IT SEEMED SO DESPERATE when Governor Cuomo signed the executive order early in the spring authorizing municipal governments to conduct their meetings online. And so weird. The technology was available… kind of. So run your village, your town, your city and county on Zoom.
Online meetings were a sideshow at the outset of the deluge of facts and fake facts and changing facts about the pandemic. But despite the initial confusion and weak security that attracted hackers to work their disruptive mischief (just ask the Hudson Board of Education), government and we, the governed , are adapting.
That process will change our language and our sense of time. In the near future, will anyone “go” to a meeting and where citizens sit side-by-side? Would anybody “attend” the hearings on budgets or new local laws? And where would you go if not to some “virtual” space? The key players participate as images; they “Zoom” to the forum digitally from home or some undisclosed location. Does it matter whether anyone is where they say they are? Maybe with prisoners.
The change is relentless but not everyone is on board. In Copake, some residents of the hamlet of Craryville and the surrounding area are dismayed by a proposal for a solar farm with 200,000 panels producing 60 megawatts at a 900-acre site. An online information session lasted well over two hours and the residents still called for small-group, face-to-face meetings between neighbors and the developer. It might lead to greater understanding on both sides, but the concept seems so 20th century. The people who wield digital tools most effectively set the terms of the debate.
We see that in the rush to reopen schools. The greatest safety for the largest number of students still lies on the digital-only curriculum. That lesson will not be lost on this generation of students, no matter how quickly we manage to get Covid-19 under control.
Don’t overlook the smart phone in this discussion. It lets you put government in your pocket, literally. No one would doubt the power of this device as a tool for making—and changing—history. That’s here too. Consider the required re-imagining of local police following the deaths of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery among other recent horrors documented by this tool. And then there’s the incident at the Black Lives Matter event in the Village of Kinderhook July 11.
As the peaceful Kinderhook march was near its end a man and a woman appeared on the doorstep of their home on Rothermel Lane and shouted insults at the marchers. Hudson Mayor Kamal Johnson recorded some of what happened next. The man shouted for the woman to “Go get my gun.” She went into the house, came out with a handgun and gave it to the man.
When State Police, who were at the head and end of the march, arrived, the woman took the gun back into the house. A trooper went inside and came out carrying the weapon. He questioned marchers. Some time later, the woman was gently escorted by a trooper to his car. She was not handcuffed.
Days passed and then a release was issued last week from the State Police saying there are no charges being filed. No law was broken.
What Mayor Johnson asked the day of the March was how he, the mayor of Hudson, would have been treated if he had waved a handgun from his front porch. Would he have been arrested? National statistics show the odds would be a worse outcome for him.
What would it take for charges to be filed when a person brandishes a firearm at innocent people on a public road?
Witnesses alone could not have told this story. It’s the camera that captures what is not happening on Rothermel Lane. No shouting by the police, no shots fired, no restraints—nothing that suggests that it is a danger to the public to use a firearm in this way. Instead there is a deescalation and a peaceful resolution. It’s what the public says we need more of… but for everyone.
And the two civilians who felt it was their right to threaten others with a handgun? They received no sanction for their behavior. We have a lot to learn from the digital world. The lessons begin with how little we know of the ways it is changing us.