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Guest view: County must keep standing up to bullies

We know by now that most adults who’ve refused the Covid-19 vaccine will not be budged, no matter what they’re told by science and common sense. They’ve chosen this as their line in the sand—or, for a more apt metaphor, their hill to die on. 

Fine. While I think it’s a position of ignorance that is potentially devastating to our society, I also recognize there’s little to be done about it. Since we are not—as many anti-vaxxers claim—a totalitarian state in which the government wantonly tramples individual rights, this group will be allowed to continue running amok unvaccinated. To that, I’m resigned. 

What I am not resigned to, however, are the tactics we have seen recently in San Benito County, in which anti-vaxxers disrupted a meeting of the county Board of Supervisors, and anti-maskers managed to shut down the county library for several days.

A recap: 

1. According to a county statement, a group of people without masks invaded the San Benito County Free Library on Aug. 20, and refused staff’s requests to follow government regulations and either wear masks, or leave. As a result, library doors were closed until Aug. 25. 

2. At the Aug. 24 County Board of Supervisors meeting, where a proposal was under consideration to require county employees to either get a Covid-19 vaccination or undergo regular testing, several audience members interrupted supervisors as they were speaking. This occurred after the period for public comment. In spite of requests for order by Chairwoman Bea Gonzales, the protesters continued to jeer at the supervisors, until Gonzales had to clear the room. 

The proposal was continued at a meeting the next morning, where it was approved. Attendees “got up yelling and screaming,” and she once again had to clear the room. 

An elected official can probably expect to get grief from constituents now and then, but Gonzales says the hostility she witnessed was extreme. “It’s just ridiculous, the level it’s reached,” she told me. “I’m dumbfounded.”

She added she feels for the library staff, who—like the clerk at the grocery store, or the waitperson at the restaurant—never signed up to be a code enforcer. “Those employees were traumatized” by the confrontation, Gonzales said.

Have we reached the point where we just shrug at this craziness? The library incident is not a matter of some minor squabble between the unmasked and the staff. It’s an insult to every person in San Benito County who pays taxes to fund, and ensure free access to, the library. 

Likewise, the disruption at the supervisors’ meeting can’t be dismissed as a tiff between constituents and their representatives. It’s a middle finger extended to those of us who have any sense of faith in an orderly system of government, and in elected officials’ mandate to administer vital public services. 

What worries me is the disgruntled camp’s strategy—act the angriest and shout the loudest—will eventually wear down the rational people we depend on. Gonzales says she’s received threats because of her stance. When she ran for office, “I didn’t expect all this hostility and ugliness, but it doesn’t scare me,” she said.

We’ve always wanted people in public service to be reasoned, well-informed and clear-headed. Now, more than ever, we also need them to stand up to bullies. For doing so, the three supervisors who passed the ordinance and the library staff deserve our thanks and support. 

Larry F. Slonaker is a writer and longtime resident of San Benito County.