Editor’s Note: The San Diego Free Press is five years old this week. This is one in a series of posts reflecting on the paths we’ve traveled.
By Sara Kent
“She earned it.” (SDFP comment, Sept. 8, 2013)
I have been a fan of San Diego Free Press from its beginning. I have read, shared, and engaged with the content since that first summer, encouraged that a progressive perspective on local politics, with multiple contributors, had a home.
Anniversaries of all kinds present a natural opportunity for self-reflection, and on this, the fifth year of the SD Free Press, this community should reflect upon how best to learn from the past five and contribute to continually building toward the best possible next five years.
One of the things I have come to appreciate over the years is the relative “big tent” of the left. Healthy dialogue expressing differing opinions helps refine our ideals and expectations of politicians and one another. Compared to some of the closed-door strongarm politics on San Diego’s right, we battle things out more democratically. At least, ideally that is the case. When abusive mini-oligarchs emerge, we hold them accountable.
In the more chaotic, emotionally-loaded, high-stakes debates, some of the conversation has unfortunately devolved into base, unhelpful name-calling. We need to do better if we want to be better. We can hold ourselves and one another accountable to a higher standard.
Something that has intrigued me in my engagement with the SDFP comments section over the years: I have been accused of being a surrogate for my male boss or other strong male individuals I am or have been affiliated with. The assumption by some in this space, when they don’t like what I have to say, is that I do not have agency nor my own voice.
This is a fundamental problem. We need to fix it.
For a Democratic Party which is uniquely positioned at this point in history to attract fresh faces, do we need to check street cred before “allowing” new voices to have sway based upon their own merits? Do we need to ask presumed straight women whether they have the permission of their male bosses or boyfriends or husbands before daring to weigh in on these comment threads or expressing political opinions? And are women just getting started afforded anonymity if they prefer it, especially if there is a history of stalking, threats, or simply a desire to protect their young families, or are these relegated to the corners of voiceless, quiet observation in the political sphere?
That’s where I was a few years ago. I cared too much about San Diego and justice to remain silent, and I felt large swaths of perspective were unvoiced. So I dipped my toes in the water. I tried to be fair and sensitive to the fact that we all arrive at our opinions based upon widely differing life experiences and education. I am not so vain to think only my perspective matters, but it matters. It threads and weaves its way through the broader tapestry we share.
Some would have preferred my silence.
Some thought Bob Filner should have been given special dispensation to continue his sexual abuse of a continually increasing number of women while “justice” played out for nearly two years in court, because he was, otherwise, a social justice champion. They didn’t appreciate me pointing out that, as often older women who had survived such abuses and worse in professional and social settings, they thought younger women nowadays should suck it up for the cause. Take your abuse like a good, loyal soldier. It was a painful realization to try to synthesize that survivors of abuse would try to decide for others how to handle trauma, regardless of political implications, but that is part of the sad reality. It’s easier to point fingers at victims than relive personal victimhood.
When my identity at that time was exposed by swaggering, anonymous SDFP commenter “Brad” who used a fake email account (although, I suspect, his real first name) to accuse me of being a surrogate for men I work with, Doug Porter showed compassion and took swift action. He drew a line, despite a few gleeful, biting responses from others such as: “She earned it.”
Doug and his colleagues here have managed to execute a democratic approach to moderating the comments section of SDFP. What other outlet would prioritize something like this? Some similar sites have tried, struggled, then shut down their entire comments sections. The balance between free speech and abusive behaviors is too taxing, complex, and thankless, so those managing most platforms give up. It speaks to the value of SDFP that its editors and moderators expend great effort and care to preserve that balance here.
Over the months and years following that personal incident, Doug has encouraged me to use my voice on my own terms. As issues of importance fuel my passion for increasing justice in the world (or at least our corner of it here in San Diego), he has reminded me that SDFP is an outlet welcoming such activism. This space has been built to house an array of passionate perspectives on issues that impact us all.
As we engage here in heated discussion, let us do so with a spirit of appreciation that this place has been cultivated not to give a platform to diminish nor insult one another, but to allow breathing room for conversations that build and refine the strengths we share in progressive politics. Let us model communications that are self-reflective rather than reflexive and defensive. Let us express our poignant opinions, let us give voice to the experiences that have formed who we are as a progressive community, but let us also use our privilege for something nobler than self-preservation and resting on our laurels.
What kind of community are we interested in building? Are we interested in co-creating, or would we rather use this space for sanctimonious rants that tear down those who are otherwise political allies?
Do we give a polite nod to intersectionality, or do we seek to be active participants in greater wholeness in the areas our movement is currently lacking? Do we engage in call-out culture and piling-on in an echo chamber when dissenting voices make us feel uncomfortable? Or do we pause, feel contempt for the speaker, but examine our lives and actions to determine whether greater maturity is needed?
I want the SDFP community, with which I identify, to hold itself accountable to the highest standards. Not mental masturbation. Not self-congratulations. But a place for academic, passionate, informed local engagement, and a love for one another throughout the challenging process of growth.
If we can achieve that, we win. We win hearts and minds, because we are non-exclusive in our collective dialogue. We inspire activism to elect candidates that reflect our ideals, then we show up to support and hold accountable those elected leaders. We make it a priority not to chase away those who delve into heated discussions in this forum, because we make each other better as iron sharpens iron, and though difficult, those interactions are rewarding. We might not always like each other, but recognize that we are cut from similar cloth. We want a San Diego reflective of all her citizens. We want to increase social justice. We want to share platforms of influence with community members of all walks of life; we don’t need to dictate the narrative.
So, my fellow Freepers: let’s do better the next five years and beyond. I love this space – not only what it is today, but the potential for what we can co-create for ourselves and others in the years to come. We all have contributions to make in order to enact this vision.
And that’s the beauty of it: An engaged democracy, modeled right here, for our enjoyment, betterment, inspiration, and efficacy. Thank you to all who want to make San Diego Free Press a diverse, meaningful community.
Sara Kent is an environmentalist, Democrat, activist, and perennial idealist.