The following letter appeared previously in the Amherst Bulletin.
I was shocked to read the front-page article in the June 3 Amherst Bulletin titled, “Advocacy for school site called pressure.” The premise of the article was that one politically-active group of Amherst citizens is opposed to other Amherst citizens who have been reaching out to their Town Council representatives to voice their opinions on the future school building project. The article amounted to providing a platform for one political opinion in Amherst to criticize other people’s legal and engaged voter behavior.
As a history and social studies teacher, I found this especially disturbing and appalling. The commonwealth recently revamped its secondary level civics standards toward teaching students the structures of active democracy and providing opportunities to engage as active citizens. Writing to our local governmental representatives about our opinions is an accessible way to participate in the democratic process.
World history shows us clearly that criticizing the civic engagement of those with whom we disagree can lead quickly toward the path of fascism. For the newspaper to provide a voice for this civic criticism in the form of a news article, and not in the form of an editorial, is deeply disturbing. The article did not interview any dissenting voices, and the entire purpose of the article appeared to be to make news out of a political opinion in town. When the press takes on the criticizing or silencing of dissenting opinions, implying that voters should wait for the elected leaders to decide a decision without voter feedback, we have moved closer toward the fascist slope. I do not use that term lightly. If we don’t notice the warning signs of threats to freedom of speech and civic participation, these rights can quickly fall out of our grasp.
The Elementary School Building Committee will soon choose the site for the new elementary school. May all who wish to speak their opinions feel empowered to do so in the press and to their representatives on this and all issues. Without active participation, our cherished democracy is doomed.
Joanna Morse is a resident of Amherst