I saw the “Kill Bill Roalman” sign on a restored World War II DUKW, commonly called a “Duck,” an armored amphibious vehicle with a presumably deactivated .50 machine gun mounted on it in front of San Luis Obispo City Hall.
In 1991, Operation Desert Shield had just ended in the Persian Gulf. Wedge politics had divided SLO more than any issue since the Vietnam War. Nevertheless, I never imagined that I’d ever see what I did here.
Part of what startled me about the DUKW’s presence in front of our City Hall was what I knew about city councilman Bill Roalman and his beloved wife, Amena Atta, a refugee from Afghanistan. I had worked with Roalman at the Land Conservancy and on city commissions.
He’d done programs with his guitar for every good cause that built community, like fundraisers for the Prado Road shelter. Late at night, he’d join the police on their patrols so he could more fully understand issues confronting our community. Roalman was one of the gentlest souls I’ve encountered.
What had he done deserving such treatment? He had dared to suggest that those who opposed Operation Desert Shield be able to march along with supporters of the war in the annual Fourth of July parade.
There was to be a confrontational hearing urging a censure or possible removal of Roalman from the City Council the next week. Already, small American flags were being distributed to those who wanted him silenced. We didn’t entirely agree with those who opposed the 1990-91 war.
We saw the complexity of Kuwait, which had once been artificially separated from Iraq by the British and French. The attack on Roalman came to a climax for me when I led a tour of two busloads filled with military attachés from embassies in Washington who were guests of the California National Guard.
Upon seeing the sign on the armored vehicle, a Chinese general who had been at the massacre at Tiananmen Square in 1989 chided me, “Is this how you handle dissidents in America?”
I spoke to the owner of the DUKW. I had always known him to be a decent person. He seemed to treat the matter as something of a joke. Ironically, he was accidentally killed by a self-inflicted discharge from his new Glock pistol a short time later. When the overflowing council meeting opened, citizens spoke passionately on behalf of embracing diversity of opinion.
On July 4th, lusty cheers went up as the parade passed the Chorro entrance to Mission Plaza. There was Bill Roalman, arm and arm with the other members of the city council, standing atop an antique fire department truck.
Taking up the rear were a few peace floats. San Luis Obispo had miraculously healed itself. Is that sort of miracle possible today on the local, state and national level? Abraham Lincoln said in 1862, “We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of earth.” Please vote for those who would heal our divided nation.