It happened first at the county Democratic Party’s annual Jefferson-Jackson Dinner, when one speaker compared the tactics of Mayor Reed, the Chamber of Commerce and other supporters of Measure B to those of the Nazis that he recalled from a visit to the Holocaust Museum.
It happened again yesterday, when four councilmembers signed a memo asking Mayor Reed to sign a declaration with over 200 other U.S. mayors signaling our city’s support of same-sex marriage. A woman stood up at the Rules Committee meeting and compared the tactics of these councilmembers to those very same Nazis, proving Godwin’s law.
Is this what we’ve come to in one of the most diverse and dynamic communities in the world? One side comparing the other to fascists and the other side refusing to turn the other cheek in favor of escalating a war of words that only serves to degrade our political discourse to the point of stagnation?
I’m talking to all of you. The ones who read this blog. The ones who move and shake and set the tone for the rest of us. You have to step up your game. The 10th largest city in the nation cannot be allowed to devolve into the same public policy morass we see in Sacramento and Washington.
This isn’t about politics or elections or personal or religious beliefs. It’s about a fundamental respect for one another. It’s about respecting our right to agree to disagree without turning the disagreement into an excuse to bring each other down or hold grudges that prevent any chance of genuine compromise in the the future.
It’s about letting cooler heads prevail and remembering that true leadership is more nuanced than speaking loudly and waving a big stick. Sometimes, it’s about tipping your cap and moving on to the next fight.
It’s unfortunate that our civic, labor and business leaders seemingly refuse to accept the core principles of a civilized and democratic society. The silent victims are the residents of San Jose, deprived of the governance to which they are entitled, possibly unaware that there is any way of conducting our public affairs without the vitriol that invades their physical and electronic mailboxes on a daily basis.
I say this as a profiteer of the vitriol. It can be a strange feeling waking up in the morning, wanting so much to believe that you’re making a difference, but knowing from experience that it’s probably not true.
I’d like to believe that my work in this world will have an impact, that even one person’s life will be improved—even saved—by something I’ve brought to the table. I still believe that it can and it will. But lately, my hometown seems like it’s slipping away before me and my friends have had our chance to help pull it back from the ledge.
If you’re reading these words, you have the power to turn us around. Get to it.
Peter Allen is an independent communications consultant and a proud native of San José. He votes in City Council District 6, Congressional District 19, State Senate District 15, and Assembly District 28.