Two Reader's Views on Tuesday's Election (Laura Townsend and Allen Furth) ~ Annapolis Capital Punishment

Friday, November 6, 2009

Two Reader's Views on Tuesday's Election (Laura Townsend and Allen Furth)

Laura Townsend and Allen Furth have sent in their views on the recent elections. They do not necessarily represent CP's views and the opinions expressed are those of the authors. Mr. Furth's were solicited after speaking with him on election night. Ms. Townsend's piece was sent in on her own accord. All readers are invited to send in guest editorials as long as they are properly attributed and not offensive or in bad taste.

On Desiring A Civil Society for Laura Townsend

I grew up in a home where I learned that homosexuality was wrong- not by what was said, but by what was unsaid. There was never a word of correction or condemnation when a slur was made or a comment overheard denouncing the lifestyle.

Then, I grew up and moved about the world some more. I entered college and met other folks, some of whom happened to be gay. The most interesting thing occurred when I learned that fact only because they told me. This solidified for me the idea that, in most aspects other than sexual preferences, gay people were just people. Some like me in opinions and interests, some unlike me, but usually in the same proportion to any other individual in society that I encountered. And most importantly, these were my friends, so deserting them was not something I was predisposed to do, nor would it be logical or fair. After all, I don’t judge my straight friends on their sexual tastes, do I?

I also grew up in a home heavily influenced by earlier eras of racism. Without too many good examples available to me, by default, I tended to view black folks as being apart from my world.

Then I grew up and moved about the world and went to racially integrated schools. I quickly learned that while there are some individual life experiences that do not easily evoke a shared understanding, my black friends shared the same dreams and desires that I did: a healthy loving family, a comfortable home, a satisfactory and enriching work experience, a safe community.

My ongoing instruction was not limited to just the gay and black communities, I developed a new hunger to understand the world around me and spent a lot of time, in college and in person, studying cultures, languages, religions and histories. Too much time, my parents who paid for it, would say.

Having a more fully formed awareness was liberating - I was able to navigate the worlds of social constructs, business, travel and life in general with more understanding, more acceptance, and more happiness.

It was not until I arrived in what I viewed as the cosmopolitan city of Annapolis that my world view was challenged. Having taken a more active role in politics here, I quickly learned the town was quagmired in racial breaches and old mistrusts. The politicians and the social leaders tried to pave it over with a thin veneer of delusion – proclamations were made, apologies given, programs started and funds doled out – but underneath, always, simmered the discontent of all sides. Behind platitudes uttered, each always thought the other side was out to get them.

The latter thought never became more real to me than when I ran for office and discovered that civic participation in this town is less about the good of the citizenry and more about the goods – What can you do for me? What will you promise? This applies to office holders, citizens, voters and friends. And the rewards meted out, a meagerly-staffed after-school center, a grant for your church, a city job for your niece - come at a higher price than just the ever-expanding waistline of Annapolis’ budget belly, they come ultimately at the price of the distancing it begets to others, that then begets the randomly perceived slight, the failure to say hello in the street, the fear that walking near a certain neighborhood can evoke. The ‘otherness’ factor.

To add just one, or two, more ingredients to the volatile cocktail of forced and unforgiving neighborliness, to make the foul concoction brim over with discontent, apprehension, suspicion, covetousness, and greed, mix in a dollop of misguided political alliances and aspirations.

And call someone a pedophile, or a racist, or any other trumped-up, railroaded, carefully aimed and definitely devious and certainly false accusation you can make – just before an election.

I’d say that both parties have been guilty of some misconstructions, but in searching my 15 years of local memory, I can’t once remember a Republican candidate or committee using a racial slur or inferring a derogatory attribute to another candidate based on skin color or sexual orientation. And yet, that’s not comforting. Because there is no such thing as a one-sided discourse, or a one dimensional community.

It’s extremely disappointing to me that a country so hopeful for change last year has so lamentably demonstrated their lack of understanding the concept when a mere nine or ten months later we have politicos talking about inculcating “black power” and equating “white & gay” with sin. Although I’m white and thus, to some, less entitled to lay claim to any understanding of Martin Luther King’s dream, I do recall my history teacher telling me the words. They went like this:

“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed.

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

And when this happens, when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:

Free at last! Free at last!

Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!

“Sit down together…transform…live out the true meaning…judge by content of character…”

Unfortunately for Annapolis, that day has not yet come, we are not free at last. The very processes that Dr. King looked to pave the passage of rights for all, the implements of government and the pangs of politicians, have been co-opted and corrupted into a sense of winner take all, with victory coming at the very price of those it sought to release.

And so we arrive at our present history, when even after carefully positioned public apologies for slavery induced by generations long past, certain individuals like Speaker Busch and Classie Hoyle can’t be troubled to issue adequate apologies for words and actions that are no less hurtful today. By their silence, they condone the literary epithets that enslave the legatee of their vicious intent in worlds of discomfort and social isolation - in a realm where mothers walk by clinging to their children and others simply stare or whisper, on streets where blacks and whites walk apart, not together, as Dr. King so vividly imagined and so plaintively desired. The phrase “all God’s children” hasn’t resonated for them yet. Just as, growing up, I learned a false set of values because others stayed silent, a community is now wrongly getting the message that this behavior is acceptable. Its leaders, and notably those that have most profited by its proliferation, have instead issued weak and impotent words, platitudes, that still fail to address the very putrid essence of the crime.

