For years members of the Longmont community have discussed with me their distress at the level of discourse that they read and hear. They specifically reference the comments that appear at Times-Call Online.
Most have chosen to just stop reading the comments, if not the articles themselves. They talk to me about the lack of knowledge by so many who write comments. Some are just baffled at the unapologetic ignorance displayed.
They are perplexed as to why the Times-Call permits the personal attacks and the overall level of viciousness. “The T-C has a commenting policy but they don’t adhere to it,” they say. How do they know this? They tell me that they have reported certain commenters enough times to have those accounts disabled, yet those same commenters are still posting. They wonder if the Times-Call is selective about what they allow and what they don’t. I tell them to let the evidence guide their judgment.
They also have the similar concerns about the T-C Line.
Some wonder if most of the people who comment to Times-Call articles actually represent most of Longmont. Yet they personally know so many good, smart, intelligent people that they have a difficult time believing that these others could really be the real Longmont.
Recently, I’ve heard concerns that are much more serious than rightwing extremists “shooting off their mouths.”
I’ve had people tell me that they’ve written letters to the editor and then scrapped them because of fear of retaliation – either against themselves or their family. Others would like to speak at city council meetings but they know that attacks will follow.
I usually don’t tell them that they haven’t seen the worst of it. They don’t know about Longmont’s worst rightwing blogger. They don’t know about other attack sites, some active and some semi-dormant. Perhaps I should tell them. Perhaps it’s past time that they face the most unpleasant of political realities that have taken over the community in the last two years or so.
It has gone too far when members of our community don’t feel free to exercise their first amendment right to speak freely about issues. When they cower in fear of attacks. When they wonder if their families will be harassed. When they wonder if their jobs will be targeted. When they wonder if they will have to endure emotional abuse, if not physical abuse.
These are “ordinary” citizens of Longmont. They are not activists, some of whom have gotten used to a certain level of abuse. Most of the community’s activists recognize that some of this (though not all) is the price they pay for helping the community improve. For helping the community face its flaws. For creating a better Longmont for everyone.
It saddens me to know that this is happening. It saddens me even more to know that this is precisely the intent of the people in question. They intend that only their voices are heard. It’s called intimidation–at best, threatening–at worst.
And it will work, my fellow Longmonters. It will work unless you “screw your courage to the sticking post” and say, “No More!” “Enough!” This is your community, too. Your have both the right – and the duty – to speak, to shape your community, to cherish and protect the city you call home.