We made plans to post here and send out by email an URGENT CALL TO ACTION! > With only three days to the close of the California Legislature’s session (until Sept 13th), everyone was asked to call Assembly member Grayson and Senator Dodd’s office ASAP to advocate on the following bills: (see details at URGENT! Call our representatives today!! or download the list)
Oh, where to start? I’ve needed to write about this for a loooong time.
Back in 2007, I met City Councilmember Elizabeth Patterson, who had announced her candidacy for Mayor. She seemed bright, and I was looking for something to do in my recent retirement. So I volunteered to help.
Elizabeth is now a three-term mayor in Benicia, due in large part to her own energetic campaigning and exemplary leadership and service on the Council. But you can’t get to be Mayor three times all on your own. The community has risen to support her, volunteered, rallied, chipped in financially, and organized to get out the vote.
And yet, consistently over all these years, one very loud voice has publicly targeted and trashed our Mayor in the local newspaper and online media. The frequency of invective (definition: insulting, abusive, or highly critical language) on the Forum Page of our paper has caused any number of residents to unsubscribe. And one can only guess how many residents have chosen NOT to run for public office lest they be publicly and repeatedly abused.
That mean-spirited voice has not been entirely alone. The usual political spectrum of varying opinions, indeed the common dualism of right and left, has surfaced here. The variety is welcome, and mostly positive, but we have seen a number of disrespectful voices as well, some less subtle than others. Even some of the Mayor’s colleagues on Council have occasionally seemed to express distaste rather than simple opposing opinions of substance.
Why? It’s not all about this particular Benicia mayor.
“In all, 79 percent of mayors reported at least one form of “psychological abuse,” which the survey defined to include harassment, being demeaned or receiving threats. Disrespectful comments or images on social media were by far the most frequent means of abuse. Nearly half of mayors similarly experienced harassment, while 13 percent reported threats of violence directed toward them.
“…While it’s not at all surprising that mayors encounter negativity, some face much more frequent offenses than others. The only factor that predicted both psychological abuse and physical violence was gender, with women more than twice as likely to experience such incidents as men….”
Mayoral abuse may be common, but it’s not right. And gender bias may still motivate many, but it should have no place at City Hall or in our public discourse.
It is time that Benicians take on civility in our local politics as an issue to be faced openly and dealt with publicly and persistently.
The local newspaper must begin to assert it’s journalistic prerogative, taking responsibility to ban not only libelous content and trash talk, but also to specifically end the long-standing targeting of individuals.
Editorial responsibility is NOT censorship. Mary Susan Gast wrote a beautiful explanation of this in her 2018 letter to the Benicia Herald editor:
As individuals and groups we are free to speak our beliefs and opinions to anyone who will listen; that’s freedom of speech. Freedom of the press is freedom from interference by the government in reporting. Freedom of the press is not an author’s right to have his or her works published by other people. As the journalist A.J. Liebling has said, “Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.” Legal historian Lucas A. Powe offers further clarification: “Freedom of the press gives the printer or publisher exclusive control over what the publisher chooses to publish, including the right to refuse to print anything for any reason. If the author cannot reach a voluntary agreement with a publisher to produce the author’s work, then the author must turn to self-publishing.” [from The Fourth Estate and the Constitution: Freedom of the Press in America, 1991]
And it’s not just the newspaper and social media.
In 2020, Benicia will enter into another round of electoral campaigns. There was some trashy advertising by organized labor and Valero Benicia Refinery in our last election, repeatedly targeting one candidate. Benicia’s Open Government Commission has proposed strengthening the public campaign finance ordinances to help guard against undisclosed outside corporate interests influencing our elections.
Stronger city ordinances will help, but I doubt they will be enough. In an era dominated by a trash-talking President, how can we expect our neighbors — individuals or corporations — to exhibit civil behavior during a consequential election?
