BART may not have been able to restrict the free speech of anti-immigrant ads earlier this year, but it may be able to use that money to restore the 24th Street BART station mural that celebrates immigrants.
In March, ads by Washington D.C.-based Progressives for Immigration Reform appeared to rile up American tech workers by saying their companies think they’re “expensive, undeserving, and expendable” when opting for H-1B visas to hire immigrants. Despite public outcry calling it anti-immigrant, BART said it could legally not restrict the controversial ads because of the message, even if they also disagree.
So, BART Board Director Bevan Dufty introduced the proposal at the board’s regular Thursday meeting to use money generated from controversial ads on BART on a badly-needed restoration of the 43-year-old mural overlooking the 24th Street station. He first proposed sending the funds to BART’s Office of Civil Rights but has had conversations about the restorations for months and decided to make the switch.
“If you look at the mural currently, it’s really difficult to see and it’s really been undermined,” Dufty said.
Artists Michael Rios, Anthony Machado, and Richard Montez depicted individuals holding up BART rails with bare hands in 1975 — three years after the station opened — in a nod to working-class folks. As BART implemented its new system, it faced protests of higher rents it would bring and, eventually, displacement.
Rios, not able to speak at the meeting in person, wrote a letter for the board to remind directors that the mural was one of the first in the Mission District before several would follow and draw people to the neighborhood.
“I feel that this mural does continue to be a historical landmark,” Rios wrote in the letter read out loud. “We keep our heritage and culture alive and vibrant by supporting the arts.”
The original co-sponsor Director Robert Raburn withdrew support since the funds would have benefitted the whole system but would now go to one station. Other directors expressed support for the restoration but disagreed with the approach.
“I think this is a worthy project,” said Director Joel Keller. “This is problematic to me.”
But Dufty said he had already unsuccessfully tried to get it funded through another program. Fortunately for Dufty, Director John McPartland jumped into second the resolution so it could be debated at the next meeting.
“There’s absolutely nothing lost in giving Director Dufty [chance to] the present his case,” McPartland said.
Until the money from anti-immigrant ads or elsewhere comes through, the historic mural stands at the 24th Street BART station faded, crumbling, and partially hidden behind some trees.