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Protesting with poise, not noise
Mobs do our children no favors.
Originally published in the Moultrie News.
I’ve been reading about parents and speakers disrupting school board meetings — shouting down the members and name-calling so much that the board can’t even conduct their business. Isn’t this strategy counterproductive?
Disruptive behavior at school board meetings gained traction during the pandemic. Various news reports, including a 2023 ProPublica study, catalog the issues that have led to unruly behavior from parents and spectators. They include mask mandates, controversial books, critical race theory, and budget cuts. In Charleston, recent board meetings have been disrupted over personnel and policy decisions.
In some cases, board members have been cursed, slandered, threatened and assaulted. In 2021, the National School Boards Association asked the federal government to call the agitators domestic terrorists. A better name for them is a mob.
A mob is any crowd of disorderly people (in person or online) intent on causing trouble. A mob does not think. It is primarily motivated by the fears, anger, and other reactive impulses of its members. Its fuel is raw emotion and social pressure. You can see it take form: one individual yells out during a meeting. Another follows. Soon, all its units are reacting in unison.
The mob mentality is notoriously injudicious. In the past, mobs have been guilty of committing violence against innocent people. Today, social media mobs can destroy an individual’s reputation before facts are even in evidence.
Why we think mobs are a good counteragent against those we oppose, I do not know. When I see a mob, I’ve been conditioned by years of literature, film, and history to be sympathetic to the object of its ire. The quintessential American hero is the one who stands up to the mob, not the mob itself. Think Atticus Finch.
In general, people do not view mob-like outbursts favorably. The perpetrators are viewed as spoiled, out-of-control children throwing a tantrum because they don’t get their way. Those who condone the outbursts are usually those who agree with the disrupters on the issues. In the end, however, their outrage accomplishes little except arousing the indignation of their opponents, making it even less likely that those they’re shouting down will change.
If the purpose of board room brutishness is to change minds or call attention to poor decisions, there are more effective ways to do it — ways that are measured, reasonable, and persuasive. I’m thinking of pens, protests, and poise.
The pen is mightier than the sword, and typing is more effective than a tantrum. Reasoned editorials, rational social media posts, and sensible letters to those in charge can truly make a difference.
Formal protests are better than mobs because they are peaceful and organized. Even when it’s only a small group of people, a peaceable assembly or march garners a lot more respect than unhinged jeering during a board meeting. Of course, the moment it turns violent or destructive, its power is gone.
Poise means diplomacy. School boards work like any other elected body: a majority wins. Shouting down the decisions you don’t like is tantamount to shouting down democracy. Change the minds of elected officials calmly. Sign up to speak at board meetings, but follow the policies. Work to elect candidates who are more supportive of your cause.
The easiest, quickest way to put an end to the uncivil chaos is for the elected officials supported by the mob to simply speak up. Something like, “I agree with your cause and will fight for it, but I’m asking you to please let us conduct tonight’s meeting in peace” would be enough to quiet most mobs. Unfortunately, some officials are often privately egging on the outbursts, basking in the attention and false sense of righteousness that a mob’s support brings.
Adults need to play the part. For the sake of the kids who are watching, the process of education, and our own civility, we need to behave like the leaders we want our elected officials to be.
Read the original column here.
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