Let’s Agree to Disagree

Keeping it civil when engaging in politics

Volume CIX, No. 7/8July, 2009

Paul Molloy

What compels our members to engage in civic participation? I’ve asked myself that question many times since I began working here 14 months ago. The reasons our members take up one cause and not another vary from person to person. Over the past several months, reactions to some calls to action were stronger than others. The issues that generated the greatest responses – that is, the largest number of e-mails sent to lawmakers – were saving the NYSCA budget, saving Legacy Studios and defeating the now-abandoned amusement tax (a/k/a the ticket tax).

Other issues that are relevant to many of our members, such as repealing vacancy decontrol, extending unemployment benefits and raising the maximum unemployment benefit rate, received far less attention. This is not to suggest that our members are hostile to these issues. They simply didn’t resonate in the same way that issues affecting our industry did.

There were however, two issues that generated virulent opposition from some of the rank and file: Local 802’s endorsement of Barack Obama for president and our support of marriage equality.

What struck me most was not that members of a progressive institution opposed these decisions. It was the manner in which they expressed their opposition. Rather than citing facts or engaging in respectful debate, all (save one) who contacted me on these two issues chose to attack me personally. These attacks came in the form of e-mails, not face-to-face encounters. I may be wrong, but I suspect fewer obscenities would have been uttered had these exchanges occurred in person.

Those who objected to Local 802’s support of marriage equality did so on religious grounds. While I respect all faiths and everyone’s right to their own opinion, I found it curious that while the respective faiths of these individuals precluded them from supporting marriage equality, they were not prohibited from making scurrilous, obscenity-laced attacks.

To be clear, I don’t advocate silencing opinions that oppose the actions and policies of the current administration (or any administration, for that matter). In fact, it would serve well the interests of all our members for all parties to welcome thoughtful, mature and diverse thought from all sides of any given issue. There’s a great benefit to this.

Put another way, Aaron Sorkin once wrote: ” . . . partisan politics is good. Partisan politics is what the founders had in mind. It guarantees that the minority opinion is heard.”

(He also wrote: “If you’re dumb, surround yourself with smart people and if you’re smart, surround yourself with smart people who disagree with you.”)

In other words, it is in the spirit of respectful disagreement and responsible debate that the best course for any organization can successfully be charted.

I encourage all who read this to reject the tactics of lies, false assumptions and personal attacks when articulating a position on any topic affecting this union. We should have no patience for those who believe the ends justify the means. It destroys civil discourse, makes impossible a meeting of the minds and betrays the values of organized labor.