Civil discourse has been an important part of the American tradition ever since our nation’s founding. The free exchange of ideas enables us to participate in processes to come up with solutions to problems and create a stronger sense of the greater good.
However, it seems that some people have forgotten the need to have these conversations with a sense of mutual respect.
I attended a couple of town hall meetings in mid-April with Congressman Greg Walden. They were held in Medford and Grants Pass, and afforded citizens the opportunity to share their concerns with one of the highest-ranking members of Congress.
Both meetings were marred with constant interruptions from members of the audience and frequent displays of disdain for the Congressman and everyone else in attendance. Many people who wanted to ask questions were unable to because of the time others spent heckling Walden without even trying to hear what he had to say.
The next day, I held two town hall meetings of my own, in Ashland and Jacksonville. Although a some of those who came to the Ashland event disagreed with my stance on a few issues, the overall dialogue was still largely productive. My meeting at old city hall in Jacksonville was even better, as the audience did much to uphold the traditions of civic discourse.
There’s no way that everyone is always going to agree on everything. Therefore, it’s critical we take the time to listen to each other’s viewpoints to decide what policies government should implement to benefit as many people as possible.
Instead, we’ve reached a point where elected representatives and members of their families are directly threatened by people who are unhappy with decisions they’ve made while serving in office. The mayor of Portland has had to contend with protesters behaving badly in front of the private residence that he shares with his wife and children. He stayed at least one night at a hotel and has had his car tires slashed repeatedly.
Such behavior is simply unacceptable. We owe it to each other to engage in constructive discussions that bring us closer to a mutual understanding, rather than perpetuating the politics of division and personal destruction normalized by the 2016 presidential election. Let’s rise above this and rise above the race to the bottom.
I was very encouraged by those who showed up to meet with me in Ashland and Jacksonville, and look forward to having more town hall meetings in the future. Together, we can do what we can to make Oregon a better place to live for each and every one of us.
Alan DeBoer is a State Senator representing District 3 in Southern Oregon.