Democrats in California are squabbling over a recent vote by the San Francisco school board to spend $600,000 to erase a New Deal-era mural of George Washington at a high school named after the founding father.
The school board voted unanimously last month to paint over the 13-panel, 1,600 sq. ft. mural at George Washington High School, located in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's district. The "Life of Washington" mural, created in 1936 by Russian-American artist and communist Victor Arnautoff, has been deemed offensive and racist due to its depiction of a dead Native American warrior and of Washington as a slave owner at his Mount Vernon estate.
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The board's decision came after a number of protestors at a public meeting claimed their children were "traumatized" by the images. School board commissioner Mark Sanchez defended the move, and dismissed concerns about the cost. "This is reparations," he told a local radio station.
Not all Democrats are on board with the decision. Veteran party strategist Bob Shrum, who also heads up the Center for the Political Future and Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California, was not impressed.
I am a progressive Democrat, but this is nuts. Just because others are nuts, doesn’t mean we have to be. https://t.co/wlFnQIQQY4
— Robert Shrum (@BobShrum) July 21, 2019
Mark Semler, another Democratic strategist and former adviser to Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.), is seeking support for a ballot measure to save the mural, part of a broader campaign dubbed the Coalition to Protect Public Art. Semler, a graduate of George Washington High, said the school board's decision did not reflect "San Francisco values." The campaign, he said, is an effort to rebut the notion that Democrats are "all going to jump in this ship together and paddle left."
Semler and other critics of the school board's decision insist that the mural is meant "to inform and educate students of Washington’s entire legacy; the noble and ignoble, his leadership in war and peace and his holding of slaves." Some Democrats are worried that the vote is an unnecessary overreach that could serve as fodder for Republicans looking to portray the Democratic Party as out of touch.
Former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, whose list of ex-lovers includes Sen. Kamala Harris, accused the school board of being bullied by a small group of vocal activists who are "really no different from the most boorish of President Trump’s supporters." Brown said his own daughter, a Washington High graduate, was never "traumatized" by the painting. "[A]s a matter of fact, it generated conversations at home that otherwise would not have occurred," Brown wrote in a San Francisco Chronicle op-ed. "It was a learning experience for her, and for me."
Sen. Harris's campaign and Speaker Pelosi's office have yet to weigh in on the controversy.