Letter: How can all voices be heard on important issues?

Graphic by Lori Deaton

The first public listening session for input on the new police chief was held Feb. 5. Turnout was low, and the Mountain Xpress even ran a [Feb. 13] story titled, “Thin Crowd Weighs in on Police Chief Selection.” Those who attended were clearly disappointed in the low showing, especially when the same room had been packed last March to meet about police brutality in Asheville’s [police] department.

This occurs often, and it makes sense. People engage in local government when they are inspired: either enraged or personally affected. But when it comes to dry, long-term involvement, the meeting rooms are sparse. It brings up a larger question: How do we promote a culture of political and community involvement?

When we take a step back and think about how our perfect community would communicate, we ideally want each person to be involved, and all perspectives heard. We would focus on the individual, making sure each had the power of voice. This is an ideal of democracy: that each person is empowered to share their thoughts, because through discourse we can reach a greater understanding.

However, it doesn’t seem to work this way. Despite our best hope for community involvement, there are obstacles in the way of fruitful, long-term discourse that is correctly representative. I think that there is a shortage in time for people to be actively engaged. The limited resource of time requires that we spend it where it is most immediately necessary, and it follows that it is usually dedicated to work, family, etc. We focus on the things directly in front of us that need the most urgent attention.

I would also like to add how criticizing a community’s political involvement is scratching the surface of a larger issue. Those who are working more than one job, have different hours, are taking care of children or family members cannot always afford the luxury of community meetings and active community engagement. The evening meetings are inaccessible to any single parent without a baby sitter.

Rather than being frustrated at seemingly low public buy-in, how can we accommodate the disparity between those who are immediately able to participate in politics and those who are not? How can we empower people and create accessible discourse so that their voices are heard before it gets to a point of urgency?

I think that our ideals of democracy can only be achieved when we re-evaluate the larger routines inhibiting full participation.

— Ava Simonds


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8 thoughts on “Letter: How can all voices be heard on important issues?

  1. Robin

    Asheville public meetings are a joke. The meeting was poorly attended because the citizens of Asheville have patterned Asheville officials, and most know that the decision has likely already been made. Asheville may not know who they’re hiring, but I’d almost guarantee that someone among their girl power elite has already decided what the demographic makeup of their new chief will be. Most people correctly guessed that Chief Anderson would have been a black guy, Chief Hooper would be a female, and Mr. Jackson’s replacement would most certainly be a female. If that’s the case, why bother providing input.

    If it’s true that people attend meetings when they are inspired, then the opposite must also be true: People do not attend meetings when they’re uninspired or they feel that their input will have no impact. Didn’t that empty room tell Asheville plenty of what citizens think of providing City officials input? I’ve been to a dozen meetings where City staff, including now Assistant City Manager Cathy Ball would take walls and walls of notes, and then just do whatever the heck she wanted to do anyway.
    For example:How about those soccer fields? Ms. Ball should have a wall of notes where those neighbors told her that property would just flood again and again.
    How about Charlotte Street? Ms. Ball kept doing studies on that until she got one that said what she wanted to make her bicycle lobby happy.

    If you want a “culture of political and community involvement”, then the City should start the dialogue with a sincere desire to listen and consider the input provided.

    • Lulz

      LOL speaking the truth gets one labeled. They neither want to hear the voices of many nor care to. Only want their money so their cronyism and corruption can continue. They are of course supported by a population of cultist. These people think spending 3 trillion a year on single payer is a solution. There’s no reasoning with insanity.

      • Lillian Warren

        The clueless ruling class here don’t give a damned about those of us being denied our civil rights due to disability or age or both.
        I’m no longer a Democrat because of the corruption and retaliation I’ve seen.
        If no one attends meetings.. Maybe it’s because we all know that the people at the top don’t care.
        Not a Republican either.
        They’ll only wake up when a major civil rights lawsuit slaps them in the face.
        Abuse of Federal funding, while denying rights is the way in this town.
        After all, this town and it’s founding is why my people, The Cherokees, have two bands.
        Greed, arrogance and hubris.. That’s why no one attended..
        When the ruling class runs roughshod over the poor, why should we give a damn.
        Too bad they don’t know that a herse doesn’t come with a luggage rack.
        I despise Asheville. But due to criminal medical neglect, I’m stuck in this God forsaken hedonistic self absorbed town.

        As my ancestors said as they were forced marched out of here; “hope you choke on enough”

  2. Richard B.

    “This is an ideal of democracy: that each person is empowered to share their thoughts, because through discourse we can reach a greater understanding.”
    Yes, each person in Asheville is empowered to weigh in on matters of local governance, as well as state and national. Absolutely true.
    What is also true, is that, in an IDEAL Democracy, each person would be equally interested in, knowledgeable of, and motivated to act.

