On the day Emeryville designated itself a Sanctuary City, the city also moved to cease the tradition of performing the pledge of allegiance at council meetings and replace it with an excerpt from the 1944 folk song “This Land Is Your Land” by Woody Guthrie. The mostly symbolic move may have been a reaction to the inauguration of Donald Trump that will take place today amid a slew of planned protests locally and in our capitol. The resolution was proposed by 39 year Emeryville resident and recently appointed Mayor Scott Donahue.
Donahue’s younger brother Brian, who writes his own opinion blog, wrote in favor of eliminating the oath just days earlier. Brian, Scott and his wife Tracey “Lillian” Schroth are all co-founders of the Democratic Socialist leaning group RULE (Residents United for a Livable Emeryville) and live at the Artist Coop that spans two buildings on 45th and Horton. Democratic Socialists often defer to the more encompassing “Progressive” political label and tend to align with Green Party politics.
U.S. Congressional sessions open with the recital of the pledge, but it is not legally required at the local level. Berkeley has a long-standing tradition of only saying the pledge annually although Oakland still recites it prior to every Council meeting. The Emeryville staff report included a variety of pledge alternatives including poems and references to our constitution instead of the flag.
Donahue pushed for the Guthrie song that was described as “unifying”. “This is our place. We can make of it what we do“ Donahue described the meaning of the song verse to him personally and tying an excerpt of it into our constitutional oath. “It’s a balanced mental set for doing this office”. Donahue then stood up to demonstrate how the pledge might be recited. The ensuing discussion was filled with snickering and banter among the council and staff.
“I think we should do it” noted the younger Donahue who was the only speaker during public comment. “It would put the town the map. We might get on FOX News”.
If indeed FOX News published a story on it, it wouldn’t be the first time Donahue has graced their pages. Donahue’s “Berkeley Big People” sculptures that book-end the University avenue pedestrian bridge were criticized for having sculptures of dogs “fornicating” and use of public money by the conservative news organization. The sculptures in question are actually smaller “medallions” located on the base of the statue. Donahue was paid $196,000 by Berkeley’s public art program to create the two statues.
Councilmember Patz made a substitute motion to just remove the pledge entirely noting the length of meetings and desire to expedite them. Councilmember Medina seconded the motion but it failed 2-3. Donahue’s original motion was passed 3-2 with Bauters and Martinez supporting him. The politics at stake were that it is generally regarded that allies will comply with the Mayor during their tenure. In 2016, Mayor Martinez made “Fair Work Week” a hallmark of her administration and Donahue supported her blindly. When Bauters assumes his Mayorship next year and pushes whatever agenda he has planned, it is assumed that Scott will in turn support him. “This is his indulgence” you could hear Councilmember Martinez mutter to Medina who appeared visibly annoyed by the discussion. “I guess I’m not showing up to these sober anymore” Medina quipped after the vote.
The Pledge of Allegiance is regarded as an expression of allegiance to the U.S. Flag and was originally composed by Colonel George Balch in 1887. It was later revised by Francis Bellamy in 1892 and formally adopted by Congress as the pledge in 1942. The controversial words “under God” were later added in 1954 according to Wikipedia. There of course have been many challenges to it over the years and subsequent pushback by some states to fortify its place in our society as a patriotic tradition.