Political comment suspended, blanket anonymity ended
By Gordon Stewart
Political campaigns are the backbone of our democracy. Whether on a national or local scale we depend on them to exercise our right to choose our representatives and leaders. First envisioned as an ideal process of informed debate, in practice our political contests are more often than not messy and dispiriting affairs. Rare is the campaign where the best of what we are as a community of shared values remains visible as competition grows ever more intense.
Even though the origins of political hardball in America are probably better traced to Yorktown than Cooperstown, we still cherish and try to pass on to our children an ideal of civil, substantive, competitive debate where voting decisions can be made free from personal slanders, partisan acrimony, and ideological distortion. Given the speed and ubiquity of contemporary media, holding to that vision appears all the more vital to the health, perhaps even the survival, of our democratic society.
As the Philipstown campaign of 2011 runs its course, many have noted an increase in the volume and intensity of partisan positioning, as well as an appetite among some citizens for battering their fellow citizens with clubs of prose. There is a sense that fallout from almost nuclear political warfare that pollutes the nation’s atmosphere and the apparatus of national political combat are increasingly being deployed in our community. Certainly our own e-paper’s collection of comments during these past months offers documentation of these perceptions.
From my own experience and perspective, I will go so far as to say that even in the short time my family has enjoyed the many blessings of living here, there seems to be an emergence of a kind of ‘political racism’, in which Philipstowners are being defined not by the fullness of their individuality as human beings, but by their political views and activities, real or presumed. I deeply believe that it is as wrong to define a person by his or her political preferences, as it is to define anyone by color of skin, place of origin, practice of faith, or by any other generalized criteria that denies the individuality of any of us…or the common humanity of all of us.
I hope that even before this campaign ends, all of us will examine our own habits of thought and expression, take off our tinted political glasses, and see each other in the fullness of the person each of us is, and give to each, as another human being struggling to make the best of what life has given them, the respect that each of us as human beings deserves. Fortunately for those of us who live in smaller communities like Philipstown, where the citizenry meeting in person can still resolve most issues, moments can be created when a collective breath is taken, so that a new resolve to recognize the commonality of interests we share may emerge. Here in Philipstown perhaps we can agree that the need for such a moment has arrived, and act upon it in to the best of our abilities with the means that we have. Following are two actions Philipstown.info will take today, along with two others which will supplement the individual actions we hope others will consider:
I. The first order of business for everyone is of course for every eligible citizen to cast his or her vote on Tuesday, Nov. 8 so that the formation of our government on Jan. 1, 2012 arises from the fullest possible consideration of the electorate. Good turnouts empower the legitimacy of the victors to govern and also inform their judgment with the expressed concerns of the minority. Simply CLICK HERE for information on candidates, polling places and other Election Day info.
II. Also on Tuesday, the Lion’s Club will hold its traditional Election Day luncheon at the Chalet on the Hudson, bringing together political and civic activists in recognition of our mutually shared values and renewed commitment to honorable stewardship of the town. Hopefully, the turnout will be suitably representative of all perspectives making the occasion one for reconciliation and camaraderie.
III. Here at Philipstown.info we have turned off the political comment light for the time being, thinking sufficient airing of views has taken place. Rather than enable more e-debates, we believe the next 48 hours or so is time better spent speaking to one another in person, a time for candidates and parties to get out the vote, and most important, a time to consider how we will cast our votes according our beliefs about what is best for the Town.
IV. Further, our experience with the way some have expressed themselves in the course of this campaign has caused us to re-evaluate the appropriateness of offering an almost blanket protection of anonymity for commentary, regardless of whether any legitimate fear of retaliation exists. When we re-open our opinion pages to political comment, we will no longer accept anonymous posts, unless an author can demonstrate legitimate cause for requesting it, such as a reasonable fear of retaliation.
V. Learning from each other while respecting one another regardless of our political views, economic situations, or length of residency is now and will continue to be the grounding belief of Philipstown.info. We are an e-paper open and free to all, and so is our physical space at 69 Main Street. Both will continue to welcome everyone in our singular and wonderful town.
We at Philipstown.info learn new things every week about technology’s potential. But we learn even more from the insights, enthusiasms, generosities, modes of living, cherished beliefs and new ideas of the people all around us — online, on the streets, along our roads and trails, in our shops, parks, schools, cultural institutions, firehouses, places of worship, restaurants, parking lots, train platforms, river banks, check-out counters, and all the other places where somehow all nine thousand of us seem to run into each other every day.
As for our wonderful Philipstown itself, even though we rightly strive to preserve as much of the best and most beautiful in our community as we can, no community can ever stay the same, though we certainly try harder and succeed more than most. How much of this is good or bad is the source of many of our deepest controversies. But no matter how we long for things to remain just as they’ve always been, or even to return to times that never were exactly as we imagine, tomorrow always arrives with fresh challenges and possibilities.
Above all, please let us each resolve to come together as the people of Philipstown to work with whomever we elect from whatever party they represent for the good of each and every one among us. To help this happen, it’s Philipstown.info’s position, perhaps the only formal one we’ve taken since we started, and the basis for the actions we are taking and suggesting now, is that we could all benefit from letting peace among us be declared today.
Photo taken from Little Stony Point, by M. Turton