BY GRANT HARDING
Much ado has been made of the concept of civility with regard to County Council and public comment. Councilor David Izraelevitz has, on a number of occasions, pressed Chair Ryti to halt public comment he deemed uncivil. He recently ran for Council Chair explicitly citing his desire to return to the position in order wield that power himself. Other Councilors have, to a lesser degree, joined the chorus in calling for civility and decorum. Most recently, the Co-Presidents of The League of Women Voters issued an LTE espousing a position largely antithetical to the historical realities of the organization’s namesake. Clearly, this situation requires some unpacking.
Civility in our everyday lives, and where one individual doesn’t hold power over another, can build trust and cooperation, foster community and goodwill, maintain peace and understanding. This is why in our common vernacular we consider civility a virtue. This is also why the accusation of incivility from someone in a position of power is so potent.
When there is a power differential, calls for civility mean something different. Coming from positions of power directed at those without that same power, such calls are most often just a tool to distract and redirect from the substance of an argument, disregard legitimate requests for justice, and prevent accountability for those in power. In its worst form, this tactic masks malfeasance and provides cover for abuse of power.
And it works.
Presently, in the Los Alamos County Council Chamber and in the local media, the conversation has shifted away from the egregious violation of privacy of a former elected official and his repeated requests for redress, towards subjective opinions of what constitutes civility in public comment. The original transgression is lost in the flurry, and the real, substantive question of whether County Council and its subcontractors have behaved in an uncivil way towards their less powerful constituents is no longer being discussed.
Where was this concern over civility when former Councilor Antonio Maggiore expressed multiple times (without profanity) that his privacy had been violated by the County, and instead of those in power attempting to right the wrong, he was told by a Councilor that some people would be happy to have their houses in the spotlight, and therefore his concern was not valid?
Was it an act of civility when Antonio’s comments were distorted and his motivations questioned by a sitting Councilor to undermine a valid point?
Where were all the calls for civility when Councilor Izraelevitz berated former Councilor Williams, by name, until former Councilor Robinson called a point of order, which Chair Ryti upheld? Was it merely that David didn’t use any profanity in his attacks that gives him a pass?
In a broader context, is it civil for a sitting Councilor to undermine the boards and commissions they’re charged with being liaison to? Is the power dynamic irrelevant because David does these things with a straight face and no naughty words?
From people of color being denied the most basic of human rights for not remaining “civil” before the political bodies actively denying their humanity, to suffragettes being labeled “hysterical” and “uncivil” before being jailed and tortured, to LGBTQ+ people being denied equality under the law over what some deem “uncivil” protest and “profane” celebration (the list goes on and on), civility has been weaponized throughout this country’s history by those with power against those without it.
It is in this vein that the current calls for civility are couched. We must not allow this weaponization of civility to go unchallenged. Chair Ryti has held his ground against pressure to curtail First Amendment rights of the public. While I do not agree with Chair Ryti on all of his votes or all of his actions, his willingness to stand up for citizens in this context is commendable. I will be voicing my support for his efforts at upcoming Council meetings, and I encourage other people to do the same. Visit this website for dates, times, and login information to make your voice heard: https://losalamos.legistar.com/Calendar.aspx