OAKLAND — New City Council President Rebecca Kaplan is changing up the “energy” at the beginning of council meetings to spotlight performances by local artists, musicians and poets.
Does that mean the longstanding patriotic tradition of pledging allegiance to the flag is a thing of the past?
Kaplan said she hasn’t decided, but at the first full meeting of the new council on Tuesday, a musical performance took the place of reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. Unlike previous council agendas listing the pledge as the first item, on Tuesday the agenda gave the option of “pledge of allegiance/opening performance.”
Kaplan, who was voted in as president earlier this month, told the audience she is “looking to start the meetings with a variety of different people to bring their gifts” to the council chambers.
“I thought it would be nice to start meetings with good energy,” Kaplan said.
To kick off the meeting, which included three new members, Oakland artist Jennifer Johns sang a moving song. Councilwoman Lynette Gibson McElhaney suggested Johns for the honor after Kaplan asked her colleagues for recommendations. The council president is taking suggestions from residents as well.
Cephus “Bobby” Johnson, who was at council to support naming a street near Fruitvale BART station after his nephew Oscar Grant, suggested starting a meeting by reading the names of people who have faced untimely deaths or died at the hands of the police, such as Grant who was killed by a BART officer a decade ago.
Councilman Larry Reid, who led meetings last year as council president, on Wednesday said the pledge should not be skipped. “I think it’s important,” Reid said.
For now, Kaplan said she wants to keep the option of having a performance or the pledge at council meetings. It has become a custom for residents and some officials, including Kaplan, to end the Pledge of Allegiance with “justice for all … someday.”
“You could call it a ‘stand’ if you want to,” Kaplan said in a response to a question. “But for the past two years I’ve been taking a knee during the pledge so it’s more of a knee than a stand.”
City Clerk LaTonda Simmons did not recall a meeting without the pledge during the past decade. Kaplan asked that “performances” be added to Tuesday’s agenda as a one-time request but it “has not officially been established to be standing practice,” Simmons added.
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