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Council Corner: Stopping the cycle of discrimination

A few weeks back I was interviewed by a TV news reporter regarding the ugly incident in which a member of our community was threatened during a racist tirade by another local resident. During the interview I stated that it was an unfortunate reality that racism still exists in our community and that we needed to continue to speak out against it and confront it.

After the interview, the reporter said she was “impressed” that I would “actually admit that there was racism in Ashland.” Apparently, she expected me, as an elected city official, to deny that racism existed in Ashland. However, to push the idea that in our “idyllic” community such behavior does not exist is simply being willfully ignorant and even worse, does nothing to try to confront the problem.

We must be honest and open about the continued presence in our community of discrimination and the impact it has on our fellow citizens and we must then be willing to confront it, in all its forms, if we truly want to make lasting change. The question is, what can a small community do to have an impact on such a large issue?

First, we must approach it much like we are health care and climate change. Starting locally by addressing the problem in our own backyard allows us to lead the way for other communities to follow. It also models the right behavior for our children and other young people in our community, with the hope that as they leave and go out into the world to start their own families and adult lives, their attitudes of tolerance towards others and a willingness to fight prejudice will spread exponentially throughout the world and be passed down to future generations.

However, we must go further than just “modeling.” I am very proud that as a City Council we recently expanded our housing ordinance to make it illegal to discriminate based on age and domestic partnership status, but we must be willing to take further legal steps if necessary to insure that everyone has an equal opportunity to pursue their dreams and live in peace.

Secondly, as we pick up the fight against discrimination, we must remember that being a truly tolerant community means fighting intolerance and discrimination in all its forms. It means standing up to ageism, sexism, homophobia and bias against those with intellectual and developmental disabilities. It means speaking out against religious intolerance or hostility towards people with a different political ideology as well.

We often pick and choose when and what to speak out against, but that doesn’t solve the problem. It only creates an environment that perpetuates other forms of discrimination. If we really want to make change we must start with how we treat each other every day and be willing, without hesitation, to stand up against all discrimination whenever we see it, not just when it hits the news or shows up on our social media feeds. Hate and intolerance in any form only breed more hate and intolerance, so we cannot be surprised when they still exist in some forms. We must work to eradicate all of them.

In 1858, in reference to the slavery issue of the time, Abraham Lincoln made the statement that “A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free.” Even 158 years ago, Lincoln understood that to be truly free of slavery, slavery could not remain in any form. No one would be free unless everyone was free.

Discrimination is the same. We cannot defeat it unless we are willing to defeat it in all its ugly forms.

I believe that as a small community we can make a difference in the battle against discrimination when we refuse to remain silent and we commit ourselves to speaking out and taking action against all of it all of the time, setting an example for the younger generation and leading the way for other communities. We all have a part in fighting racism by consistently standing up to all discrimination and the evil it inspires.

Greg Lemhouse is a member of the Ashland City Council.