A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Constance Alexander: Speaking up, speaking out, speaking the truth even when it hurts

Last week in Murray, about a hundred twenty citizens showed up for a town hall discussion about plans for expansion of the Calloway County Public Library. The same night, close to a hundred people gathered at the Market House Theatre in Paducah for “Democracy & the Informed Citizen,” a statewide project to encourage civil discourse, focused on the novel, “All the King’s Men,” by Kentucky poet and novelist, Robert Penn Warren.

In Murray, controversy has swirled around the issue of library expansion for years. A battle of wills ensued. The Calloway County Judge Executive, aided by several hand-picked board members, fought against ardent taxpayers who use the library, love the library, and recognize the need for expansion and renovation suited to a growing community that values lifelong learning.

Because I could not be in two places at once, I was in Paducah, at community discussion of “All the King’s Men” at the Market House. Fortunately, however, I was able to view my hometown proceedings online the next day, to get a feeling for the fervor and commitment that went into the Murray gathering.

There were personal stories and recollections about the importance of libraries in so many of our lives. One participant, Ray Horton, admitted disappointment when he brought his young daughter to the library and realized the lack of space for activities with little kids.

“For a small child like Emerson,” he said, “there’s really nothing. We had to sit in the floor in the corner, in front of an office door. Trying not to disturb other patrons.”

“As Emerson grows up,” he continued, “we need to ask ourselves, what message will it send her and other children when the library is a source of public controversy?”

Shannon Davis Roberts and others mentioned the need for the library to be compliant with the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act. Just entering the building presents accessibility challenges, and the aisles between book stacks cannot reasonably accommodate a person in a wheelchair.

Discussion in both Murray and in Paducah was open and honest. There were eloquent appeals, nervous comments, and some frustrated admissions about the importance of working together for the betterment of the community. One of the panelists in Paducah, a judge for the Western District of Kentucky, remarked that he is encouraged by the ability of juries to reach consensus on difficult cases and complicated issues. Although they begin deliberations with closely held, and sometimes widely disparate opinions, they are able to work things through and end up without rancor.

In the coming week, the entire country will be challenged to listen and learn regarding the appointment of Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. A recent accusation by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, dating back decades to when the two were in high school, asserts that Dr. Blasey was sexually assaulted by Judge Kavanaugh.

The facts are sketchy and valid questions abound on all sides. Mean-spirited and downright vile denunciation are rampant. The possibility of civil conversation seems limited, if not impossible, yet surely there is one thing all of us can learn from the situation:

Millions of victims of sexual assault never come forward because they know they, rather than the attacker, have to prove their innocence. And even if the accusation were deemed to have merit, the victim would be questioned about their guilt in attracting sexual predation, including what they were wearing, who they were with, and whether they’d protested loudly enough.

Over the years, articles and advice for those sexually attacked recommended wildly different responses. Some glibly said, “Lie back and enjoy it,” while others suggested fighting back hard so that their defensive wounds would demonstrate a clear lack of acquiescence.

As the situation unfolds regarding Judge Kavanaugh, we have an opportunity to communicate constructively with integrity and humility. There is no need to cheer for the destruction of those we disagree with, but to seek the closest version of the truth through facts, analysis, reasoning and listening.

Sometimes, the truth hurts, but without it, how can we live together and work together and worship together in the spirit of democracy and civil discourse?

Constance Alexander is a columnist, award-winning poet and playwright, and President of INTEXCommunications in Murray. She can be reached at calexander9@murraystate.edu. Or visit www.constancealexander.com.

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One Comment

  1. NimaSeaman says:

    Thank you for The thoughtful and gracious way to discuss controversial issues such as Brett Kavanaugh and Library expansions. Sometimes I am forced to smile and hit delete when dear friends send me messages about candidates that make my blood boil. The lack of truthfulness by Senators in your state and mine sends me through the roof. I long for civil discourse but what often happens is that the two persons discussing the matters cannot even agree on the facts of the situation. When lying, bullying and name calling are the game of the day, I refuse to play. The lack of civility starts with the top leaders of our nation. I find them wanting.

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