I recently read a news story about a teacher in Utah who has suspended her longtime civics lesson held every four years to teach her students about presidential elections. Instead of assigning her pupils to watch debates, interview their parents, and engage in classroom discussions, she is choosing to skip the lesson entirely. She is not alone. The Southern Poverty Law Center reports a marked increase in school bullying it ascribes to the current presidential election: “Teachers report that students have been ‘emboldened’ to use slurs, engage in name-calling and make inflammatory statements toward each other.”
Children learn from a variety of sources, including media, but none more so than their parents. Our kids are feeding off our anxiety and anger; they are aping our actions.
I’ve been thinking about this phenomenon for months as both an elected official and a private citizen. Increasingly, there is a tone of “us” versus “them” and all of the rhetoric this mindset engenders. These expressions of anger are often relieved by assigning blame to a particular group of people and what they are doing “to us.”
Every day we are faced with several decisions, but the fundamental one is this: “Do I believe the world is good and I can make a difference?” or “Do I believe the world is bad and I am incapable of making a difference?” Do you look around and see opportunities to get involved or mostly problems out of your control?
In this column, I want to send out a call for Community Based Change. Change that begins within ourselves, our neighborhoods, our parks, and on our streets. While it is true we can’t change the world, we can positively change our part of it.
Look around and consider what you want to be different. Here are a few small acts that can create massive change in our community:
Slow down on our streets.
My office receives many complaints about speeding in neighborhoods, highways, collector roads – you name it. We request enforcement and the CHP delivers for us, but it is a proven fact that enforcement catches local residents most of the time, often from the same street. It takes just a second and one poor decision to take a life or change one or our own forever. Imagine the increase of quality of life for residents if we all just cooled our car jets?
Take a walk in our parks.
Locally, two parks need your eyes, ears and actions. Both Maxwell Park and Larson Park are in the midst of Master Planning Updates, but both parks need to be embraced by the community to thrive. Government and law enforcement cannot make these changes alone and then wait for the community to descend. We need you to help solve the problems now.
I have read Facebook postings about Maxwell Park being a “dangerous” place and while there are issues, all are solvable if more people used Maxwell Park regularly. As Chief Bret Sackett often states, “Positive uses drive out negative behaviors.” The County and law enforcement do have responsibilities here and we are largely meeting them. The Homeless Outreach Team is in the Valley at least once a week, if not more. The sheriff’s department and SoCo Regional Park Rangers are a regular presence at Maxwell, but they alone cannot substitute for the eyes of the community. Maxwell Park is a magical place, especially in the back park where the stunningly beautiful Sonoma Creek meanders through trees and rocky beaches. Bring your dog! Bring a friend. Or five. But please do use it – it is there
If you attended The Springs Festival in September you visited Larson Park. Like Maxwell, Larson is an underused community gem. This park has a long and storied history in the Valley; in fact, many Sonomans learned to swim in the creek and pitched their first ball in the field. Larson Park boasts a community garden, large playing field, tennis courts, play structure and a peaceful creekside setting. You alone can create change in these two parks with one act: use them.
Social media as activism.
Social Media is a powerful tool to connect with your community and create change. But before going on Facebook to provide information on community pages, consider asking yourself two questions: “Is this factual?” and “Is this helpful?” I am often concerned about the amount of misinformation on social media pages that is stated as factual in the form of a complaint or supposition. These assertions can do actual harm to your community, friends and local businesses.
Consider reaching out to the person or entity with whom you are upset or have questions for. My office is always happy to assist with issues within my purview, including providing information and contacts. Simplly contact: [email protected]
Consider how social media postings can actually create more connection and positive change as opposed to harm and division. Again, simple acts to create positive change.
Clean up act.
In an unincorporated area, such as the Springs, we cannot (yet!) put trashcans on public streets because we have no means to maintain them. We do have street cleaning in many areas, but it is not enough to stem the tide of litter and discarded household items that regularly line our streets.
What we can do is wait until we get home to throw out our trash instead of gifting it to the streets. Broken bottles do not belong where our children walk and ride bikes. We can also resolve to pick up trash where we see it and teach our children to do the same. The county will even provide dumpsters and pick up for one-day cleanup efforts.
If you have household items, please consider donating them or calling a charity to pick them up. Every day there are couches left to a lonely end on the side of a street until someone reports it to Transportation and Public Works. You can report items through our county app “SoCo Report It!”
Look, we don’t all have to agree and I am grateful we do not because that is part of what makes us vibrant, interesting, and engaged. But what we can do is choose to engage more respectfully; take responsibility for our behaviors, model community engagement, and perform acts of kindness. In the process, we can reclaim areas of our lives and better the place we call home. Positive acts can improve our mental and physical health in measurable ways. We all have choices. Our children are watching and learning.