The city of San Luis Obispo is considering placing a monument to President Teddy Roosevelt in Mitchell Park, prompting Mayor Heidi Harmon to question why there is a need for “more monuments of white men.”
In recent months, former SLO councilman John Ashbaugh has spearheaded a campaign to honor Roosevelt, the United States’ 26th president, for helping launch the conservation movement and for once visiting San Luis Obispo. Ashbaugh’s plan calls for a bronze statue of Roosevelt by artist Paula Zima to be placed in Mitchell Park.
“We have have an extraordinary chance to honor Roosevelt with a monument to his legacy as one of the founders of our nation’s environmental movement, along with John Muir,” Ashbaugh stated last week in a Facebook post. “One week before meeting John Muir and traveling with him to Yosemite, Roosevelt spoke in San Luis Obispo, May 9, 1903.”
Harmon, SLO’s recently reelected mayor, responded to the Facebook post with a string of comments.
“Wondering why we need more monuments of white men at this point,” Harmon wrote. “Is it not way past time to honor a border group?”
Harmon inserted in one of her comments a link to an opinion article in The Guardian headlined, “Across America, racist and sexist monuments give way to a new future.” The mayor then continued arguing her case.
“We have no monument whatsoever to any women in this beautiful city — why would we put resources to this in light of that? Just saying,” Harmon wrote. “I just don’t understand why we continue to put all of our resources into only lifting up white men and there’s close to zero resources put into white women or people of color whatsoever in terms of monuments etc.”
Ashbaugh responded, saying Roosevelt is just the start and he would support more public art honoring important local leaders of all races, ethnicities, gender identities and causes.
The Roosevelt monument proposal is expected to go before San Luis Obispo’s parks commission next month.