Participation In Local Government, Respect, And Being Neighbors


To the Editor,

After reading an article in The Monitor Weekly (December 20, 2021) about voter anger and how it is affecting local officials around the country, I felt compelled to write this letter to the editor. One photograph in the article made me shiver: two protesters are being escorted out of a school committee meeting in Las Vegas. Hatred is clearly evident and their pointing fingers indicate who is bearing the brunt: local officials. In Central York, Pennsylvania, one woman won the race for a seat on her school committee, but now is afraid for her safety. Another image, closer to home, shows lawn signs in Guilford, Connecticut, taken ahead of last November’s town election. The signs are about diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives in local schools.

I’m writing because I want to know: how is it with our local voters and officials in Manchester-by-the-Sea and nearby Essex? What is the tone of our local board meetings? We may not agree, but are we listening respectfully to what others have to say? One word I keep bumping up against is kindness. It costs us nothing to be kind. When I read about doors being slammed in politicians faces, the seemingly endless controversies over the pandemic, and sheer hostility of some of our citizens, I feel the pain. Many officials have received threats against their families, livelihoods, or life. I hold up a mirror to myself and ask: how did "we the people" get to this point? 

Our local board members volunteer for many more hours than they thought were possible when they ran for, or were appointed, to their seats. These board members and our local government officials are our neighbors and friends. Our nation is experiencing a very polarized climate. This affects people especially in small towns, where our close proximity to one another can make confrontation more commonplace. People—board members or voters—may be afraid to speak up at meetings for fear of offending a segment of the population, or worse, they may receive veiled or actual threats! When the integrity and competence of sitting officials are challenged, they question whether or not it is worth it to serve. 

Heated issues: such as school curriculum changes, zoning bylaws, mandated pandemic restrictions, and lots more are causing voters to be more aggressive. A recent Gallup survey found that voters expressed a higher level of trust in state and local governments than federal, although that trust has fallen to the lowest point in a decade. A negative environment hurts us all. We are not living in normal times. The pandemic continues to disrupt our lives, livelihoods, and communities. Since all politics is local, a reversal of this environment must start right here with me. How can I be more kind; listen to those who disagree with me; and be respectful? Because, if we don’t turn this caustic environment around, where are we headed?

Karin Gertsch


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