by Carl Jarvis

This past summer across America, town meetings have burst into public view with shouting angry crowds carrying posters and signs declaring that we are being destroyed by either socialists or Nazis. Shouts and jeers drown out any attempt to discuss health care issues.

Throughout the history of our great republic, town meetings have stood as the bastion of democracy. It is here that citizens come together to discuss and debate matters of importance. Certainly such gatherings can become emotional; tempers flare, red-faced citizens pointing fingers and shaking clenched fists in the air, driving home their points. But it has always been with the understanding that this is part of open debate. However, this time there appears to be an organized attempt to pack town meetings, not for the purpose of debate, but to shut down all discussion. Citizens attending meetings are met by people with guns strapped to their legs or rifles slung over their shoulders, passing out leaflets declaring that our president resembles Adolph Hitler. Attempts to discuss the issues are met with sneers and jeers. No doubt about it, there is a dark cloud threatening our freedom of speech, and our right to assemble peaceably.

Probably we members of the American Council of the Blind (ACB) would not describe our local chapter gatherings as town meetings, but in a sense that is what they are. It is at this grass roots level that we meet to discuss issues that affect the blind. We make our plans and dream our dreams. And from here we come to convention carrying our resolutions and giving our ACB its purpose and direction. Chapters are our building blocks. They defend democracy within our state organizations. Without strong, healthy chapters, we will cease to exist as a people's movement.

We must be certain to allow every member the opportunity to speak their piece, and we will listen carefully. Respect, courtesy and tolerance are the keys to a strong organization. Intolerance, name-calling and personal attacks have no place in our meetings. As we watch national events unfold, we need to redouble our efforts to keep democracy alive within the ACB.

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