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Communication is a two-way street

We have lost the art of communication.

Instead of first listening to the other side, responding and finding common ground, some would rather cancel ideas before they are spoken. Case in point: the Southern Oregon Coalition for Racial Equity’s attempts to hold a peaceful gathering last Saturday in Rogue River to discuss systemic racism.

SOEquity originally had planned to use Palmerton Park for a portion of its event, but an opposing group secured a permit from the city to use the space first.

SOEquity was offered the other side of the park, but instead reserved the Evans Valley Community Center for a barbecue and for people of color who live in Southern Oregon to share their experiences living here. But after several members of a Rogue River Facebook group claimed to be willing to kill people who brought any message of racism in Southern Oregon, the community center chose to revoke the rental agreement.

After the threats, SOEquity might have decided that another day would be best for its event, but opponents were determined to follow through and counter-protest when a new date and time were found. Instead, the members decided to move the talking portion of their event to the sidewalk in front of Rogue River City Hall. The opposition arrived across the street.

Thankfully, the U.S. Constitution protects everyone’s right to peacefully assemble in public spaces, but revving engines in attempts to drown out a speaker’s message is 2020’s response to everything: just cancel it.

At the recent Republican National Convention, President Trump and his family had harsh words for these tactics.

“The goal of cancel culture is to make decent Americans live in fear of being fired, expelled, shamed, humiliated, and driven from society as we know it,” Trump said Aug. 27 during his nomination acceptable speech.

“We want a culture where differences of opinion and debate are encouraged, not canceled,” Ivanka Trump claimed that same night of the convention.

We concur.

In 2020, it seems tensions could not be any higher. We are less than two months away from a presidential election; unemployment is more than double what it was at this point last year; police officers killed Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, sparking racial inequality protests across the country. Oh, and how could we forget the COVID-19 pandemic? It has been nearly seven months since Gov. Kate Brown told us to stay home and stay safe.

But drowning out speech we don’t like or agree with and then retreating back into our carefully carved out echo chambers on social media will just radicalize and divide people and push us further from listening and finding common ground.

Police on the scene Saturday in Rogue River did a commendable job of keeping the two groups to opposite sides of the street. Protests in Portland and other big cities have devolved into violence, but that has not happened here in Southern Oregon.

If groups with opposing views can continue to escalate tensions by showing up expecting a fight, we will be in the same boat as larger cities. Or they could show up and listen to each other. They just might learn something.

We’d call that winning.