Something is sweeping the country at the moment, including our comfortable, little Pacific Northwest neighborhood. Something threatening and violent.
And, that ain't good.
School board meetings, city council, county commission sessions and more are either being cancelled or are available to the public only on computers. Public business no longer being done in public.
The single reason behind closing such public meetings, cancelling them or resorting to computerized vehicles like ZOOM is violence. Rude, unruly and - at times - out-of-control attendees. From coast-to-coast.
As a nation, we've developed a sense of entitlement, coupled with a threat of violence just below the surface of normal conduct. It shows up as angry parents at their kids sports. In crowds at concerts, professional athletic events and, now it seems, the traditionally uneventful conduct of school boards and planning and zoning meetings.
Public bodies - elected or appointed - are required by law to conduct the business of the public - in public. Most are pretty good at doing so. But, now the folks trying to do their business are faced with having to come up with new ways of gathering and operating.
This widespread cloistering of public meetings because of unruly and - at times - violent attendees is a new phenomenon. In my days as a city hall reporter, I can't tell you how many times I nodded off during those lengthy sessions. Four or five hours of public hearings can do that. Not any more.
As a person of four-score-plus, I'm not entirely "computer literate." My digital mastery consists of just what I need to know about computers in order to do such chores as banking, keeping up with newsy developments and limited word processing such as these weekly offerings.
That's it. Talk to me about ZOOMing, twittering, Go Fund Me's and such and you're way over my head.
I had to go to night school at the age of 58 to learn that, to turn OFF a computer, you have to go to "START." I'm still cussing Bill Gates for that bit of unnecessary confusion.
When you start talking about attending a local city council meeting on ZOOM, details of gaining such access - and participating in discussions - soon get confusing for my old mental "processor." And, that's the way it is for millions of us old folks who didn't grow up with these damned devices. We just don't have a lot of access skills.
Lacking the know-how, going to ZOOM or similar computer-based access to public meetings, can mean many citizens are being shut out of what was meant to be public sessions of the public's business which wouldn't be public to millions of Americans.
I recently attended a "town hall" session put on by one of our U.S. Senators. Had about 175 folks gathered in a large community college classroom. About 175. And four armed, security folks.
Now, this is just a guess on my part. But, it would seem either the Senator had experienced some unwanted audience "participation" in previous "town halls," or the armed presence was meant to ward off such a happening. Or, maybe the community college had a past bad experience or was just being overly cautious.
Either way, the presence of pistol-packing guards at such a normally gun-free, mundane happening was, for me, unsettling and unwanted.
This nation has been "governed" by public meetings since its founding. In much of Vermont and various small communities in upper Maine, local governance is still based on open town hall meetings where the public - rather than elected/appointed boards - makes decisions about planning/zoning, school conduct and a lot more. As close to the people as you can get. And, it works.
When a sponsor - including a U.S. Senator - feels the necessity to have multiple armed guards at a small town, regular public meeting, we've lost something normal - something precious - in this country. The processes and expectation of orderly free assembly and free speech seem threatened.
I wonder, seeing the armed, black-uniformed security at the Senator's gathering, how many folks that might have ordinarily spoken up on some issue, kept their silence out of intimidation. I'd like to know.
Some schools boards, city and county commissions and others are meeting with armed security present. In at least one recent meeting in Idaho, it got so heated guards had to step in to keep the peace. A library board meeting. After which, the librarian quit. I'd do the same.
Millions of folks shut out of public meetings of local officials because of the lack of computers or computer skills - shut off from the conduct of the public's business - armed guards at your city council sessions - school board members huddling behind closed doors to do their work - armed security at local government meetings.
The right - the fundamental and constitutionally-guaranteed right - to peaceful assembly for the conduct of public business. It's being threatened. In danger of being lost?
What do we do about it?