Civic engagement is critical and is a central component of our democracy. As a public servant I believe it is imperative to engage in civil discourse. I admire our community’s activists and encourage their voice and passion. However, I do believe it is important to distinguish between an activist and a fanatic.
An activist is a vigorous advocate of a cause, oftentimes a political cause. Activists articulate their position with factual information, personal experience, their political beliefs and, importantly, with civility. Activists accomplish much in the public process by offering respectful discussion that frames issues with well-thought-out perspectives.
A fanatic makes mistakes about factual information, misinterprets law and ordinances, lets emotion override reason and often speaks in a vitriolic tone. Fanatics hurt their chances of accomplishing anything because they don’t invite a civil discourse, but rather look to further divide people.
Recently, I was able to observe firsthand what a group of thoughtful and informed activists can accomplish. In response to a proposed development in Barber Valley that was platted for apartments, a group of knowledgeable Boiseans mounted a significant and respectful opposition to the proposed development. As a result of these passionate activists and their persuasive and civil dialogue, the project was rejected by the Boise City Council.
The developer retooled the plan completely and recently obtained approval for a plat of single-family homes, a 67 percent decrease from the original project. The public process succeeded and the project was changed, in part due to the civil discourse and civic engagement from these activists.
As Boise grows and continues to gain further national attention, so will its controversies. Planning for growth and maintaining what is great about Boise is critical and will require a true collaborative community effort. Watchdog and information organizations and Facebook groups play an extremely important role in the process. The activists in these organizations are heard. The fanatics are not. Thank you to the activists as you are shaping Boise’s future. Don’t let the fanatics among you drown out your voices.
Civil discourse will shape Boise’s future. Yale Law Professor Steven L. Carter states civility “is the sum of many sacrifices we are called to make for the sake of living together.”
To the activists in Boise: Thank you!
Scot Ludwig is a Boise city councilman.