“You’re worse than a pedophile.”
“I’m only voting for men who want to make it legal to rape women … you are the reason”.
“Macho, take-charge political women … (are) kittens with fangs”.
These are just snippets of emails and messages I’ve received since being elected as your State Representative in 2016. Somehow, in today’s society it has become commonplace, and even almost expected, for those who wish to serve and represent their neighbors at every level of government to become a target of online harassment. So, no, I was not surprised when I learned of the despicable harassment of Council Chairman Rob Oris, or the disrespectful banter aimed at the female members of the School Modernization Committee, or even the resignation of Paul Bowman from the Town Council for the treatment of his family.
I am not surprised, but we have had enough.
Is it a political problem, or a societal one? I believe it is both. It spans all parties, at all levels of government, and is perpetrated by both sides of the aisle. Politics has become a nasty business, and only the thick-skinned need apply. And therein lies a problem: the nastiness toward public officials will only serve to deplete the pool of qualified individuals willing to sacrifice their time and skillset to volunteer for the community. A person may disagree with policy, and those of us in public service welcome a civil debate, but when the anger and vitriol turns personal, and even threatening, it becomes a problem much greater than civility. The problem becomes the possibility of losing quality representation who share your morals and beliefs, and can ultimately change the trajectory of our society. If the last four years have taught us anything, at least we can all agree on that.
While the tone of the country has been cast by the current administration, that tone has trickled down and touched every part of Cheshire’s representation. In 2019, a woman at the Capitol was observed writing a text to her daughter in a public hearing, which said, about State Senator Rob Sampson, that if she had a gun, she’d “blow him away.” In that same year, my children were called “satan’s spawn” by a resident looking for my home address to “come school” my children. (Police were called in both instances.) A year prior, after my child bravely provided data for a public hearing at the Capitol regarding bear hunting, online comments suggested they tie a piece of raw meat around my then-8-year-old’s neck, and abandon her in the middle of the woods. Photos of my husband and sister-in-law have been shared thousands of times, along with their places of employment, containing blatant lies accusing them of corruption and illegal activity. They are not involved in politics, I am. But still they have become targets online because of my policy work on childhood vaccinations.
While Mr. Oris has not publicly shared those comments about his family, I have seen them, and I am as outraged, as he and my colleagues are outraged. We all need to be outraged. These threats, and the harassment of our families, is unacceptable.
This kind of behavior is not just for the electeds, either. In one fringe online town forum, there is an individual who consistently researches any user who disagrees with him, and posts their private information, including address and tax records. He has been banned repeatedly for short periods of time, but continues this dangerous, threatening practice after being approved once again.
As a society we must be better than this and, fortunately, I see people beginning to take a stand. I see people turning away from these kinds of threats and verbal attacks. People are tired of it. Some are leaving social media, others are fighting back against it. They know our nation, and our people, are better than this. They want good examples for our children, and we don’t have to look far to find them: the vast majority of people out there are good, kind people.
I see hope. The outpouring of kindness from the community after these incidences is heartwarming. We can no longer sit idly by when we witness an elected official, or any resident, any human being, being treated in such a vile, despicable manner. We cannot tolerate threatening behavior. We must not encourage harassment. Instead, we must continue to speak out against it.
We can change the tone of discourse toward our neighbors and elected officials. Whether you anonymously report the comment online, or you publicly declare the behavior abhorrent, or you privately condemn the actions of adults to teach your children that kindness counts, there are gestures large and small to knit the fabric of our community into one which elevates the individuals who reside within it. That begins by saying weve had enough, that we will no longer turn a blind eye to these attacks.
I’ve had the honor of representing Cheshire in some capacity for six years (and Southington and Wallingford for four), and I’ve come to know so many people as warm, thoughtful, and kind individuals. Even in the rare instances we differ on policy with no common ground to be found, we still respect one another. We find our humanity and decency when tragedy strikes, especially in those moments we are brought together to overcome common threats. When circumstances require unity, our tight-knit community always rises to the challenge. This is one of those times.
Enough is enough. It is time for kindness.