Winston Churchill once said “Democracy is the worst form of government, except all the others.”
We in Newton County have seen this in stark reality this week.
This week started with the public invited to speak their minds about a proposed mosque coming to Newton County. Local, regional and national news media descended on the Newton County Historic Courthouse and reported on that meeting. All-in-all there were no big issues, no arrests, no one hurt.
Citizens spoke their mind, some had questions about traffic, some had questions about the new culture coming into our community, others spoke about fears that have developed in a country that saw two airliners crash into the World Trade Center and others spoke of a nation of understanding and harmony.
Those are the sentiments we are eager to hear about, and hoped our commissioners were eager to hear about. Four of the five commissioners were present at Monday’s town hall along with the Chair to hear the public’s concerns. The missing commissioner notified the media and elected officials of his reasoning for not attending. Again, that is his right, both as a citizen but also as an elected official.
The following day, the Chair accused that missing commissioner and another of blackmail which was in part a cause for lack of communication. The next day, a statement from the district attorney indicated that the accusation of blackmail was unwarranted as a criminal act by FBI definitions.
Two days later the mayors of our community wrote a letter to county officials stating loud and clear that they were embarrassed by their leadership.
This has been a very difficult week for our community.
It seems like everyone is pushing their own agenda and waiting for someone to slip up so a winner can be declared. Despite what it may feel like, this is not reality television. No one will win this game. In fact, both the players and spectators can lose.
This is our community.
We cannot let ourselves get caught in the back and forth, not on the issues of freedom of religion, freedom of speech and our own personal rights. That is the bedrock this nation is founded on. It is a nation that prides itself on its multiculturalism, its adaptability, and its democratic process. We also live in a region that prides itself on its Southern Hospitality.
So for the love of this community and this nation, let’s find a way to remember that and come together. To move past pointing fingers and throwing stones.
Citizens have voiced their opinions. Elected officials have made their statements. We live in a community where our neighbors’ opinions still matter. We live in a country where Freedom of Speech is still a constitutional right.
Such rights and privileges should not be squandered nor ignored. Yes, Churchill was correct in asserting that democracy was difficult. But such rights and privileges do not assure the right to be uncivil.
No matter when side of which debate you fall on, the question is what is next.
What is next for our citizens as they try to find a constructive outlet for their frustrations? What is next for our elected officials as they work toward upholding our civil liberties and setting policy and precedents for our community? What is next?
Challenge is upon us and how we rise to that challenge will define us … today and tomorrow.
History proves that finest hours come after the darkest days. We have had some dark days in Newton County recently. There are likely more to come.
We should not lose sight that the sun will rise in the east again tomorrow.