Island will Go Dark if we Lose the Sun

The McClatchy newspaper group, a force for local journalism, filed for bankruptcy recently. The Sacramento Bee is a member of the McClatchy group. McClatchy management claims “business as usual” but bankruptcies come with closures, sale of assets, layoffs and liquidation. Democracy’s “fourth estate” — the free and independent press upon which democracy depends — continues its death spiral in this on-going shift to digitalization. 

The world went dark
The Dark Ages went “dark” because one institution, the formative church, dictated the structure and function of religious, political, economic and social institutions, establishing singular norms and values as they went. Notoriously intolerant of different points of view (heresies), those with differing ideas were persecuted. 

Insistence on a singular narrative slammed the door shut on thousands of years of Greek and Roman knowledge and culture — knowledge that would have launched the human project on an entirely different trajectory with nascent science and technology. Instead, the world went dark for centuries.

America is going dark
We have today a U.S. President re-defining our political, economic and social institutions, their norms and values — or lack thereof. Facts based in science and rational observation are said to be “fake news,” “lies” or “disinformation” and the President, along with the Attorney General, openly persecute those who disagree. Shall we call them heretics?

Patriots responding to Congressional subpoena on the Ukraine abuse-of-power scandal have all been sent packing. The Director of Intelligence, Joseph Maguire, was not fired because he failed to inform President Trump of Russia’s full-court press on the 2020 election, he was fired because he did precisely that. The President falsely claimed Hurricane Dorian was headed to Alabama and most recently, he recast the reality of the coronavirus pandemic saying it’s going to “disappear … like a miracle, it will disappear.”

Darkness is created by muddying political, social and cultural waters with a braying cacophony of falsehoods (the White House has tallied 16,000 lies and counting), misrepresentations, omissions and gaslighting.  Darkness also means news blackout — something the President has attempted by frequently operating in secrecy. 

Is Alameda going dark?
This is not the time to water down Alameda’s Sunshine Ordinance. In doing so, city government has given itself “executive privilege” to decide itself whether it has violated the law. This is called secrecy or non-transparency. This is precisely the wrong direction to head at this dreadfully fragile and vulnerable moment in our democracy’s history.

Alameda is no stranger to scandal and political dirty tricks. It was to decrease this possibility that forward-thinking Alamedans drafted and helped implement Alameda’s own Sunshine Ordinance. 

What the President is doing in Washington, D.C., cannot be allowed to happen here. Rather than let transparency and accountability slide, our task is to re-commit to this ordinance and the principles for which it stands. If you have not yet read the opinion of state and local members of the League of Women Voters — defenders of democracy — I strongly encourage you to do so. 

This is not about democrats. This is not about republicans. This is not about the current Mayor, Councilmembers or City Manager. This is about what lies around the corner. This is about the very structure and framework of our government. This is about establishing boundaries; creating rules of behavior which every person on the public stage must abide.

We were wrong to assume law and institutions will automatically maintain themselves. According to Timothy Snyder, author of the current best seller, On Tyranny, Twenty Lessons from the 20th Century, more than ever, we must practice democracy to maintain democracy. To “do” local democracy we are called upon to proactively defend her institutions.  

The free and independent press upon which democracy depends is still alive in Alameda. Despite the occasional snipes aimed at our paper, Alameda would go dark if we lost the Sun. There is no other news source focusing solely on our community. 

This gem in our midst is a survivor in most treacherous times. A metaphorical campfire around which this community gathers, the Sun is the platform for our many voices. By giving voice to our community, we keep our local politics — as tumultuous as they’ve been — in the light and accountable.  

With the ominous watering down of our local Sunshine Ordinance, there is no better cause to defend than our own paper. 

In these dangerous and increasingly dark times, we are going to practice democracy by supporting the First Amendment via the free press. We are renewing our subscription to the Alameda Sun. You can, too. Visit www.alamedasun.com/subscribe or send a check to Alameda Sun, 3215 J Encinal Ave. Alameda CA 94501.

Gabrielle “Gaby” Dolphin is past president of the City of Alameda Democratic Club.