been tasked with coming up with a plan and steps for what to do when things quiet down as well as in times of crisis.

It is even more important that the committee exists—all the more reason to nail down its mission. When it has become so evident that things are or can become tense and that human relations are indeed and still fragile, this committee will be an important sign, an important signal, for this community, for what is important here. It will be a sign, as when the city offered benefits to same-sex partners for its employees and, along with the colleges, observed the Martin Luther King holiday.

It will shine even brighter in the dark than a string of lights. 

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