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Remembering Safety in Diversity

By Folake Phillips

It was Tuesday, October 5th. I had moved a few meetings around the week prior to be present at what would be my first attendance at a Town of Los Gatos Council meeting in this country. I had chosen to speak in person because the Town of Los Gatos Council was looking for DEI speakers to share their perspectives on the Los Gatos Chamber of Commerce’s LISTEN. LEARN. CHANGE. GROW campaign to make ALL residents and visitors feel welcome in Los Gatos.

This is a campaign I support wholeheartedly and I believe also a very timely public campaign that is broadly addressing racial inequities, gender bias, religious hate, intolerance and closed-mindedness in our neighborhoods. The campaign encourages everyone to take the opportunity to be a part of the community and have their voices heard.

Needless to say, what was heard at the Town of Los Gatos Council meeting was not the voices of the marginalized or the underserved, but the voices of those who used this opportunity to vent their fear and anger by attacking elected officials and their family members for carrying out policies to include different people. For me, it was quite traumatizing to watch a “non-white” individual targeted by some “white” individuals largely because that person has delivered on the Council’s diversity and inclusion objectives.

I witnessed in person what happened to Mayor Sayoc on this pivotal day. The verbal attacks were crass, disgusting and unacceptable. The meeting was disrupted multiple times by protesters; Mayor Sayoc was shouted at from across the Chamber, verbally attacked personally and called names. I was shocked at the initial silence around her and at one point, I vividly remember that she had to ask if she was expected to sit there and endure it all. Her family is not Town property and her quality of life, too, is just as important as anyone’s and the more important question in all of this is, "Why should we care?”

Well, we should care. What happened that day at the Council meeting threatens the integrity of our social fabric. In the face of escalating tensions, rising hate crimes, political divisions, and polarized beliefs where civic dialogues can no longer be heard, we need to pay even closer attention to the safety and the quality of life for community members who are impacted the most by these acts of public harassment, especially our elected leaders.

It is a basic human right for everyone, regardless of their station in life, to feel safe. At the local level, the local community is where the biggest and most significant change can occur. So if it looks like a social pattern is rearing its ugly head within a community, then it is everyone in that community’s responsibility to speak against what is wrong and do something right.

As we call for more inclusion and representation, let’s remember to prioritize the physical and emotional safety of those who represent the faces of our diversity.

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