Democracy & the (Im)Polite Objection

How annoying to hear the commentary following last Thursday night’s vice presidential debate.

I’m talking about all the, “Joe Biden was too aggressive” crap. Apparently, it’s “not done” for Democrats and Progressives to call out their opponents on their bullsh…er, malarkey. We’re supposed to be the polite objectors–the effete, “I say old chap! I’m sorry, but I don’t quite agree with what you’re saying over there,” foils to the brutes and bullies stepping on our heads.

Well, I think Joe was great. He called out all the ways in which Ryan and his Mitt’s policies would harm the working class, the middle class, the elderly–the majority of people in this country. And he looked like he was having a great time doing it. It’s not that the issues aren’t serious, but quite frankly, a professorial tone isn’t the best way to reach that majority of people Joe was defending.

And, it’s not that I don’t appreciate calm and rational discussion of facts and the merits of policy. Civil discourse is a great thing. But when opponents are anything but rational and civil, well, the gloves have to come off. And it always amuses me how utterly horrified and alarmed the reaction is from those who seem to think they have a right to wield power.

Just a reminder: the whole point of democracy is that power comes from the people. If you misuse that power and mistreat the people, the power you’ve been given can and should be taken away.

Lately, I’m seeing some of this horrified-and-alarmed reaction on a local level–though here in Big Stone County it isn’t about whether one is a Democrat or Republican. It’s more about whether local government’s process should be by the people and for the people–or whether it should be by a corporation and for them, too.

For one, the citizens have learned that calling out public employees and elected officials on false or misleading statements, conflicts of interest, and non-transparent governing processes regarding permitting a destructive quarry, overstepping jurisdiction, and land-grabbing through annexation is Just. Not. Done.

In the Just-Not-Done view, it’s OK for a public employee to publicly ridicule and attempt to undermine a local government’s state-sanctioned right to engage in their own land use planning process (First Amendment rights!), but it’s Definitely Not OK for local citizens, who are contributing to that person’s salary through their tax dollars, to publicly question how those behaviors affect good relations in and among governing bodies in the county.

One might follow that “logic,” to say that some people have more First Amendment rights than others.

In terms of First Amendment rights, it’s true that the rules for disciplining public employees on their speech are somewhat tricky. But a little research about Discipline and Workplace Rights makes clear that, “[E]ven if the speech addresses matters of public concern, when the employee’s speech rights are outweighed by the disruption that the speech causes to the operations of government, the employer can discipline the employee for speech.”

Shoot. That wasn’t very polite to point out, was it?

The other totally impolite objection to those currently in power in Big Stone County is occurring in a couple of races for county commission. In two districts, write-in candidates are opposing incumbent commissioners who overstepped their jurisdiction and ignored constituent voices in approving the Conditional Use Permit for Strata Corp’s proposed aggregate quarry at the headwaters of the Minnesota River.

In District 5 (which includes Ortonville Township–site of the proposed quarry and current city annexation fight–as well as Precinct 2 in Ortonville City, Odessa Township and the City of Odessa), Mike Hartman is running as a write-in against incumbent Joseph Berning. In District 3, which includes the Cities of Clinton and Correll, as well as Townships of Almond, Akron, Artichoke, and Otrey, write-in candidate Mark Block is running against incumbent Brent Olson.

Reports have it that at least one of the incumbents is completely shocked (shocked!) that someone would run against him, as he thinks he’s done a fine job.

Of course, in a democracy, it’s not really about what an elected official thinks of the job he or she has done, it’s about what the people think of the job he or she has done.

So, it will be interesting to see how well the write-in candidates can get their messages heard and names recognized by the public in the weeks leading up to the election. Write-in campaigns have a notoriously low success rate, but with a small population it may well be easier for those candidates to let the public know they have a choice.

However impolite that may be.

7 responses

  1. Appreciated. There is a playbook out there that identifies taking the position of “victim” as an effective ploy to garner public sympathy. And ploy it is. Public employees paid with taxpayer dollars should be prepared to take the heat or get out of the kitchen – especially when their own bad action has fueled the fire. The victims in Big Stone County, Ortonville Township, and the City are Ortonville are the residents whose right to democratic inclusion is being dismissed by manipulating bureaucrats and elected officials captured by powerful special interest. In Ortonville, government by the people and for the people has been replaced with “in spite of” the people.

  2. Rebecca, you’re doing a GREAT job of helping the people of Big Stone County and I really appreciate all the work you’re putting into saving the Quarry. People like you at a local level can make a big difference.

    On another note, I’d like to point out that you’re somewhat lost in the bread and circus that is this national presidential/vice presidential dog and pony show. Neither Dems nor the Repubs are for the people. They are two wings of the same bird. The bread and circus is meant to keep us glued to our television sets while the real destruction of the country continues to take place behind the scenes. When you get caught up in the puppet actors on stage, you’re missing the point. Taking sides for and/or against one party or another just means that you haven’t awoken yet to the game. And it is a game. Whether or not your participate at a national level makes no difference to the outcome. When you participate on a local, you have a much better chance of reigning in the powers that be, but you must be ever vigilant and not let down your scrutiny even for a moment, for when they look like they’re giving up and going away, they’re be working on the next plan to get what they want. They never quit until they get what they want. Big Stone County needs you to focus on the local level and leave the clowns on the national level to their silly circus.

  3. Thanks for your comment, Mary.

    I’m not working to save the quarry; I’m working, along with many, many others to save the headwaters of the MN River and the right of township residents to say what kind of community they want to live in. And yeah, it’s pretty obvious that the forces we’re fighting against are not going to throw in the towel easily. Neither are we.

    Please don’t assume I’m lost in the “show” of presidential politics and the D/R circus because I comment on Joe Biden’s performance–the VP debate is actually the first time I’ve turned on the tv in months. I know that participation on a local and regional level is key, and that’s where I expend the vast majority of my energy. However, just because the national political scene is a kind of game doesn’t mean I’m going to ignore it–I certainly won’t ignore a game in which (for one) my rights, and many of my friends’ right as human beings are being contested. The stakes are way too high on way too many fronts to “leave the clowns to their circus.”

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