This past week, Down Home members participated in the Sylva’s Board of Commissioners meeting. Our members witnessed the disruption and cancelation of this meeting after it was hijacked by other participants who spouted racial slurs and bigoted comments.
To be clear, these comments were not only disruptive, but they were racist, divisive, and threatening. They deserve and require a direct and immediate reproach by local leaders.
We understand that the Board did not wish for such an event to occur. We also understand that because of the “Zoom bombing” the meeting quickly became confusing and complex.
However, no matter the confusion, we should never mistake bigotry or racists remarks to be anything but a threat. The people of color on the call, including Down Home members, understood immediately what was occurring. This incident should not be cast-off as a prank but instead, be responded to with clear-eyed seriousness and gravity.
As part of our commitment to multiracial organizing in rural and small-town North Carolina, Down Home is dedicated to the safety of our members when racism is allowed into the room. We are not surprised that the Town of Sylva’s Zoom meeting was targeted, given the climate around Confederate monuments in the state and across the region. In fact, we wish that the Board had been better prepared, given the severity of Jackson County’s contemporary climate around the statue. We understand that we each are learning new technology and new safety measures during this pandemic, but it is our obligation to see these risks, to take them seriously, and to continually recommit to the protection of the most vulnerable in our community.
Protecting our communities includes protecting our democracy. While clearly Down Home does not condone the vile and racist attacks on the meeting, we also believe that virtual technology is the safest and most accessible way for the citizenry to access their government during a pandemic. There are easy and obvious ways to use the same technology and prevent future intrusions. The Town of Sylva has a responsibility to keep their meetings online, to announce meetings well in advance, and to share that information as widely as possible– especially during a pandemic and especially as extremists are leveling racial threats against community members. The need for this level of democratic access can be made no more clear than by the events of this past week.
We remain hopeful that Sylva Board members will collectively and individually denounce the racist remarks and threats as not only reprehensible and undignified, but as dangerous and incompatible with our town, our people, and Jackson County’s future.