An Interview with Arcata City Councilor Jason Kirkpatrick

2010-01-15 from:Democracy Unlimited author:Paul Cienfuegos

P: Did you have a realistic picture of what you were getting yourself into?

J: Not exactly. First, I underestimated the time commitment. Other city council members told me the job would take roughly 15 hours per week, depending on whether there was a council meeting that week. I soon discovered that this estimate was only accurate for councilors who simply addressed issues as they came up. I like to go beyond that by defining a vision of my community and working towards that vision. In order to advance this goal I create a lot of projects for myself. For example, I want to see us take our public funds out of tobacco corporations, nuclear weapons contractors, or countries and corporations with bad human rights records. I want to reinvest those public funds in our community or in businesses that members of our community support. It's sad that we have over a trillion dollars worth of public moneys in this country supporting terrible institutions that ruin the planet and run roughshod over human rights. Our elected officials condone it and the public isn't even aware of it. If any community activists out there want their city to do anything slightly innovative or new they should be prepared for a serious time commitment to see their ideas come to fruition.

The lawsuit was status quo for how most government entities address anti-authoritarian activist groups, and cost the taxpayers of Arcata over $40,000.

I also have a new-found respect for some conservative church groups and service clubs like Rotary and the local Exchange Club, which raise serious amounts of money for the public good in Arcata.

P: It must be difficult for an idealistic Green like yourself to balance the mundane job of overseeing the day-to-day workings of Arcata with the grand visions and fantasies you must have which may not seem like politically realistic goals at this point. How do you deal with this inherent contradiction?

J: In 1990, I was listening in on the conversation of an older activist woman that I had a large amount of respect for, Caroline Estes. A young fellow asked her, "What can I do? I really want to create change for a better planet and to help people." Her reply to this searching activist was, "First, find a home. Take care of yourself. Become grounded and then you will find the direction you are looking for." Her words had a profound impact on me. At the time I was looking for a place to call home, and she helped me make the final decision to move to Arcata, which is probably the only place I'll ever be able to call home. Doing the "mundane" things on the city council are all a part of being a responsible community member, and I really enjoy those things.

P: So far, what two accomplishments as city councilor are you most proud of? And are they simply ideological in nature or grounded in the real needs of the people of this community?

J: Even though it's not a politically radical project I receive a great degree of satisfaction from completion of the skate park. This is because everyone told me it could never be done and we just set our minds to it and built it. I also am happy with how we resolved the Food Not Bombs dispute. Right after I was elected in 1994, our supposedly progressive city council voted 4 to 1 to sue Food Not Bombs for serving food without a permit on our central plaza, and at a time when the city wasn't offering any hot meals at all. I found this action disgusting and inhumane, not to mention being the worst possible way to resolve the dispute. The lawsuit was status quo for how most government entities address anti-authoritarian activist groups, and cost the taxpayers of Arcata over $40,000. The new city council has resolved the issue by donating the use of the community center kitchen and issuing free permits. This action has set a good example for future dispute resolution in our community. I think both examples are grounded in the real needs of our community, and at the same time both are ideologically groundbreaking in many ways.

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