Monday, April 22, 2024

OPINION: E Pluribus Unum

by EVAN KOCH/More Perfect Union
| April 3, 2024 1:00 AM

I remain troubled, and even depressed, by the racial slurs and overt acts of intimidation that prompted three NCAA women’s basketball teams to flee Coeur d’Alene for the safety of Spokane two weeks ago.

The young men who harassed and threatened to harm these guests disgraced themselves and the larger community. 

The distress experienced by the Utah team as a whole was undeniable and surely impacted its preparedness for what was to be a culmination of months of hard-fought competitive excellence.

Many prominent individuals and groups responded, no doubt because of the team's high profile. How often does this kind of abuse go unnoticed when it is directed at visitors who don’t have such a high profile? 

Condemnations of the men's heinous words and actions were issued in The Press and elsewhere. Apologies and assurances that Coeur d’Alene is committed to human rights, civil rights and dignity for all were shared. Lastly, an appeal, “Don’t let the actions of a few indict” us all.

But the damage was done. Unfortunately, other evidence indicates that any progress made in past decades battling racist or discriminatory ideologies is backsliding.

Local propagandists David Reilly, Casey Whalen and Vincent James Foxx have applied their media skills and platforms to discriminate and promote messages of hate or exclusion based on gender, ethnicity, or party affiliation. 

Trustees at the Community Library Network blatantly stopped observing Juneteenth, a state holiday. 

Governor Little signed legislation banning diversity, equity and inclusion statements at all state colleges and universities. 

North Idaho Sen. Phil Hart, alone among our legislators, refused to sign a resolution that called for “…eradicating the conditions that allow racial animus and undue prejudice to persist in Idaho.” 

In view of this backsliding, all the apologies, commitments and appeals come up immeasurably short. To make them convincing we must put them into action. 

Challenging racist, sexist, or discriminatory language is not “woke,” and it is not censorship. It is common sense in any healthy and respectful society, but especially so in a multicultural democracy and republic. 

Rounding the sharp edges of history and exercising erasure by limiting academic and intellectual freedom in schools and libraries is a net negative for our citizenry and only helps to foster a climate where these acts become more commonplace.

Religious leaders, please convey to your faith communities the truth embodied in the words of the Rev. Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Georgia).

“Democracy is the political enactment of a spiritual idea. We were born in the 'imago dei,' the image of God. We all have value, we all have worth as human beings. If we have value then we ought to have a voice. Democracy enables that by giving us a vote.” 

2024 is an election year. We should all lean in to redeem Coeur d’Alene. Mobilize now to remove from office anyone who is not fully committed to civil and human rights.

Senators Bjerke, Hart and Okuniewicz, and Representatives Alfieri, Barbieri, Mendive, Price, Redman and Scott are all up for re-election and have supported bills that work to censor conversations related to diversity and inclusion. Rep. Elaine Price even sponsored an anti-diversity bill. 

I have not seen, from any of them, a personal apology to the women athletes or a rebuke of the men who harassed them. This is saddening. 

The Kootenai County Republican Central Committee first responded to the NCAA events with an evasive and distorted resolution.

Chair Brent Regan then issued a $10,000 reward for evidence leading to the arrest and conviction of the individuals involved. 

That money would be better spent in support of learning. We ask Chairman Regan to pledge that sum to the Human Rights Education Institute in support of a community workshop or speaker event that would work to build collaboration between those with differences and make clear how discriminatory acts or expressions are entirely un-American. 

Racial bias is not an inherited trait. It’s a learned behavior that can be unlearned.

It is our duty and moral obligation to stop this backsliding. Leaders in business, education, professions, and government, you have influence. Please don’t let this issue disappear from public consciousness.

Anti-discrimination and inclusion is embodied in the original motto of the United States. E Pluribus Unum — out of many, one. It is also embodied in the second national motto, One Nation Under God.

Only by working together civilly can we ever hope to build a more perfect union.

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Evan Koch is chairman of Kootenai County Democrats.