A Letter to Council on Dissent

Mayor Selby and members of City Council,

Freedom of speech is a cornerstone of our free society. So too is dissent. When events occur in our community, people will and should let their voices be heard. They should be encouraged to do this, not pushed away or silenced.

No matter the issue, or the divide, you have the responsibility to listen to the people. Over the course of this year, we’ve seen that dissent stifled and voices squashed on a few occasions spanning a few different issues of importance to the people of this community. What pains me the most is that these are often the voices of young people or people of color who find it harder to muster the courage to speak, exactly because they’re so often told to be quiet, to know their place.

When you ran for your seats you accepted a responsibility, that should you be selected by the people, you would step outside of yourself and your comforts in order to be an advocate, to serve, all of the people.

It’s OK for us to disagree. Vehemently, passionately, angrily even if that’s needed. When it comes to trying to build a better community, repair a declining environment, or fight for justice and civil liberties, we are most assuredly going to stray from civility. Civility should not be the goal, community-based problem solving and action should be.

You each, as facilitators, are responsible for allowing that discourse to play out, actively listening, and ultimately it is your job to empower and engage citizens toward goal-oriented, solution-based, constructive action.

Last night’s council meeting was a complete breakdown of our system of government. Instead of allowing voices to be heard, you took your meeting into private and hid from those voices. If there is reprisal in our streets – especially in the form of vandalism to local businesses, you should know that you’ve fomented that. As MLK said “Riots are the voice of the unheard.” Right now people feel unheard, and that should not be taken lightly.

I hope that you’ll move quickly to repair the broken relationship council has with some members of the public, before things get worse.

With Love and Respect,

Rob Richards

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