Fifteen months ago I was sworn in as the Ward 1 representative for Eureka. It has been a whirlwind of a year and I take this time, now, to reflect on my experiences of political discourse in Eureka.
In the past year, I have participated in community forums, held two town halls, served on a half dozen boards or committees, and attended numerous meetings related to my role as councilperson. I often speak with pride about the numbers of people that show up to community meetings and who participate in public events, but I also have concerns about some of the trends that are taking place both nationally and locally.
Over the past year, there have been several significant reports on the role that Facebook has played in national and international elections. Recently, the documentary “The Great Hack” and Frontline’s “The Facebook Dilemma” both have provided excellent coverage of the dangers and complexities of Facebook as a news and informational source. (In short, it is wise to be skeptical and cautious about the authenticity of information you receive on Facebook.) Even with this information, many people continue to use social media as the go-to destination for news and social engagement.
Though I appreciate technology and the ways it has helped convey information and “connection,” I am also concerned about what it can do to our political discourse. Locally, Eureka political figures have been called whores or worse on social media, trolls regularly attack their fellow community members based on their differences, and people unknowingly navigate newsfeeds with those who reinforce their own beliefs. All the while, animosity foments and the echoes of malcontent grow louder.
I am concerned that, if this continues to become the nature of our political discourse, we will silence true engagement and the accompanying questions that are integral to our being together in community. I want to live in a community where a parent can also be a councilperson without fearing for the well being of her children. I also want to live in a community where we find respectful ways to converse with people across our differences. When people bully one another about their political beliefs, they create an atmosphere of fear and intimidation. We may silence those who have something brilliant to offer simply because they do not want to be dehumanized for the sake of an idea. As a politician, I realize that people will disagree with me and may publicly express their discontent, and I welcome their engagement. I also know that we will gain more from meeting with one another and actually participating in dialogue. It is time to think critically about how we create opportunities for civic engagement here in Humboldt County rather than be manipulated and incited by a mockery of discourse on social media. I encourage more people, news sources, and governments to ask how we can create more and better opportunities for conversation and education about how we engage with the practice of democracy.
We live in a relatively isolated area, and, ultimately, we rely on one another for what we need to survive. In talking with people over the past year and a half, I know that many people are concerned about community, homelessness, economic growth, sustainability, climate change, addiction, mental health, beautification, crime prevention, and the well being of children and families. Often at council, we are really making decisions about more mundane issues of parking lots and sewer lines, but even in these everyday concerns, we wrestle with how we are making our world together. I hope we can foster resilience and opportunities to create rich dialogue around our shared concerns. Together we are stepping forward from the present into the future.
If you would like to get in touch, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, attend a Eureka City Council meeting every first and third Tuesday of the month at 6 p.m., or come to my Ward 1 Town Hall on the theme of “Neighborhood Resilience” at Jefferson Community Center on Thursday, March 19 at 6 p.m.