Letter: Commissioners’ silence sent a strong message

Graphic by Lori Deaton

We hope the Buncombe County commissioners listened carefully to the messages of the many college- and high school- age people at their Dec. 5 public hearing on the rezoning of Biltmore Farms land for further development. Their words courageously called out the complicity in an ongoing atrocity. But their voices carried an even more powerful message: We are angry. We are sad. We are in despair at and in this world.

These young people and many elders, too, see before them a disaster unfolding. They see the unnecessary killing and mistreatment of innocent Palestinians in both Gaza and the West Bank. They see world governments looking the other way and our government enabling the disaster with words and weapons. They see a world that will likely be unlivable in their lifetime and that of their children. They see a system that bows to corporations and neglects people. They see elected leaders who appear not to care. They see blank faces, technical rules and obscure procedures. They see a system that lacks authentic engagement.

Are they radical? You bet they are. Do they shout, chant and bang pots for hours outside their meeting? You bet they do. They must, as there seems to be no other way to make their voices heard. And even then, they are silenced or pushed aside as inappropriate.

Like all of us, these young people want to see true democracy, wherein there are systems and places for active engagement. Unfortunately, the commissioners’ meeting was not an example of that. Public hearings are a farce. After the comment period where so many spoke passionately, the commissioners had no discussion, and they offered no evidence or authentic rationale for their decision. Their silence sent a strong message. Public hearings are required, but decisions are made secretly, and opinions of citizens don’t really matter.

What are young people learning about government from these practices? What are they learning about the integrity of elected officials? Where, leaders, are these young people to engage? What, leaders, are they to do? We know what they will say: They should engage actively in the processes of government. Be on a board or commission. Write letters to the editor. Join a political party. We know very well that institutions marginalize certain voices and use technical rules and prescribed procedures to limit engagement. The young people at the meeting on Dec. 5 learned that lesson.

What we learned from our research into how the 2020 tax incentive deal for Pratt & Whitney came down with so little public knowledge or engagement is that economic development deals, among other decisions, are deliberated about and negotiated out of the public eye. Consequential discussions are held behind closed doors. Landowners, corporations, the Chamber of Commerce and elected officials are more important than the general public.

And, to truly engage, a citizen must be very knowledgeable, must be able to navigate the morass of bureaucratic workings and must stay with the process for the long haul. Where do college or high school students learn any of this? What efforts do county officials make to educate the public, especially young people, about how to engage in the political process?

The Buncombe County commissioners should be happy that 30 angry voices engaged at their Dec. 5 meeting. They should be proud that an additional 100 motivated people spent hours in the cold outside yelling and banging pots. Because these days, that is what democratic engagement has to look like.

— Melody Shank and Anne Craig
Retired educators and Reject Raytheon AVL organizers
Swannanoa and Asheville, respectively


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9 thoughts on “Letter: Commissioners’ silence sent a strong message

  1. NFB

    Just because commissioners didn’t vote they way you wanted them to doesn’t mean they weren’t listening any more than if they had voted they way you wanted them to would have meant they weren’t listening to those in the community who support Pratt & Whitney’s presence here. Maybe they listened to both and reached a conclusion.

    In the 2022 primary election, Bill Branyon ran for Buncombe County Commission against incumbent Al Whiteside. Far and away Mr. Branyon’s top issue was Commissioner Whiteside’s support for Pratt & Whitney and he lost by nearly a 3 to 1 margin, not even obtaining 30% of the vote in what was arguably the most left leaning commission district in Buncombe County.

    So maybe, just maybe, Commissioners were listening to a majority of constituents rather than the small, extremely vocal, minority that engaged in the protests described in this letter.

    I am not unsympathetic to many of the concerns of the protestors, but I learned a long time ago that in a democracy sometimes other people win. I also learned that beating dead horses is a grand way to get others to gradually tune you out. Pratt & Whitney is here in Buncombe County to stay for a long time. Perhaps its opponents might refocus their energy on not beating that dead horse but in holding Pratt and Whitney accountable in adhering to the promises it made when it reached a deal with Buncombe County.

  2. Voirdire

    Isn’t it nice that we live in a country where you can speak your mind, voice your opinion ….raise a ruckus at the local Commissioner’s hearing? Try doing that in places like Russia, China, North Korea, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela et al. We, unfortunately, need the P&W plant …and more of them. Remember FDR’s claim ? …we’re the arsenal of democracy. It’s, again unfortunately, more true than ever. I know it’s hard for you to imagine… but the world -including our very own country- is full of folks and their multitude of more than willing minions who see democracy and a ruled based collection of free democratic independent nations and alliances as nothing short of folly. Time to get real here.

    • Mike Rains

      I disagree with your assessment of our current military needs. We have more than enough military to defend OUR country.

      And for those who believe that we still do all this military intervention overseas to “defend democracy”; think again. A good portion of our massive military complex is all about defending our special interests, namely the world’s continued dependence on the US dollar. That dependence is what allows us to live way beyond our means and at the expense of the rest of the world.

      If you don’t understand this concept, I strongly urge you to gain a more in depth view of how our economy benefits f rom US dollars abroad.

      • Voirdire

        well, I know this much …long live the US Dollar …lol. I have taken notice though of your MAGA House representatives and their non-stop efforts to hamstring our economy and those precious dollars. Again, get real or exchange your dollars for rubles …please …the sooner the better ;)

        • Mke Rains

          Yes I would like the dollar to live long also; however, not to support the nation we’ve become. There was a day (many years ago) when most of the rest of the world was pleased to support the US. Over time though, we’ve become lazy and mostly greedy.

          Also, please don’t presume what I believe or who I support. I am quite independent in my views of the world.

          • indy499

            You got your words mixed up. Much of the rest of the world, esp the canadians and europeans were pleasedd to have us support them by paying for the defense umpbrella they lived under. Time for them to all pay up

  3. Marc

    🤔obviously these children do not have any work ethics! They’re not even thinking about, a job having insurance , having a purpose ,a life in the future! Only because a puppet master brain washed them to come up with a 1960’s , scenario (love not war) , were they able to come up with their pitiful views. Sad , I blame the parents for their under the rock views on life!

  4. indy499

    LOL. No one cares about this tiny band of naive zealots. Their letters are repetitive, clueless and downright boring. Just go away.

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