Instead, as long as Annapolis endures race-baiting fliers and tolerates gay-bashing, I fear that we are still in search of that “joyous daybreak” to end the long night of our captivity of ignorance, repression and political posturing.

Wake up, Annapolis! Wake-up and embrace the daybreak that Dr. King wished to bestow upon you and renounce the discrimination of discourse and the dirty tricks that infect our electoral process.

Laura Townsend

The writer ran unsuccessfully for Alderman in Ward 7 in 2005.

By Allen Furth

Winston Churchill once noted that ‘The best argument against Democracy is a five minute conversation with the average voter.”  I’m sure that this was said tongue in cheek but after the results of Tuesday’s Annapolis City Election (at least in some of the Wards) perhaps Mr. Churchill’s comments are more than a little insightful.

            I may not be the most experienced of campaigners, or an election historian, but over the past 17 years I’ve learned many things while being involved with more than a few local elections (City, County, and State) and from a number of different perspectives: campaign volunteer, treasurer/campaign coordinator, central committee member, election judge, election official and even Chairman of the Annapolis City Board of Elections in 2005.

As an election official I tabled partisan activities and sat quietly while watching friends battle on the campaign playing field and, at times, it was difficult to remain seated.  When not an election official, I’ve kept my support generally on the Republican side of the ballot but I have developed friendships and respect for many on the other sides.  All-in-all I’d say that I’ve been involved with a few successful campaigns and I’ve also had my share of disappointments.

I would describe myself as an ideologue and, perhaps, an ‘election perfectionist’ which is to say that I probably have an impossibly high expectation for the electoral process, my candidates, and the voters.  Personally, I believe that candidates whom I support are honorable and well meaning – a few have fallen short and there are some whom I know are, in fact, honorable even though the general perception may be otherwise (and was usually fostered by the media).  I don’t feel that I have to agree with a lot of their positions – maybe just some of the ‘core’ ones - but I do need to believe that I’ve supported good people who are committed to their values.

Through my experiences I’ve learned that most often the victor in a campaign wasn’t necessarily the person whom I thought was the best candidate but rather the winner often appeared to be the candidate who wanted it more and the voters seemed to sense it.  My simple philosophy became “the system doesn’t work well but it works”.  Now, I fear that I’ve lost my faith in the system and, especially, in the voters.

                This city election seemed to have it all (hot button issues, interesting characters, ideas, excitement, anticipation, and especially money).  Surprisingly, with all of this going for it, the election still fell unbelievably short and on so many levels.  To list just a few of the disappointments I would include: low voter turnout, racial and bigoted overtones, and voter ignorance.  I’ll try to briefly explain...

Low Voter Turnout: (I’ve intentionally omitted apathy because that just seems too easy an excuse).  As is expected in off-year municipal elections, voter turnout was very low – in some areas of Annapolis lower than in other years.  But I find it hard trying to explain this turnout when there had been unexpected turns and constant twists virtually from the day after the Primary Election when Zina Pierre resigned over the sudden release of her financial problems and questions about her meeting residency requirements. While I believe that this was an orchestrated attack aimed to convince Zina to withdraw, I don't think that the motives were racially motivated - it was just politics.  But with all the excitement I just can’t understand why so many voters decided to stay away on Election Day.

Racism and Bigotry: Unfortunately racism and bigotry can be the only explanations behind the eleventh hour literature piece developed by Josh Cohen’s campaign as well as some illegal flyers (of unknown origin) that attacked Aldermanic Candidate Scott Bowling in Ward 3.  The shocking thing is that these pieces were strictly developed to incite fear and racism within the hearts of core Democratic supporters in those areas where the pieces were passed out (i.e. the minority communities).  Folks, agree or not, this IS racism and bigotry.  While several Democratic leaders (including Josh) did publicly condemn the attack pieces, I still have to wonder if these leaders weren’t inwardly smiling knowing the impact of these pieces on the election.  Like it or not, negative campaigning does work.

Voter Ignorance:  Perhaps ‘ignorance’ isn’t the correct word but how else does someone explain Aldermanic Candidate Greg Stiverson’s loss?  While I am admittedly biased, I still feel that there is no denying the fact that Greg’s experience, knowledge of Annapolis, and his commitment to his community would have been a great asset to the city council as well as to the residents of Ward 6.  Perhaps Greg didn’t do a great job of getting his message out, but the ignorance of the voters (Republican and Democrat alike) who didn’t come out to support him will ultimately hurt the entire city.  To be honest, another word that now comes to mind is ‘injustice’.

It’s because of these things – the voters who listened and believed the negative campaigning, the voters who didn’t bother to learn the issues or know the candidates, the voters who decided to stay home – that I feel that I’ve lost my faith in the system.  The cynic in me is screaming that these people are just too stupid to have the right to vote.  To quote Winston Churchill, ‘Democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried”.  I'd like to think that he’s right but after Tuesday's election I have my doubts.

Allen Furth


Dennis Conti said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Paul Foer said...

The comment was removed at Mr. Conti's request.

Paul Foer said...

I agree with both Laura's and Allen's comments re the City elections and am also very disturbed and disappointed with voter manipulation. We need the political and religious leaders to step up and out to squelch any actions that contribute to divisiveness based on color or sexual orientation.

People who don't know who they are voting for should not vote. It just makes elections a joke, but we all have to live with the outcome.

Debbie Yatsuk

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