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Last week, I announced I would be traveling the state for a series of Community COVID Conversations, and today I’d like to talk about why these exercises in democracy matter.
The tours are a throwback to the time when community leaders and constituents had more meetings at town hall and all-day picnics.
The topic for the tour is the pandemic, but listening tours are valuable for any topic. When it comes to working through issues, nothing beats face-to-face conversations.
I have met with folks in six cities so far. Each meeting is as different as the community I am visiting, but each is alike in one way – each is democracy in action. Democracy is a big and noble concept that we can practice simply and in the smallest venues.
The goal of the Community COVID Conversation is for me to hear first-hand your concerns and ideas. Likewise, the meetings give you the chance to hear directly from me. This kind of opportunity often is the start of understanding. In the end, we still may not agree, but we may understand.
During the meeting in Batesville, one gentleman said something I’m sure he has expressed often, but this time he had the opportunity to get it off his chest directly to the governor. And I had the chance to respond directly.
He said many people aren’t taking the vaccine because they don’t trust the government.
I said, Let me ask you what advice you would give me.
Shoot straight with the people, he said. Tell them the facts.
I told him I agreed 100 percent that we must tell the truth, and the truth is that we have a deadly disease that is still killing people so we must continue to push vaccinations, the best solution to beating COVID.
Then I offered advice that he probably didn’t expect, and to be honest, I’m not sure I had ever said it exactly this way. I told him that since he doesn’t trust politicians, that he should talk to an expert that he does trust, whether it’s his doctor or someone at a medical clinic. That way, I said, you bypass the government, which can’t solve most of our problems anyway.
Another moment of democracy grew uncomfortable because it was so honest. A constituent name a couple of controversial COVID treatments and asked a doctor in the audience whether he would prescribe either.
He asked: Are you giving (them)?
The doctor said: No sir we are not
The constituent asked: If the patient asks for it ... will you give it?
The doctor said no patient had asked for either of the treatments.
The constituent pressed for an answer: But would you?
The doctor paused six seconds to answer. Then he answered with the courage of his training and belief: No. I probably would not.
Did either gentleman change his mind? I doubt it. But each was free to speak his mind in a moment of democracy at its most fundamental level.
Soon I will announce the next towns on the Community COVID Conversation tour. The number of cases of COVID and those hospitalized with it continues to rise, so I continue to encourage everyone to get vaccinated. I’m hopeful that as the tour continues, we will find ways to reassure those who are hesitant, and soon, the tour won’t be necessary.