Full House Energizes Protecting Democracy Workshop

By KT and NL

BIG had no idea just how many people might attend the Protecting Democracy:  A Civics Workshop, Sunday, January 21.  One member said “…there might be 6 or 60”.  In fact, we were all overjoyed (and a bit overwhelmed) when there were actually about 80 enthusiastic participants, not including presenters!  

The crowd was divided into groups.  Each group was directed to one of seven tables. Each table was hosted by a local official having past or present governmental experience.  The groups then rotated after about 15 minutes until each group had the chance to listen and ask questions at each table.

When County Commissioner John Sweet opened his table to questions, concerns about clearcutting along major highways predominated.  John explained that the County is allowed to harvest 350 acres of timber per year, and that this money is essential to cover mandatory funding by the County.  He also noted that no small strip of trees can be left standing due to blow-down danger to public safety.  Among Commissioner Sweet’s own concerns was the lack of district attorneys, which means that a lot of alleged crimes cannot be prosecuted.

Katy Eymann, former Legislative Assistant in the Oregon State Legislature, provided a very interesting introduction to the process by which an idea becomes a law.   Enthusiasm was expressed by attendees in learning more about this process at future BIG events.  

Emma Ronai-Durning, an organizer with the Rural Organizing Project, was most impressive and an excellent speaker.  Emma provided many handouts and took written suggestions.  Ideas included how rural citizens can join together to promote local radio stations and places where voters can easily obtain information on local candidates.

Dede Murphy, former Coos County Clerk, presented a clear, detailed, and very informative explanation of every ballot’s journey, from filling the ballot out by the voter to the final count by the County Clerk’s office.  

League of Women Voters of Coos County’s Abigale Bok and Kay Kerrigan provided excellent handouts and informative conversation concerning the LWV methods of research and their careful vetting of every issue they promote.  Preceding elections they interview each local candidate using the same questions.  The interviews are consequently available online.  They do not endorse any candidates, but do support issues.  LWV has been in place since 1920, when women first got the vote!

Peter Braun, Bandon City Councilperson, engaged in conversation with attendees, providing information about the City Planning Department, water issues and inviting interaction with the City Council and other groups such as Oldtown Business Association, Greater Bandon Association and others.  Attendees could leave confident that positive feedback, concerns, and constructive criticism might be a contribution they could make to these different entities.

Drea Douglas, North Bend Library Learning Coordinator, presented a good grasp on the dire need to educate citizens better on critical thinking, how to spot fake news and confronting our own confirmation bias.  She also pointed out how essential local libraries are in being able to provide unbiased information on patrons’ inquiries such as political gossip.  The guidelines Drea provided for fact checking news articles will be useful to everyone of all ages.

There were tables set up in the refreshment room (great treats everyone!) providing information on voter registration, Bandon Good Troublemakers, Indivisible of North Curry County, BIG and other local non-profit, volunteer-run organizations.

Many said they enjoyed, and benefitted from, the event. It has been suggested that this type of broadly informative presentation on civics would be beneficial to repeat for students, as well as older adults

Attendees we heard you!  We will better anticipate noise levels in the future.  We also appreciate your other suggestions for future events.

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