Close to Home: Seeking a more civil public discourse during elections
Two years ago, only 8 percent of California’s eligible youth cast ballots in the general election. Those between the ages of 25 and 35 fared barely better: 15 percent of them voted. It’s no surprise that people our age are disenchanted with and detached from our political system. A billionaire presidential candidate stalks the national stage, sniffing as he casually derides women, minorities, the press and anyone who dares disagree with him. Facing off against him, a battleworn woman - who, after 240 years of male presidents, should by all rights ignite every young woman’s inner feminist - struggles to mobilize millennials and young voters.
In 2008, youth were moved to action by “that hopey changey thing” - the promise of new perspective, unity and vision offered by a young senator and father named Barack Obama. Eight years later, that fresh promise feels distant, even ghostly. Worse, that ghost - Hillary Clinton’s vestigial pledge of kindness and a resuscitated middle class - is almost entirely drowned out by a toxic, divisive, hateful national discourse.
We must stand up and speak out for civility and inclusivity. We are running for office - 5th District supervisor and Area 5 trustee to the Sonoma County Office of Education - because we believe in the betterment of our community, and because we believe that our local political system will be strengthened by inclusion and participation. Local government should reflect the diversity of our community, engaging the perspectives of people of color, youth, working parents, retirees: people of all ages, genders, backgrounds, sexual orientations and creeds.
When, in January, we joined forces for a supervisor campaign, we set a standard of no negative campaigning. We sought to create a community conversation based on facts and policy, rather than attacks and personality. We believe in starting from what unites us, rather than what divides us. As a result, we’ve been accused of playing Pollyanna. But there is a crucial difference between idealism and naivete. We may be idealistic, but we are not naive. We recognize that the problems of the world are weighty, the complications tremendous, the solutions elusive and complex. And while fear-mongering and attacks are an effective political strategy, we believe that they damage the fabric of our society. Like Michelle Obama, we believe in choosing the higher road.
Unfortunately, the 5th District supervisorial race has in some ways mirrored the national election. As a result of fear-based campaigning, the 5th District discourse has devolved into ad hominem attacks, sign vandalism, hit pieces and pervasive misinformation. We’ve received threats and an email wishing “untold suffering” on family. We’ve had epithets hurled at us. Comments have been made about young mothers being unfit for office, since they should be home raising kids.
It takes courage to run for office. All candidates know that they are signing up for scrutiny and tough debates. But there is a difference between heated, fact-based debates and hateful fear-mongering. If we continue to punish people who stand up to serve their community, eventually good people will stop standing up. How do we take back our political system and engage voters of all ages? We must create constructive conversation rather than destructive campaigns.
We denounce negative campaigning. There are two types of political mail filling your mailbox this campaign season: the type telling you whom to vote for and the type casting aspersions and telling you whom to vote against. Rather than demonizing an opposing candidate, we urge you to explain why your candidate is the better choice. Rather than casting a ballot based on fear, we hope you take a stand and vote based on values and vision for a better future.
Lynda Hopkins is running to representative the 5th District on the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors. Herman G. Hernandez, campaign manager for Hopkins, is running for re-election as Area 5 trustee for the Sonoma County Office of Education.