Well, we can. And we must. The candidates themselves can help. Each candidate in next year’s contest should highlight the need for civil discourse and respectful exploration of differences of opinion. Every candidate forum should begin with a moderator’s call to civil discourse and a shaming of trash politics. Churches, civic organizations and local political groups could weigh in. And yes, during campaign season, our local editors will need to be up to the challenge.
Let’s make Benicia a city with politics that make us proud!
[Editor: UPDATE ON 11 Sept – Benicia Mayor Elizabeth Patterson petitioned her colleagues on the City Council to adopt a Climate Emergency Resolution. The first step was on Tuesday, September 3, when Council considered whether to approve adding a discussion on this to a future agenda. The Council chose to schedule a public WORKSHOP on the issue instead, date to be announced. BACKGROUND: see City Council Agenda, 9/3/2019. See the Mayor’s attachment Draft Climate Emergency Resolution(based on a resolution adopted by the City of Santa Cruz).
…FROM 27 AUG – the following article serves as a call to action for Benicia and Solano County, indeed for EVERY community. I challenge our local and County elected officials and staff to immediately set aside time to formulate and pass the necessary ordinances to commit to the goals outlined here by Santa Clara Supervisor Cortese. “Business as usual” must take a back seat to the crisis that is our climate emergency. – R.S.]
Why Santa Clara County should declare a climate emergency — A bold commitment would serve as a model for other communities
Mercury News, By Santa Clara County Supervisor Dave Cortese, August 27, 2019
Our county, our country and our world are in the midst of an existential crisis.
In dire times, times that require our immediate attention and action, Santa Clara County has always been a leader. The crusade against climate change is no different.
The County Climate Coalition, a project spearheaded by my office in partnership with Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project, affirmed the county’s commitment to emission reductions deadlines and called on counties across the nation to achieve 100 percent renewable energy and commit to the goals set forth in the United Nations’ Paris Climate Agreement — an agreement that our science-denying presidential administration withdrew from in 2017.
At the center of this agreement is the ambitious, yet achievable, goal of preventing global temperatures from rising more than 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100.
Surpassing the climate-reduction goals enacted by California last year, the county is on track to achieve 100 percent renewable electricity for county operations by the end of this year and will be 100 percent carbon-neutral by 2045.
We have stayed on the forefront of the battle against climate change not only because we sit on the San Francisco Bay Area and have much to lose but also because we have the brightest minds in the world leveraging investment capital, research, incentives and regulatory powers. The ardent support and partnerships we have made with grassroots environmental activists have pushed us toward bold action and concrete climate solutions.
Thanks to the support of environmental groups, business associations, labor unions, public health organizations and other community groups, the county has been able to pass aggressive sustainability policies and take bold action to quickly and safely draw down carbon from the atmosphere.
These actions have included pledging that 100 percent of our electrical power originates from clean renewable sources, that our public vehicles are electric, hybrid-electric or run on alternative fuel, that county buildings are LEED certified and energy efficient, that 100 percent of county waste is diverted from landfills and then converted to energy, and vowing to employ 20,000 blue- and white-collar “clean and green workforce” trainees regionally and in the county. This confluence of bright minds and bold activism has made it possible for us to push forth policies that are essential to sustaining human life and dignity.
At our Tuesday meeting, I will call on my colleagues on the Board of Supervisors to continue our county’s history of ambitious climate action by voting in favor of a resolution to declare a countywide climate emergency: a partnership with local and global advocates demanding political collaboration and the immediate mobilization of resources at the county, state and worldwide level to combat this environmental crisis.
Our planet, our livelihoods and the livelihoods of generations to come are at stake. A declaration of a climate emergency is not only a commitment to transitioning away from greenhouse gasses, it also sets a powerful example for other communities and calls upon them to join our emergency mobilization effort.
We are at an important junction in our history where folks from all walks of life are uniting behind a global mission to restore the climate for future generations. It is imperative we, as a county, accomplish this goal for the health and well-being not only of our own community but also communities around the world.
Dave Cortese represents District 3 on the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors.