Immediately after the Escondido City Council meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 15, District 4 Councilmember Mike Morasco approached Escondido City Youth Council (ECYC) founding members.
Morasco, a Republican in his 13th year on the council, questioned youth council members about their citizenship status because they quietly opted out of reciting the Pledge of Allegiance at the start of the meeting.
“It’s incredibly disappointing to have been approached like that after attending our first city council meeting together, representing the Escondido City Youth Commission,” said Angela Calderon Pio, ECYC co-founder and chairperson.
“Whether or not someone chooses to recite the Pledge of Allegiance is a private matter, not one that is mandated; furthermore,” Pio continued. “We stood up during the pledge but didn’t recite it, so as to not draw attention to ourselves or create a commotion. Even with that consideration, Councilmember Morasco still approached us with hostility and questioned our citizen status, something that was unrelated to his subsequent comments and disrespectful.”
ECYC members are planning to speak out against Morasco’s racist remarks at the next City Council meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 6, and are calling on members of the community to support and to sit down during the pledge of allegiance in protest.
ECYC was founded in late 2022 and had its first meeting in January 2023. Fully student-led, it’s stated purpose is to foster an environment where youth can participate in local government.
The Escondido City Council has an ethics policy which requires members to “conduct themselves in a manner above reproach,” and outlines a procedure for a Resolution of Censure (which carries no legal weight). A violation of this Ethics Policy by a member of the City Council constitutes official misconduct if determined by an affirmative vote of three members of the City Council in an open and public meeting.
The Supreme Court ruled in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette (1943) that requiring students to pledge allegiance to the flag violates their First Amendment right against compelled speech.
“Not to mention him initiating a conversation about our reasons for not standing up for the flag, and telling us we were being disrespectful was incredibly inappropriate.”
— Michelle Cortes, ECYC co-founder and vice-chairperson
“It is absolutely disheartening to see a city Councilmember act in this manner,” Cortes said. “This kind of behavior is exactly what prevents youth from being involved in their city. My own friend who’s first time attending these meetings even mentioned it.”
Anzy McWha, a community member in attendance at the meeting said she was “disappointed that an elected representative would conduct himself this way. His remarks were obviously racist, and this kind of negativity and intimidation could discourage youth from participating in city government in the future.”
The entire experience definitely caused ECYC member Rocio Escobar to pause and reflect. “Although it was my first time attending one of these meetings, after being approached in the manner that City Councilmember Morasco did,” he said, “it has refrained me from wanting to go back. Surely if I didn’t have politically active friends or peers I would not go back. To me it came off as though he was trying to intimidate us and I do not appreciate that.”
Cortes added: “This is a conversation that a council member should not initiate especially with the kinds of words and tone he used,” .Cortes said. “Council members are instilled within the government to connect and communicate with the community, and not to tell a group of youth that because we didn’t agree with their beliefs we are wrong.”
Morasco could not be reached for comment.