Courage is contagious

Faye Williams speaks at the July 18, 2019 city commission meeting



Many comments on our Facebook posts express a strong level of frustration with our local elected officials. But you’re not going to change anything by arguing on Facebook. What can you do?

The most important thing you can do is understand what is on the agenda at city and county commission meetings. We generally post meeting notices for the City of Gainesville and for Alachua County; smaller municipalities are welcome to send us meeting notices, as well, but we don’t have the manpower right now to cover those meetings. 

Commissioners often mention emails from residents, and it’s not uncommon for local social justice organizations to line up a large number of supporters to speak at meetings in favor of certain issues. Just as one example, Gator NAACP recently encouraged its members to write to the county commission and the school board about renaming JJ Finley Elementary School, and that resulted in hundreds of emails on that one topic. 

However, only a small fraction of the many people who oppose the proposed policies actually have the courage to speak up and hold our elected officials accountable. As an example, Nathan Skop regularly calls in to the virtual meetings, but he is often the lone speaker on any given topic. There were about a dozen citizens who used to attend meetings at City Hall prior to COVID-19, but they haven’t been active in the virtual meetings.

Many people have told me that there is no point in speaking out against a commission that is ideologically aligned and will vote for their preferred policies regardless of how many people call in. It’s true that you won’t change their mind, but you can dispel the notion that “the community” supports everything they do. You can make it more awkward for them to vote unanimously for things like higher property taxes and GRU rates. You can ask questions (and that can become a story when they won’t answer). Your comments may prompt them to make speeches that reveal things they hadn’t planned to say publicly. 

Courage is contagious, and both the city and county commissions have recently backed down from unpopular stances. The recent skate park mulch incident exposed the City of Gainesville’s unwillingness to stick with unpopular policies when determined civil disobedience overwhelmed their ability to enforce their rules. When members of the public asked the county commission to make face masks voluntary, they did so, but they changed their minds after the city commissioners scolded them for putting everyone at risk from COVID-19. 

You can find information on City of Gainesville meetings here, and you can email the whole commission at citycomm@cityofgainesville.org. You can also submit public comment with the “eComment” link, but it’s unclear whether commissioners actually read that.

You can find information on Alachua County meetings here, and you can email the whole commission at bocc@alachuacounty.us.

When you speak or email, be polite and concise. Stick to the topic of the motion (the city commission is not taking general public comment during COVID-19, while the county still has a general public comment period; other than general public comment, you have to speak to the motion on the floor), and make some notes because if you’ve never done it before, you may find it’s more nerve-wracking than you’d expect to suddenly have the floor. 

Not many of us can go to City Hall on a weekday afternoon and sit around for hours, but this era of virtual meetings is a golden opportunity to participate in your local government, and very few people are taking advantage of it. (There are some people who aren’t comfortable with the virtual format, for a number of reasons, and I hope they will be active again when things go back to whatever passes as normal.)

Vent all you want on Facebook, but if you want anything to change, you have to speak to the people who make the decisions, and that means paying attention to what they’ll be voting on, following the meeting so you know when the topic is being discussed, and calling in when they open public comment. Maybe you will embolden someone else to do the same thing. 

  • You are right by your lead in, “Courage is Contagious.” Look at the results of courage around the country as well as our own community. However, for those like myself who have called in and the “facilitator/screener” does exactly as their “King” has directed them to do, “Screen the calls and prevent those comments from being heard.” Our comments and questions are not heard. King Poe has done exactly as he did during in person meetings. Only difference is he can’t have you removed from your home…not yet anyway.

    • Agreed. Well stated realtruth2020. —King Poe can’t remove you from your home yet, but he can make you a superhero and
      Be quarantined in it…they got those signs..you know, “be a superhero
      And stay home”…they definitely don’t want you participating and exposing their
      Lies…covid is just their cover…you know, “never waste a
      Good crisis”…they’re certainly taking advantage of this one
      To silence the citizens from participating. Be a superhero and demand live meetings where citizens can participate in person again!

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