The Talbot County Council held a virtual meeting Tuesday. The virtual meeting was held not because of the COVID-19 pandemic but because of protesters disrupting previous meetings after the council’s decision not to take down the Talbot Boys statue.
The Sept. 8 meeting was supposed to be a one-time event but council members talked about potentially hosting more virtual meetings. The council had been holding its meetings during the pandemic with limited or no attendees; members were gathering at the Talbot County Courthouse or Talbot Community Center. But recent meetings were disrupted by protesters outside the buildings.
While protesters on both sides should exercise their First Amendment rights, there is a troubling trend of one side or another shouting down opposing viewpoints. The vilification of opponents has created atmospheres elsewhere leading to violence. The mob — whether it emanates from the progressive left, alt-right or somewhere else — cannot be left unabated to rule the day and the streets. We have seen the results in Portland, Oregon and other cities.
While we want democracy and civil discourse to be respectful and non-violent, we also acknowledge freedom and liberty can also be noisy, messy and require us to look at our past, present and future. We hope the situation matures and COVID-19 circumstances permit the council to resume in-person meetings where advocates on all sides of issues can voice their arguments and grievances in person and with respect for others and the democratic process.
The trend of virtual meetings because of COVID-19 has its advantages — and disadvantages.
The pandemic has forced some communities to improve their technology. Virtual/digital meetings can allow more residents to see what their elected officials are up to. More participation and more eyeballs are good things.
But there are also concerns. We hope elected officials across the Shore and elsewhere do not end up using the remote meetings to isolate themselves from their constituents or from viewpoints they do not want to hear.
Elected officials work for us. That includes listening to criticism and interacting with those who put them in office and pay for their salaries. Politics already has enough isolation, back rooms and division.
Let’s hope the 2020 bubble and turmoil are temporary and do not leave permanent imprints on public discourse, quests for change and how we interact with each other.
The mob cannot rule but elected leaders also cannot hunker down in some virtual, isolated castle.