By MARTHA NAKAGAWA, Rafu Contributor
BISHOP — The Bishop (Inyo County) City Council passed a resolution on April 8, rescinding three World War II-era resolutions that had been passed in connection with Japanese Americans incarcerated at the Manzanar War Relocation Authority camp.
The resolution, sponsored by Councilmember Stephen Muchovej, passed unanimously.
The three resolutions that it rescinded were as follows:
• A June 1, 1942 resolution opposing the release of Japanese Americans from Manzanar for any purpose;
• A Dec. 14, 1942 resolution urging the government to put Manzanar under U.S. Army control;
• An April 10, 1944 resolution calling for every WRA camp to be placed under U.S. Army jurisdiction.
“I know this doesn’t change what happened in the past, but I think that with Bishop, changing the way it has in the past 10 years and becoming more outwardly accepting and actually espousing all of those small-town values of inclusivity and valuing diversity, it was time,” said Muchovej.
Muchovej said Manzanar Superintendent Bernadette Johnson had mentioned the existence of the wartime resolution during a conversation, which piqued his curiosity. He pursued the matter with Johnson, and when he actually read the three resolutions, he said, “The moment I saw them, I said, ‘You know what? This is antithetical to the Values Statement that was just passed. We need to repeal this.’”
The City of Bishop’s Values Statement, which Muchovej refers to, was adopted in July 2017 and affirms the city’s inclusivity. This, too, had been spearheaded by Muchovej, who was not on the City Council at the time.
Muchovej’s involvement with city government began about two years ago, around the time when Donald Trump was elected president. Muchovej, who is married, is openly gay.
“We [Muchovej and his partner] had lived here, at this point, for eight years with absolutely no problems,” said Muchovej. “And then, there was a little bit of an uptick in harassment. We were getting harassed by some people on the street. This culminated, at one point, where we were walking on this public plot of land, and the police officers got called on us.
“At that point, I refused to accept that this was what the town had turned into, given everybody that I knew. I refused to accept that people in this town didn’t espouse acceptance and tolerance and all those good virtues that come with living in harmony with other people.”
Muchovej approached the City Council about adopting a Values Statement that would affirm the city’s acceptance of inclusivity and diversity. His first draft was turned down, and he was appointed to a subcommittee where he worked with two councilmembers to draft another Values Statement.
At the meeting where the revised Values Statement was to be debated, more than 100 people packed the council chambers. “It was the longest meeting in council meeting history,” recalled Muchovej. “There was about one-and-a-half hours to two hours of testimony from members of the community, saying what such a statement would mean to them.”
The Values Statement passed, but Muchovej realized, then, that he needed to become more involved with city government. He ran for a City Council seat and won.
His victory is indicative of Bishop’s changing demographics. Usually, City Council seats in Bishop are determined by about 20 to 30 votes, but Muchovej not only unseated one of the more conservative members of the council but he also beat him by close to 250 votes last November.