Three years ago, I ran for one of two seats on our local Board of Selectmen. On a sunny May afternoon, two days before the election, I, along with the other two candidates and our respective supports, stood on the town common holding up signs and waving to passers-by. There were enthusiastic drivers who beeped their horns and waved at the assembly.
About an hour into this display, which is part of the political process of campaigning and is enshrined as a right guaranteed by our country’s First Amendment, two men in a black pickup truck pulled up and called to one of my opponents, “Hey Joe, beat that bitch.” My children, who were 12, 10, 8, and 6 at the time and were flanking me, heard this slur. Only the 12 year old reacted. He looked at me and asked, “Is that man talking about you?” My response: “I think he was.”
My response was untrue: I knew he was.
In that moment, my only solace was the thought that this man would likely not take the time to vote forty-eight hours later. I can’t be sure if he did or not. It didn’t matter anyhow. I was elected by what people called a “landslide.”
Of all of the unpleasantries of putting myself into the public spotlight relative to that election and my subsequent time on the Board, that afternoon, retrospectively, was the worst. And believe me, there were many, many examples I could choose from.
“Beat that bitch.”
How pathetic it is that the thought of my having been born with a vagina in some way made me a lesser candidate in the myopic eyes of “some guy in a black pickup truck.”
Maybe he said what everyone was thinking? If he did, it didn’t bear fruit on election day.
Three years ago, when I decided to run for office, I chose the “bee” as my campaign’s logo. I had campaign buttons and t-shirts made up with the bee. As a beekeeper, I have been consistently impressed with the loyalty they show to their hive, their cooperativeness toward a common goal, and their ability to behave in the manner which is expected of them. I saw this as the perfect analogy to how small towns should function.
But those three words, “Beat that bitch,” bring me back to the very real conclusion that there are those among us who will happily kick the bee hive regardless of the sting of hateful rhetoric and divisiveness.
Three years later, one woman and two men are vying for two open seats on the very same board. And little has changed.
A recent excoriation has occurred leaving the one female candidate exposed and eviscerated. In the wake of her public appearance to vote on a controversial funding matter, she was criticized on social media for her vote. Over the course of six long hours, an anonymous hive-kicker allowed discussion to ensue where this woman was put on the defensive as the sole candidate who opposed the funding. The hive-kicker suggested to his audience of close to 500 people that the men were the ones to vote for on election day as they supported the funding and she was not worthy of support for having voted against it.
The female candidate spent the better part of six hours bantering back and forth with identifiable critics while several people, including myself, requested that the anonymous hive-kicker who authored the original post that was generating the discussion targeting the female candidate identify himself.
The failure of this man to promptly come forward is right in line with how politics are played in my small town. Tires have been slashed, signs have been stolen, homes have been spray painted. These overt acts are criminal and often blamed on “bored teenagers.”
I was a bored teenager. I never did these things. It is specious to think the “bored teenager” pandemic so perfectly and coincidentally aligns with those who have stepped into the public spotlight and have the bravery/audacity to express unpopular opinions.
When it came time to vote on the above-referenced funding item, a call was made to have a paper ballot vote. The town moderator declined the request. This left the 545 people at the vote to see which way their community members were voting. It was a mistake to have the vote be public due to its level of controversy. I am of the opinion that the town moderator should have known how this would might play out. He’s been in town his whole life and knows how the game here is played. Voter anonymity should have been respected.
As it wasn’t, a different sort of anonymity was allowed to run amok for several tense hours wrongfully bringing into question the good reputation and thoughtfulness of the one female candidate.
So while the drum beat continues to pound out the “Beat that bitch” rhythm, my only hope is that those who see the value in her well considered, future governance find their way to the polls to beat back.