Oct. 1, 2023 — There is no TREAT in the tricks that are being played now in public comments across the state striking into our area. There is a determined effort to turn the open transparent meetings of a civil government into a bullhorn blast of hate, disgust, and disruption. City Councils around the county are getting video-bombed in the Public Comment agenda by ‘people’ calling in spewing attacks at Jews, LGBT and rallying around racism as if it is something to be proud of.
With the Covid years, we saw and implemented a technology with Zoom and other links to bring access to the City Councils into everyone’s home. In practice this allowed just a few more folks to be involved but many more to listen and watch the meetings and it worked for a few years. But the novelty has worn off and the Dark Side has crept in and brought its creeps with it.
These derisive speakers use the availability of video/net to comment on Council items starting with the traditional agenda item: “Public Comment for items not on the agenda” to vent and spew attacks on the folks on the Council for their perceived background and put forth a stream of what is sometimes simply called ‘Hate Speech.’
Unfortunately, the most likely reaction to this will be a removal of the hybrid-style meetings where people will again return to having to show up in person. Mayors will be more stringent in hammering down those who stray beyond the scope of the authority of the institution or where their concept of decorum is lost. In Concord, we have had a long-standing decorum rule. Recently the state has chimed in to allow for freer use of those rules for cities that have no decorum rules.
We start our meetings with a pledge to be “…indivisible with liberty and justice for all.” We are then submitted to a screed that makes our de facto national motto: E Pluribus Unum (out of many, one) seem to belong in another astral-temporal parallel universe. This is very scary.
I look forward to the little ghosts, goblins, and fantasy kids parading around the block asking for treats as appreciation for their costumes and jolly kidding. However, the real demons and fears rest around us and are gathering strength and boldness. Let us remember that we are “…indivisible with liberty and justice for all.”
Views expressed here are those of Edi Birsan and are not to be confused with an A.I. blast from a good-hearted algorithm that took over his internet. Comments: EdiBirsan@gmail.com
Photo credit: Concord City Council
Update Oct. 10, 2023
Concord Joins Walnut Creek, Shuts Down Remote Public Comments During Meetings
The cities of Concord and San Ramon are joining Walnut Creek, Sonoma County, Redwood City and Fremont is halting remote public comment at public meetings, mostly due to antisemitic callers.
Both cities have council meetings Tuesday night, at which people who want to make comments to the council must do so in person.
Concord will only allow Zoom and phone calls for city officials under “Just cause or emergency circumstances” who can’t be present at meetings, according to the meeting agenda.
California’s Brown Act, which governs the rules of public meetings in the state, requires municipalities to allow people to comment in person.Advertisement
The pandemic forced cities to expand the rules, something many municipalities kept in place meetings were reopened for in-person participation.
“It is not just the antisemitic (callers) but they are also expanding into LGBT and white supremacy,” Concord City Councilmember Edi Birsan said on Sunday. “It is a matter of appropriateness to the arena of a city council and the disruption of it. The name of our city is Concord, not Discord.”
Walnut Creek announced Tuesday it would stop taking remarks remotely via phone and Zoom on Tuesday after months of harassment by antisemitic callers, frequently targeting City Councilmember Kevin Wilk, who is Jewish.
Wilk said it’s a strategy of far-right, white nationalist groups like White Lives Matters California, who use locally broadcast public forums to broadcast their messages. Wilk has often been mentioned by name by callers, who Wilk said typically use pseudonyms like “Eddie from Walnut Creek” and don’t show their faces over Zoom.Advertisement
“It’s sad really,” Wilk said last week. “A valuable tool of communicating with local government has been forced to be taken away due to hate speech hijacking it.”
The strategy has been used in other municipalities, including San Jose, Richmond, El Cerrito, San Francisco, and Berkeley.
Concord and Walnut Creek have been among Bay Area communities targeted with racist flyers since Sept. 2022.