Westerville Common

Immigration protest at city hall

June 27, 2018

Everyone stood in the same shadow last night. The shadow of governance, politics, policy, opinion, and decisions.

The meeting chamber inside city hall serves many purposes. At least twice a month Westerville city council holds public meetings to decide law and proclaim the city’s greatness. Once a week a magistrate determines justice for accused offenders during Mayor’s Court. Wednesday night it was the planning commission.

Local developers explained to the commission their best purpose for land use citing increased tax revenue, pleasant and appropriate design, and a future for the city that included everyone profiting from their proposal.

Outside city hall activists protested the national policy that separates children from parents when they cross the border in defiance of the law.

They stood in the public green-space where once a large planter bearing the colors of tulips in the spring and a winter posthole for the Holiday Tree had anchored the entrance. Now an open lawn with planters and bricks removed, it hosts Tuesday music concerts, weekly yoga classes, Fourth Friday, and a set of plaques dedicated to the memory of two police officers killed when answering a call.

About 60 people gathered close to the microphone to hear the speakers. Closer than a comfortable social distance because the speakers spoke softly and the portable sound system wasn’t good for outdoor acoustics.

A series of lighted candles emphasized each point of the activist’s purpose. Most of the candles in the crowd were battery powered with flashing LEDs.

Both meetings lasted about two hours.

After everyone’s voices were heard, the lights inside city hall turned off, the portable speaker system outside removed, and the candles extinguished, one thing remained.

At the corner of the lawn is “The American Issue.”

Dedicated less than two weeks before, “The American Issue” depicts the moment in Westerville history that divided a nation and the reuniting of disparate voices to correct a failed experiment.

Named for the weekly newspaper published by the Anti-Saloon League once headquartered just down State Street, the bronze, 14-foot-tall sculpture shows a wedge driven by a shattered barrel cleaving a large rock into two sections. One side of the wedge’s raised letters are comments advocating the 18th Amendment that began prohibition. The other side’s comments center on prohibition’s repeal with the 21st Amendment.

Westerville Law Director Bruce Bailey, who commissioned, paid for, and donated the sculpture to the city, hopes it not only highlights Westerville’s role in prohibition but also acts as a way for people to better understand the democratic process and how citizens can act together to solve differences.

“The story isn’t Prohibition, the story is how the divide on an issue in America split the country,” Bailey told This Week Westerville, a local weekly newspaper.

Sculptor Matthew Gray Palmer echoed Bailey’s comment telling the paper, “It was a really intense topic to tackle. It’s so rare … the way it has legs into the future and everything we’re dealing with and having issues with today.”

Bailey and Palmer would have been pleased to watch as soft voices expressed discontent with government policy in the shadow of “The American Issue” while government went about its business inside city hall.

Public art is a reflection of how we see the world. It can express our values or question our assumptions. It might even be a silent sentinel telling us that how we go about our lives matters. That even the most public of protests and acts of government are important. “The American Issue” tells us that even when we make mistakes, democracy will continue to solve our problems. It will even help us find a way to express gratitude in a piece of public art.