Sunday, January 30, 2011

This is Not Civil Discourse

Tucson City Council
Call to the Audience testimony (edited)
January 25, 2011

Mr. Mayor, members of the city council, city staff:

Last week, shortly after I addressed the audience here in a plea for civil discourse, a member of the community came here to this podium and called you "vampires."

I repeat this here not to fan the flames of rhetoric but as a step toward accountability. When we see uncivil discourse, we should name it. He said these words: "we are not your slaves that you should drink the life blood from our bodies like vampires." And he was referring to the members of this council.

This is not civil discourse.

The first time I was booed at this podium I walked away shaking. The following week, a friend said to me that I looked different when I did my reading. I looked more tense, heavier. And he was right.  I'd been made to feel unwelcome. And the second time I was booed didn't get any easier. I think I was a little bit traumatized, and still am. Sometimes just the silence from the chairs behind me is enough to set me shaking again. 

I cannot imagine what it must be like for the council. I sit in this audience week after week with a knot in my stomach from the vitriol that comes into in this room. Everyone here deserves better than this, including the members of the public who have made time in their lives to come here and participate sincerely in the democratic process. Including the people for whom this room is a workplace. 

Councilmembers, we know you make extraordinary personal sacrifices for this job and that you each operate out of sincere desire to improve this community. You deserve better than this.

Mayor Walkup, your civility accord is a wonderful and important first step and we (let me speak for the thousands whom I know agree with me) are grateful for your leadership. I'm eager to learn more about its details. I'm glad and relieved to  hear your position on abusive remarks. This podium does indeed need a firm facilitator. I was so glad and proud to hear you on NPR saying "Not in my house," and that your intention is to stop the vitriol when it occurs.

But we also need to prevent the behavior so that such scolding becomes unnecessary. We aren't, after all, children. We the people need to take ownership of this room and of the culture we create here.

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