    The REALTY is, that in all of human history, there are those who ARE INTERESTED, etc. in how we as individuals, tribes, nations, and so on, are governed. Many of these folks become politicians and are voted by the rest of the LESS INTERESTED to staff the offices and positions necessary (also debatable) to run the government.
    Ideally, the larger the percentage of citizens that BECOME INTERESTED and involved will help to ensure that we will elect more capable office holders and that they will make decisions that provide an enhanced city/state/nation that, in turn, guarantees a higher standard of living for all. And, of course, you and the Founding Fathers are correct on this underpinning of a working Democracy.

    Now, back to REALITY. When you pose one of your suggested approaches to a solution, again in the form of a rhetorical question, “How can we empower people and create accessible discourse so that their voices are heard before it gets to a point of urgency?”, I will, in the interest of debate, respond that your premise to this approach is flawed.
    Number one, we cannot EMPOWER people. According to the precepts underlying the thinking of the Founding Fathers, we each ARE EMPOWERED. This is an immutable characteristic that comes with being a citizen or our democracy. It is not granted by any human power. Yes, this concept of a fundamental right certainly can be taught to our children, both at home and in school. And it should be. Is it?

    Another of your proposed approaches to a solution, framed in a rhetorical question “how can WE accommodate the disparity between those who are immediately able to participate in politics and those who are not?” becomes questionable, given REALITY. You presume that “WE”, – those citizens and government officials who ARE interested, knowledgeable, etc., – can come up with a plan to get those who are not, to BECOME interested.
    Yes, I realize that you are referring to folks who ARE INTERESTED, but are incapable of acting, e.g., getting to community forums and so forth. However, I will suggest that if one is TRULY INTERESTED, they will find a way over and around the OBSTACLES that you refer to.
    And this is where I disagree from your thinking that “community”, or whatever other agency, governmental or otherwise, can motivate folks to ACT. I really don’t believe it is the “community’s” responsibility to provide sitting services, transportation, letters of excuse to employers, etc.
    If any one of us, who are in need of these services, really wants to go somewhere, – shopping for the Holidays, meet a friend for lunch or a cup of coffee, keep a medical appointment, get to the MANNA Food Bank, you name it, – then it seems that somehow it gets done.

    So I reject your premise that the factors contributing to low turnout to discuss the new Police Chief position are solvable if only “WE” would provide above mentioned services.
    A responsible citizen, one who is INTERESTED and MOTIVATED to ACT, will find a way.
    This is what human history tells us.

    • Lulz

      Their premise is that this nation and culture are defective. Arguing with the insane is pointless. After all, presenting an ID to vote is somehow construed as preventing people from exercising their Constitutional rights. Yet when buying a firearm, they not only expect people to present an ID, but go through a background check and wait. And that an agency without any oversight by the VOTER has the final say if one is approved or not. So the double standards are out there for all to see. Whether or not people obey them is their personal choice. And that boils down to whether one believes the Constitution can be used and abused and still remain relevant. Motivation now comes from how badly one thinks the government is ABUSING them. And you and I both know the government now is nothing more than a money racket and criminal organization.

  3. Stan Hawkins

    Perfection does not exist in this world, more specifically in Democracy. We sometimes like to opine as if it is achievable, yet we set ourselves up for disappointment or disillusionment.

    Local politics of Asheville and Buncombe are most likely a microcosm of our national debates, more recently highlighted with the Sherrif’s announcement concerning ICE cooperation or lack thereof. Voters are continuously surprised by the about face of their voted in officials. Who would ever think that ICE cooperative and sanctuary issues would exist in Buncombe County? Voter apathy comes on fast in citizen safety changes, many believing we the people should be able to put the Sherrif under a recall election. Or we could just sit on our hands as the original text describes for any number of reasons.

    In Georgia, for example, citizens were excited that the voter turnout in the 2018 election was an all time record. Now, however, the citizens in Georgia are learning that certain entities are taking legal action for voter suppression allegations. What is a voter to do? What is a citizen to do? Does a sore loser deserve this much attention?

    There was a time when those in the media assisted we the people with a form of checks and balances with our elected or wanna-be elected officials. If you watch or listen closely you can usually spot the deterioration in this process when a member of the media only delivers “softball” questions, and / or never follows up an answer from an official with a question that probes deeper and further than the official thought they would have to go. Or, more recently we see that only one political party gets the hardball treatment due to an unwillingness to set bias aside.

    It is our responsibility to hold officials accountable including challenging the processes they have in place that seems to make it more difficult to interact with them. They were not that difficult to interact with when they were running for election, thus voter apathy sets in.

    Three things we can do: 1. Pay attention and at least write to your local, state, or federal official at least quarterly, attend a meeting quarterly. 2. Hold media accountable to do their jobs. If they do not, stop buying products from folks who advertise on their platform and let them know about it, and that you want and need their unbiased process of checks and balances to work. When the cows are way out of the barn, you know they have not done their jobs. 3. Vote for officials who will obey the laws on the books and will cooperate with State and Federal officials. After all, the local officials Go hat in hand to State and Feds when they need money.

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