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  • Writer's pictureLisa Jensen

Red, White, and Bruised: How Disrespect is Breaking Down Democracy

I did an unusual thing today. I gave a totally unprepared, off-the-cuff public comment at a Board of Supervisors meeting. I had never been to one of these meetings before, and my interest was really only because a man was assaulted by a prominent member of a local political activist group who was seeking my help with getting a restraining order.

We all have our personal politics, but regardless of our individual opinions, we all have a right to live in this world, no matter what we believe, as long as we are not causing undue harm to others. I can disagree with you and still respect your right to your opinion. But that being said, if you express things, particularly if you put yourself out there as a public figure, people have the freedom to criticize or even ridicule what you have to say. Within reason. Threats and intimidation are never acceptable ways to exercise your First Amendment rights.

What made me actually speak up was the fact that when we showed up, there was an inflammatory display of posters trying to publicly embarrass this man in the chambers of the Board of Supervisors. Bear in mind, this is not a politician. He's a comedian. He's black and liberal in a majority white conservative community. With his personal business plastered across the chambers of a government administration building. "WTF" doesn't begin to cover it.

I am a big fan of stand up comedy. I find it comforting to watch Ilizia Schlesinger's "fried shrimp" bit. I've gasped for air listening to Chris Rock. I actually had the privilege of meeting Robin Williams back when I was in high school, and he briefly stole my cell phone. Funny people get us through dark moments in our lives. And the best humor punches upward, not downward. It calls out someone in power and encourages a critique. In that way, being the subject of someone's joke often means that you are doing something worthy of note, albeit perhaps something not everyone agrees with.

But there's a big difference between humor and a witch hunt. Today wasn't the comic roast of a local funnyman. Instead, they came with tar and feathers, unsmiling, and angry. Whatever is making these people so miserable that this is what they see fit to do with their spare time, I hope they find healing and a better purpose in the future. In the meantime, I intend to continue trying to ensure that the law applies equally to all of us, that all of us enjoy the same freedoms and rights, and that sane people do not remain quiet.

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