The Eugene City Council passed a resolution Monday condemning white nationalism and a number of other forms of bigotry, including homophobia, sexism, transphobia and anti-semitism. The decision was unanimous after revisions and a re-vote, held Wednesday. However, the first vote, held on Monday, was close with four councilors voting yes and three — councilors Mike Clark, Betty Taylor and Emily Semple, who originally brought the resolution to the council from the Eugene Human Rights Commission — voting no despite repeatedly stating they do not support white nationalism.
The Monday vote was held after over thirty minutes of debate and two motions to amend the resolution’s language.
Clark first moved to remove language he felt condemned people for their beliefs rather than their actions. He pointed to two pieces of the resolution: a section that listed the forms of bigotry condemned by the resolution and the definition of white nationalism. He also asked the council if they would condemn the anti-fascist protest movement Antifa, which he called "violent."
“We’re adopting a resolution condemning, by definition, people who hold a particular belief,” Clark said. “I am not comfortable saying what the official belief of the city of Eugene is.”
Councilor Claire Syrett disagreed, saying, “We have the right, and in some cases the obligation, to respond, and in the right circumstance, condemn the expression of views we find dangerous and unacceptable. That is what this resolution represents.”
Clark’s motion was voted down 4-3.
Semple then moved to amend the resolution, titled, “A Resolution Condemning White Nationalism and Alt-Right Activities and Groups,” to remove the words “and Groups.”
“Are you saying it’s okay to be a white nationalist group?” asked Councilor Chris Pryor. “If somebody wants to be a white nationalist group, we’re saying that’s okay?”
Pryor argued that the motions put forward to amend the resolution’s language amounted to nitpicking. “We need to say we don’t like it, period,” he said.
Semple eventually withdrew her proposed amendment.
“We already have laws that prevent people from doing bad things,” said Councilor Betty Taylor. “And I don’t know of anything that has been happening that we need to make a resolution against. I just don’t understand the need for the resolution. At all.”
The resolution also includes an acknowledgement of Eugene’s past with white nationalism, pointing to the city’s extended Klu Klux Klan presence, whites-only housing covenants and status as a “Sundown Town” as historical examples of racism at the government level.
“We should also not be lost on why we are having this conversation today,” Councilor Alan Zelenka said. “We are having this conversation today because of our current climate in our country where people tacitly and explicitly encourage and support white nationalism. … We need to take a public stand against this form of hatred, bigotry and discrimination.”
A Facebook post made by the City of Eugene about the council meeting garnered significantly more attention than other recent posts of a similar nature by the city, receiving 67 comments at the time of writing — almost twice as many as any other city council meeting in recent months.
Some residents were angered by the passed resolution, and voiced their concerns on social media. A number of commenters echoed Clark’s question about whether Antifa would be condemned by the council, one commenter even referring to Antifa as a “hate group.”
Other commenters voiced their support for the decision or thanked the city for moving to take a stand against white nationalism.
On Wednesday, Pryor moved to re-open discussion on the resolution, urging the city to strengthen its position against white nationalism.
“I fully intended to vote in favor on Monday night and spoke enthusiastically for [the resolution’s] passage,” said Semple during when re-introducing the resolution. “I would like the council to make a strong unanimous resolution consistent with our often stated commitment of creating a community where all people feel welcome and safe.”
She said she struggled with the term ‘condemn’ during the original vote, but that after a couple of days of research, she was grateful for the opportunity to change her vote to yes.
In the two days between meetings, Clark made edits to the resolution, altering the language to avoid condemning beliefs over action, and presented the revised document to the council. Changes included altering “the belief that” to “the promotion of the idea that” and removing phrases referencing the alt-right by name.
He also asked that the U.S. be referred to as a republic, not a democracy, but dropped the issue when pressed.
“We want to condemn racism. We want to condemn the actions of racism, but it’s okay to be racist. That is what we are saying?” said Pryor in response to the proposed revision. “I agree we should try to be as open and defensive of people’s ability to believe what they want to believe, but I also know it is very hard for those beliefs to be retained entirely within and not come out.”
“If we are silent or timid in the face of racist beliefs that promote supremacy of one race or another, we are complicit in allowing those beliefs to take up greater space and therefore gain greater legitimacy.” Syrett said.
Clark continued to fight for the removal of language he felt was too specific, including a sentence referencing the “national political dialogue” as having emboldened white supremacy groups, a phrase he felt unfairly targeted the republican party — despite insistence from other councilors that the phrase did not specify a party at all. The council agreed to alter the wording, specifying "national political dialogue which reflects racial tension."
Taylor asked to postpone the vote, saying, “I think it is ridiculous to be rewriting something in this way,” but the motion was not put on the table.
After agreeing to make a handful of language changes, like changing “white supremacy groups” to “groups,” as well as removing references to specific beliefs, as per Clark's revisions, the council voted unanimously to pass the resolution.
Requests for comment from Mayor Lucy Vinis were not returned before publication. Joel Iboa was not available for comment before publication.