By REP. EVAN P. SHANLEY The assault on the U.S. Capitol has left many of us in shock. The revelation that one of our own state legislators attended the protest in Washington has some calling for his resignation. The demand for justice and the desire to
The assault on the U.S. Capitol has left many of us in shock. The revelation that one of our own state legislators attended the protest in Washington has some calling for his resignation.
The demand for justice and the desire to assign blame is natural, particularly after a traumatic event. And rest assured, any Rhode Islander who committed federal crimes that day will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Any legislators who may have participated in an insurrection will be unceremoniously removed from their position.
Until then, I would advocate for a different approach than demanding a resignation. We have all seen the disturbing images of protestors armed, dressed in paramilitary apparel, holding zip ties intended to use for hostages, waving Confederate flags and wearing Nazi paraphernalia. Anyone who attended the protest and saw these people yet decided to stick around deserves to have their judgment questioned.
There were also many people who went only to exercise their First Amendment rights. The state representative in question has indicated he did not enter the Capitol or otherwise participate in an insurrection. Unless evidence suggests otherwise, his assurance will have to do.
But there’s a question we should be asking here. Why did it happen? What brought so many people to the point where they looked at what President Trump was selling and said that man speaks for me and addresses my needs and concerns – so much so that some even took up arms and participated in an attempted coup?
The best way to get that answer is to ask them. And it really comes down to that: communication. I don’t mean “communication” in the sense we’ve come to understand it – sparring on social media. Twitter and Facebook may be great for thrust and parry, but the memes, platitudes and soundbites can never fully explore an issue, and a 280-character tweet hardly lends itself to meaningful discourse.
No, the type of communication I’m talking about goes a little further than backbiting and name-calling. It involves sitting down and actually finding out why these people feel so threatened. What brought them to this impasse? Do they feel that the America they know is slowly disappearing? Do they feel that their wants, needs and concerns are not being addressed? That they no longer have a voice? The only way we can find that out is to sit down and talk to them.
If we chose to cast them aside because we vehemently disagree with their views, then they in turn will cast us aside. I’m just as concerned as my colleagues about elected officials disseminating unsupported and dangerous conspiracy theories. However, if we can understand where we are each coming from, then we can begin to at least attempt to bridge the divide.
The word “respect” is bandied about so much that it’s almost a cliché. But the fact is that it’s the foundation of our government, our society and our civilization. And a little respect goes a long way. If those of us who were disgusted with President Trump spent more time listening to his voters fears, hopes and concerns – and engaged them rather than just dismiss them, I wonder if we would have experienced the same level of violence, distrust and ill will that now pervades our country.
In any event, it’s not too late. Every one of us should open our minds, take the concerns of everybody into account, and stop dismissing the people we disagree with, stop calling them names and stop shouting them down. Hold on to your ideology, cling to your beliefs; but keep an ear open to hear what someone with a different perspective has to say and try to genuinely engage them.
If we don’t, then we’ll just have to live with this legacy of violence we’ve deeded to ourselves. And that would be an American tragedy.
Evan Shanley represents Warwick (Cowesett, Potowomut & Greenwood Manor) in the Rhode Island House of Representatives.