It is hard to believe that at this writing we are already in week five of the 2022 session. Bills are dropping daily, over 900 bills have already been read into the House chamber, we’ve had multiple bill hearings and briefings, and I have passed three bills out of committee. Only 15 more to go before the Senate hearings, and of course, the legislative bond initiative hearings when we work to bring money to our local communities and nonprofits for county specific, shovel-ready efforts.
The General Assembly is a flurry of activity with legislators working to pass bills to address everything from child care to workforce development, climate action, education, technology, cyber security and more, all while working for not only a full, rapid, and robust economic recovery from COVID but responsible stewardship of the budgetary surplus, while ensuring — to the best of our ability — access for all Marylanders to the legislative process.
All this inertia while in the background we have the continued work of the January 6 commission, and an ever-more worrisome rising tide of anger across the nation. There are times when Maryland can feel very much like an island, but it’s important to keep the context in which we do our work.
Last March, I wrote about my concerns with impactful misinformation campaigns, which can confuse public opinion and distort public support and understanding on policy, and I lauded our community on their efforts to vet their sources. Little did I know at the time how impactful this rise in organized, strategic misinformation would be going into one of our most consequential sessions and election cycles.
A recent Washington Post-University of Maryland poll found that one in three Americans now believes that violence against the government can be justified, and according to a poll by the COVID States Project, one in 10 Americans believes violence against government is justified now.
The number increases when the survey is conducted online rather than in person, which is reflective of the lived experience of many on social media, where the anonymity of the internet combined with the feeling of inclusion in a communal rage creates an almost mob mentality euphoria, where people feel license to put in words online things which they would never say in person, ending lifelong friendships and even severing family ties. We know what this looks like at the national and even the international level where we’ve seen everything from a state of emergency in Ottawa to a kidnapping attempt on the governor of Michigan; to feces smeared on the walls of our institutions; police killed, maimed and disabled; and legislators and staff traumatized.
Why bring this up during the legislative session? As the saying goes, all politics is local, so at the local level, what does that look like?
Honestly it looks like adults overwhelming a Board of Education meeting. It looks like threatening a health officer during a pandemic or an election worker during a ballot count. It looks like a legislator having to report threats to law enforcement with the hope they were unfounded but with a responsibility to take them seriously. It looks like candidates weighing the risks to themselves and their families before running for office, the potential outcome being a reduction in diversity of thought, idea, experience and opportunity. At the local level, the government is your neighbors.
We are in a moment of seismic shift, and I understand the power of focusing that momentum in making change, however, when we break the social norms of civil discourse, peaceful protest and accountability, we risk losing the very democracy for which we are all so meaningfully fighting. As we navigate these unchartered waters, it's important not only to remember the humanity in all of us but to also recognize that those who seek to confuse our understanding may have an agenda separate from our wellbeing, and I hope all continue to engage in our imperfect legislative process with an eye to working together for a more perfect union for all of us.
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