By Councilmember Chris Duncan
Reprinted with permission from Chris Duncan. This article originally was printed in San Clemente Times, (March 4, 2021).
Our natural instinct in these times is to find like-minded souls to take us in, assuage our self-doubt, and tell us the “other side” is the source of our inner turmoil.
In coffee meetings, YouTube chats, and Facebook groups, the urge is strong to sort ourselves into competing factions, all bent on protecting “us” from “them” by denigrating those who see things differently.
Fear and frustration manifest as grievance against a mythical “they” who have gained from our side’s loss. Like a drowning swimmer off Lost Winds, we pull each other under to save ourselves.
This animosity, while comforting in the short run, is not the answer. We San Clemente residents will not, and should not, agree on everything. Vigorous debate results in a better functioning democracy, because the best ideas will withstand the toughest scrutiny.
But while we may disagree with our fellow citizens on the issues, we must not assign them evil intent. That is easier said than done, especially right now. National news outlets and social media companies, which profit off our divisions, tell us the stories we want to hear, not those we need to hear, and relentlessly demonize the “opposition.”
Your neighbor is not your enemy, but it is easy to believe he or she is. I know, because I am as susceptible to making rash personal judgments as the next person. It feels soothing for an instant to vilify someone who thinks differently, or worse, label them a bad person. But personal attacks only make us feel more bitter and alone, and in the long run, corrode our public discourse.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Each of us is responsible for changing the narrative. Our future generations are counting on us to make decisions today that will enhance our city’s prospects, not drive a wedge through it.
If we acknowledge that our own insecurities are often the source of our unease, we can avoid trying to find faults in others to make ourselves feel better. Through this acceptance, we can lift the invisible walls that separate us and come together to achieve the goals we share.
I believe we are in a unique position to make this happen. As tragic as COVID-19 has been, it has forced us to unify around beneficial practices we previously overlooked, like dining outdoors, enjoying our beautiful environment, and being more present for our kids.
As we emerge together from the pandemic, having defeated the virus and preserved our way of life through our collective diligence and mutual goodwill, we have an unprecedented opportunity to leverage this unity to tackle other challenges that seemed out of reach.
Stopping the toll road, saving our beaches, ending homelessness in town. These are all possible if we direct our energy toward solving the problem instead of endlessly critiquing fellow problem-solvers.
But this opportunity is fleeting. If we do not act now, it will pass us by. And a year from now, when things are back to normal, we may forget what is possible if we act in unison.
San Clemente is an extraordinary town, but I am convinced our best days are ahead of us. It is up to each and every one of us, including the five us on the city council, to release the baggage of contempt and blame, appeal to the better angels of our nature, and replace character smears with substantive, fact-driven discussion. Only then will our Spanish Village reach its full potential.
Chris Duncan is a San Clemente city councilmember who was elected in 2020.
January 15, 2021
SAN CLEMENTE, CA — First Amendment Voice stands with the many voices raised against the political violence at the Capitol building and other areas around the country on January 6th. While we steadfastly champion freedoms of expression, assembly and the ability to petition the government for grievance, we denounce those who would use violence as a weapon against the pillars of democracy due to an election outcome. As the Joint Chiefs of Staff recently announced, “We witnessed actions inside the Capitol building that were inconsistent with the rule of law. The rights of freedom of speech and assembly do not give anyone the right to resort to violence, sedition and insurrection.” The rioters, due to ignorance, arrogance, or some combination, have endangered the very rights they professed to defend. The First Amendment allows citizens to express themselves, assemble and petition the government for grievance. It does not afford the right to push through barricades, loot and destroy property, or endanger the lives of others.
We mourn the loss of life, including police officers in the line of duty and others, due to violence and call on leaders to settle grievances at the ballot box and through legal means. The country faces myriad health and economic challenges without need for self-inflicted losses from illegal mob actions.
We celebrate the thousands of heroes across the country who monitored the election, volunteered at the polls, served in the courts during legal challenges, and many other civic functions. These unsung citizens stepped forward during an international health crisis, despite the risks, to play their role in shepherding our democratic processes. Civic engagement is daily work, not something that occurs only during elections. Thank you for leading by example.
We express gratitude to our elected leaders, military, first responders, and countless others involved in safeguarding our democratic process and our citizens. Stay resilient and keep moving our country inexorably toward the aspirations outlined in the Constitution.
First Amendment Voice (FAV) is a non-profit, nonpartisan movement created to bring awareness, provide education and promote advocacy for citizens to exercise their First Amendment freedoms of religion, expression, press, assembly, and petition while encouraging citizens to understand, protect, and exercise those rights through ongoing programs and partnerships. Our board consists of veterans, lawyers, clergy, different ethnicities, genders, faiths, and three different generations.
Learn more about FAV at www.firstamendmentvoice.org. Subscribe to our free newsletter or YouTube channel to see previous programming. Inquire to firstname.lastname@example.org
Citizenship is not a spectator sport!
Have you had a chance to vote yet? If you haven’t, we encourage you to make a plan that meets your own health concerns and also takes into account the information you need to make informed decisions. Many citizens make one of the most important forms of expression, voting, with incomplete information. Ensure you have a plan, given virus restrictions that have impacted the mail system and normal polling stations. Vote early if you can. Check with organizations like Vote.org to get your state level information on whether early voting is allowed, whether drop boxes allow you to avoid sending ballots through the mail, polling locations and other details.
Are you a California voter, wondering about all of the different propositions on the ballot? Check out this LA Times video overview. It provides the various (12) propositions, pros and cons, along with whose for it and against it in about one minute or less per measure.
Voting in San Clemente? Check out FAV’s two different videos on the Candidate Forums co-sponsored with the Chamber of Commerce for the 2 Year seat and 4 Year seats. Learn about your candidates before casting your ballot.
If you have voted, check out some of FAV blogs that help you think about civic engagement beyond election time. Find our most recent one here and one on invitational communication here.
Citizenship is not a spectator sport!
Steve & the FAV Team
For added perspective on the challenges of policing and interactions in African American neighborhoods, FAV recommends Jill Leovy’s Ghettoside book. Leovy adds a new voice to understanding a way forward for America with respect to police forces and violence.
Read the LA Times book review here to learn more:
The Foundation on Individual Rights in Education or FIRE
The organization annually rates colleges with respect to freedom of expression. They publish a top ten list for colleges that do not live up to the ideals of free expression, usually for a variety of reasons. They have many other resources on the website that enable serious thought about free expression.
Top ten list https://www.thefire.org/fire-announces-10-worst-colleges-for-free-speech-2016/
FIRE’s 10 Worst Colleges for Free Speech
- Mount St. Mary’s University
- Northwestern University
- Louisiana State University
- University of California, San Diego
- Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota
- University of Oklahoma
- Marquette University
- Colorado College
- University of Tulsa
- Wesleyan University
As the First Amendment makes clear – “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” Thus, we as responsible citizens should exercise and protect those rights for the posterity of future generations. No generation can afford to become complacent in a democracy. The end result will either be tyranny or anarchy. Stay true!