There is an old saying: it is better to stay silent and let others assume you are a fool, then to open your mouth and remove all doubt.
As The C is for Crank and Seattlish report, the five female members of the Seattle City Council have been the target of disrespectful, misogynistic verbal abuse through emails and social media since their vote yesterday to deny the street vacation for the proposed SODO Arena.
I get it: some people are angry and frustrated. At our most emotional times our thoughts often betray us. And angry and frustrated people have poor control of how they express themselves.
You are free to think whatever you want. In this country you are free to vote, in secret, based upon what you think. You are also free to say a great many things without fear of government restraint or retaliation. But actions, including speech, have consequences. If you speak out in public, you will be held accountable by your family, your friends, your neighbors, and your fellow citizens for what you say. They will listen; they will judge you. They may rally to your side, or they may ostracize you. They will consider whether your words and deeds make our city a better place or a worse place.
Having diversity in viewpoints, both among our citizens and our elected officials, is a Good Thing. It makes for better decisions, better laws, and better government. Ideas must be challenged in order to prove them worthy. People in power must also be challenged, because power corrupts. Governments must be transparent so we can know the facts about what people in power are doing, and use those facts as weapons to bring down the unjust. That is our political process.
Our political process is NOT resorting to hurling baseless insults, or racist or sexist epithets. It is not making accusations in the absence of evidence. It is not lashing out at public officials. Making it these things only serves to destroy it.
Representative forms of government are not democracies. We don’t elect City Council members so that they can poll the voters on every issue and then vote the majority opinion. Why? Because most of the issues they wrestle with are complex, nuanced, and have long histories. All 650,000 citizens of Seattle have not read the MOU between Chris Hansen and the City of Seattle, let alone the entire Environmental Impact Study on the SODO Arena. We elected nine people we thought would do a decent job of reading the relevant documents, discussing the pertinent issues, and making good decisions, and good laws, that are in our best interests.
Being a City Council member is hard work. And it’s controversial work. Their decisions NEVER make everyone happy. Their votes impact hundreds of thousands of people’s lives — and they have to try to sleep at night carrying that load. We can disagree with them. We must hold them accountable, and we must vote them out of office when they fail to meet our standard.
But at the same time, we must respect the office they hold, the work they do, and the decisions we empowered them to make. And we must respect them for doing the job.
It is NOT OK to verbally abuse elected officials. It is NOT OK to threaten them. It is NOT OK to wish them ill will. If you do these things, then we, your family, friends, neighbors and fellow citizens will see you for who you are and hold you accountable for your acts. Because we need the best government we can get, and we only need to look to the current national political scene to see what happens when we lower the standard of our political discourse.
Think whatever you want. Vote your beliefs and your conscience. But if you choose to participate in our political conversation, aim high. Because in the end we get the government we deserve.