BY HARRY ANDERSON
June 15, 2016
So I wonder. The Orlando massacre. Could four-dozen people be mowed down in five minutes by a deranged, hate-inspired individual with a military assault rifle on Whidbey? Here, on this peaceful, blissful, beautiful, slow-paced, placid, agreeable, mild-mannered Rock where arguments are usually resolved over a cup of coffee?
I’ve been wrestling with that since I awoke Sunday to news of the slaughter at a crowded Florida gay bar at closing time. The too-easy answer to my question is, “No, of course not!” We’re too small, too far away from crazy troublemakers. And besides, we don’t have crowded gay bars and we go to bed long before last call for alcohol. We also don’t have deranged, hate-filled individuals running around with assault rifles . . . do we.
But take a read of the crime reports in our three island newspapers. Murder. Assault. Threats of violence. Robbery. Alcohol and drug-induced rage. Meth labs in the woods. Semi-automatic gun practice near homes where children play. Then take a look at the online comments sections in those papers or on social media. People write scary, sometimes threatening things with strong and nasty words they’d never say out loud in public.
People who don’t like Navy jet noise are called traitors and told to shut up and get the hell out. Navy supporters are branded as warmongers who want to militarize the entire island. Conservationists are job killers; foresters are habitat destroyers.
There are other worrisome things. A Bernie Sanders sign at Highway 20 at Arnold Road is defaced with angry symbols not once but twice. A portrait of President Obama doctored to make him look like Hitler is proudly displayed by political protesters on a sidewalk by the Coupeville Post Office. Gun advocates bring their weapons to an Oak Harbor city council meeting to demand the right to carry those guns in public parks and playgrounds, all in order to “protect” themselves and us from somebody, anybody else.
Are we really as polite and peaceful as we think we are on this Rock? Judging by the evidence, I’d say no. We kid ourselves if we pretend otherwise. The bumper-sticker, 140-character Twitter universe in which our entire planet now exists has infected even sweet, bucolic Whidbey. It has truncated and coarsened our public dialogue. Even our local churches are at odds and won’t even talk with each other about gay marriage and women priests, among other things.
All this threatens one of our most precious attributes on Whidbey: our sense of community. It really is much easier here than in a big to city to cocoon ourselves, withdraw among our tall trees and gardens, talk only to those we like and tune out what we don’t agree with. Before tweets, posts and online comments overtook us, we trusted a few resources to tell us the truth. But now we don’t know whom to trust, so we don’t trust anybody.
This is no way to live in our beautiful place, so I will make a modest proposal. Starting tomorrow, each of us will pledge to ignore or not send an angry tweet, snarky remark on Facebook or nasty online comment. Instead, each of us will call someone and ask them to have coffee and talk about something controversial or difficult. Let there be peace on Whidbey, and let it begin with me!
Once upon a time, Harry Anderson made an honest living as a reporter, editor and columnist at the Los Angeles Times. He now lives in central Whidbey, where he spends his time gardening and ruminating on things that interest him.
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