We should always remember the danger that the mixture of false information and anger poses to our democracy. I was in Washington on Jan. 6 in a journalistic role. That type of mob mentality I saw in D.C. earlier this year was reflected in what I saw at the Dorchester District 2 school board meeting on Monday, Sept. 20.
My daughter attends school in the district, and my wife teaches there. I went to speak in favor of the district putting in a temporary mass mandate, at least until the COVID numbers are reduced in the county and state. While there is a large percentage of the district that feels the same way, oftentimes the loudest and angriest voices are the ones that come out and are heard. That is certainly what happened Sept. 20.
The first speaker from the anti-mask group essentially said it was largely obese children who were getting sick from COVID and somehow tied the argument of the school requiring masks to the school banning teachers who were obese or smokers. Her husband spoke next and said the board, alongside Biden, could all go to hell where they belong — that this was a war. He made the link between the Sept. 11 attacks and our freedoms being taken away by a mask mandate.
I got the sense that the board is not only afraid of not getting reelected if they vote for a mask mandate. I think there is probably a deeper fear for their actual safety from the type of mob mentality that was there — people who are so extreme in their views and so vicious in their attacks. Someone was mocking the pediatric ICU nurse who came to speak. Another was yelling at the news crew covering the meeting. It is ultimately the extremely dangerous distortion of reality and democracy that happened under Trump, coming to a local level.
I know a lot of people understandably cave under these realities. Many teachers and community members are afraid to speak out because of what the mob mentality could mean to their jobs. On a national level, legislators like Republican Congressman Anthony Gonzales, one of the few Republicans to vote for Trump’s impeachment, resigned last week out of fear for his own safety. It happened with Republican Party board members in Greenville County, all of whom resigned after receiving death threats from people in the party’s pro-Trump faction, which insisted the local election was stolen.
It is time to end the catering to anti-mask parents whose campaign is based on false information and an incredible amount of privilege. I do a lot of work on the border with desperate asylum seekers. I have seen firsthand what real oppression, loss of liberty and desperation are. Having your child temporarily wear a mask on their face does not fit into those categories.
I do not believe the angry crowd I saw this past week represents the majority of people in our area. However, if we do not become active, they will control the conversation. It is time to get involved on a local level. Yes, there is extremism on both sides. I have seen this in Portland, Oregon, with the far left. But our biggest issue in South Carolina are far-right groups that are causing havoc to our local system of democracy. It is time for us to get involved and let the voice of the people, not harassment and intimidation, be the basis of the policy in our local governments.