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Bellingham
Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Frontline: More involvement equals government accountability

By Anna Edlund

 

At this point, it seems ridiculous to think climate change deniers still exist. And even worse, that we have one representing us in government.

Doug Ericksen is a Washington state Senator representing the 42nd district, including north Bellingham. A member of Trump’s transition team in the Environmental Protection Agency, he has been criticized as a climate change skeptic and for abandoning his constituents.

And rightly so.

Ericksen held a town hall this past weekend to an overflowing and accusatory crowd. His position within the EPA has brought particular ire, as he’s missed 75 percent of scheduled committee meetings this legislative session while continuing to hold his Senate position.

And the people didn’t let him forget it.

The town hall was past maximum capacity, with roughly 700 people showing up. It was a raucous event, with attendees shouting questions at the senator, demanding answers.

The more people who utilize the incredible opportunity that public meetings offer, the greater the spread of information and open dialogue. Ericksen’s town hall is proof enough.

Anna Edlund, opinion editor

Good.

Accountability is a hard-found concept in today’s politics. Letter-writing and endless phone calls to representative’s offices are ineffective, and it seems practically futile to send emails to the politicians who shape our lives.

Public meetings that guarantee face-to-face time with politicians are an absolute goldmine when it comes to making your voice heard. It’s a lot harder to ignore someone talking to your face in a room of a hundred than someone sending an angry email. Ericksen spends much of his time in Olympia and Washington D.C., and nowhere near enough actually interacting with his constituents.

So why do city and county council meetings have such low attendance, when we are represented by politicians like Ericksen?

Illustration by Darby Womack

If you’ve ever attended Bellingham City Council meetings, you’ll know the majority of attendees are yelling-at-the-clouds old men, and various professionals or nonprofit organizers who have a direct stake in whatever the issues of the night are. With a few exceptions, it’s not often that student organizers and protestors come to voice their views.

And what a shame that is.

By law, council members are required to listen to you. They have to not only hear you, but give you the time to speak so anyone else attending will hear you. It’s a free megaphone pointed directly at the people who can make a difference. And even if the members of city and county council aren’t as wildly divisive as someone like Ericksen, they’re a step closer to representatives like him who warrant such outcry.

The sort of fervor and emotion constituents brought to Ericksen’s town hall was a perfect example of the difference people can make. Will the senator change his actions accordingly? Maybe not. But in a time when accountability is hard to come by, voices at public events are a powerful motivator.

And this is happening across the country. Politicians and representatives are being questioned at town hall meetings across the country by citizens from every political leaning and walk of life. People are fed up because they aren’t being heard.

Western’s Blue Group, a group for undocumented students and their supporters, recently petitioned Bellingham City Council for creation of a sanctuary city. A packed hall filled with fired-up students, many holding signs, was a powerful force. And even though the status of sanctuary city wasn’t granted, the promise that Bellingham won’t enforce immigration law is a win. It was a promising and uplifting sight for young people petitioning for change.

Saturday’s town hall was an important example of genuine organization and accountability that we desperately need. Supporters of Ericksen, opponents and people without affiliation came together to do what democracy needs most: hold their representatives to the standards they were elected to. And call them out when they hold positions as backwards as denying climate change.

Bellingham is home to so many passionate and provocative activists, with a huge variety of beliefs. The more people who utilize the incredible opportunity that public meetings offer, the greater the spread of information and open dialogue. Ericksen’s town hall is proof enough.

1 COMMENT

  1. I laughed reading this progressive call to arms.
    At this point, it seems ridiculous to think any informed editorial board would present such a naive or mendacious impression of what it means to be able to testify at a public hearing.
    It has been such commonplace for folks to be given the usual 2 or 3 minutes to address some council, commission or committee only be thoroughly ignored to the degree that most people stop bothering to even attend.
    Rarely is there any interaction involved at all. No Q&A or feedback from the politician at all.
    This is how Mayors, council members, commissioners and alike make public meetings with guarantee face-to-face time with politicians just as useless as the sending of an angry email.

    Town halls are different of course but lately they have become orchestrated angry mob stunts used for anti-trump tantrums.

    This editorial is an extension of the same tantrum that seeks to undo or impede the direction the November election approved.
    You aren’t holding any representative to any standard. “Calling them out” at a town hall for daring to have an opposing position that has more substance than the climate crusade is even weaker.

    There has been countless opportunities for a greater spread of information and open dialogue. The petulant left has avoided, obstructed and wasted the opportunities as a means to avoid addressing the information and discussions they do not want to hear.
    It’s easier to chant “climate denier”. It’s also dishonest.

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