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Tuesday, July 23, 2024
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OpinionLetter to the incoming Milpitas City Council: May peace & civility reign

Letter to the incoming Milpitas City Council: May peace & civility reign

As Election Season rolls on, time and time again at The Beat, we hear readers expressing that they’re tired of all the drama on the Milpitas City Council. That in mind, I’d like to address the incoming Milpitas City Council, whomever it may consist of, in advance of its start in January, 2023…

When you’re sitting in the cheap seats, it’s easy to judge. In other words, particularly in a democracy – and more particularly in America, I think – there’s a knee-jerk habit on the part of the citizenry to pick apart everything the politicians do. This is why, in my conversations with our local political leaders and candidates over the years, I’ve always been quick to remind them that “I could never do what you do.”

It’s true. I lack the temperament; I lack the patience; I lack the bandwidth for bureaucracy and little thorny details. Knowing this, I try not to rush to judgment. If a politician lies openly, I’ll be inclined to call it out. But constantly holding politicians’ feet to the fire – particularly in Milpitas, where our leaders are not paid very much, and are indeed a notch above volunteers – seems to make for a cheap and easy game. It is poisonous behavior. It can be entertaining, but it solves nothing and tends to go nowhere.

In the meantime, I am sensitive to what our leaders face as a matter of course. Which is to say, per the very nature of the work they do, they are consistently being subject to rampant judgment. I’ve experienced this phenomenon firsthand, whenever I’ve directed a film. Directors are constantly being judged. Everyone around them thinks they can do it better. So it goes with all leaders: they get judged, criticized, picked apart, underestimated. It’s brutal and bloody, a war-like human ritual.

Moreover, on our Council, the public servants do not come in as friends. They come in as enemies, or at least opponents. In other words, not long before, they ran against each other. In this way, politics is inherently anti-social. The very system, in its unconscious fabric, does not leverage its participants to get along. One season, they’re out there trying to defeat each other; the next, they’re in there trying to sustain cooperative governance. It’s resolutely unnatural. In business, you get to choose your allies. In politics, your allies come to you, by and large, by way of context, priorities, and party.

Speaking of, when it comes to governing bodies, ideological conflicts tend to seem inevitable. In the ongoing clashes between Mayor Rich Tran and Councilmember and Mayoral Candidate Karina Dominguez, we see a microcosm of what’s long been happening on the national stage. Tran holds himself out as a moderate Mayor, prioritizing law and order, public safety, clean streets, and what he terms “The Milpitas Family” (a reference, as I interpret it, to our town’s traditional and mainstream suburban values). 

Dominguez leads from a progressive vantage point, prioritizing equity, the unhoused, women’s rights, the working class, and other groups in need of a voice. In addition, in terms of not only their genders but their leadership styles, Tran epitomizes the masculine while Dominguez encapsulates the feminine. Time and time again on the Council, Dominguez chastises Tran for a lack of compassion, while Tran chastises Dominguez for a lack of decorum. It’s classic traditionalism (Tran) vs. systemic reform (Dominguez), and it’s a conflict that is reverberating across America.

We have to cool it.

Up above, I’ve tried to make clear that I’m not engaging in rash or knee-jerk judgments – or really any judgments at all. It’s easy to say, “The Council’s acting like children.” I am hoping, in this space, to deliver a more nuanced message…

The Council, any Council, is a mirror of the nation. If the nation’s broken, the Council’s broken. But the good news is, the process also works in reverse: if the Council stands strong, engaging in a consistent and steady practice of diplomacy and civility, then it can influence not only the region, but the state and nation. Not because they’ll be watching per se, but because that’s how human behavior works. 

The tone, it is said, gets set at the top. The behavior of the ones who lead has a profound effect upon the ones who follow. And good leaders can influence other leaders, as well, near and far – I genuinely believe this. I believe humankind is connected in a kind of nodal network, the same way the lymph nodes in our bodies all work together. One blocked area can clog and stem the whole. Likewise, an open flow can lead to a profound positive effect.

Let’s back off the metaphysics for a second, though: the truth is, civility ain’t rocket science. Civility is simply healthy. For our minds, for our blood pressure, for our community relations. In a recent interview with The Milpitas Beat, Mayoral Candidate Anthony Phan said that how people see our Mayor is how they see our City. I would add to this that how people see our City Council is also how they see our City. But it’s about more than optics; it’s about human values…

Values of peace. Values of sympathy. Values of fairness and groundedness and even love.

Our Council has drifted far from such values. I can see how it happens: you have a team of ingrained rivals, insults get slung, disagreements cut deep, resentments form, conflicts continue month after month, year after year. It’s not as though I myself am immune to holding grudges, harboring resentments.

But I have to let go. So does the Council.

It’s bad for business. It not only looks bad, but it prevents good and meaningful work from getting done. The machinery halts amid all the mud-slinging. The public is overtly entertained yet covertly demeaned. The media gets juicy stories, but not inspiring ones. 

Enough. The Milpitas City Council can do better. In fact, for our long-term survival, amid threats including COVID and climate change and the drought and systemic injustice, the City Council must do better. Going into next year, I encourage for our Council a spirit of rampant and radical peace, and of eminent civility. May hurt feelings pass quickly. May it even be boring. May the slow-moving gears of bureaucracy and public service take extraordinary precedence over the hot-running motors of proud egos and thundering symbolism.

I know you can do it. I’m counting on your stoicism. I am counting on the Milpitas City Council to shine; may you radiate a great and humble light across the world.

Your citizen,

Eric



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Eric Shapiro
Eric Shapiro
Eric Shapiro is a writer & filmmaker. As a screenwriter, he’s won a Fade In Award and written numerous feature films in development by companies including WWE, Mandalay Sports Media, Game1, and Select Films. He is also the resident script doctor for Rebel Six Films (producers of A&E’s “Hoarders”). As a journalist, Eric’s won a California Journalism Award and is co-owner and editor of The Milpitas Beat, a Silicon Valley newspaper with tens of thousands of monthly readers that has won the Golden Quill Award as well as the John Swett Award for Media Excellence. As a filmmaker, Eric’s directed award-winning feature films that have premiered at the Fantasia Film Festival, Fantastic Fest, and Shriekfest, and been endorsed by PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). Eric’s apocalyptic novella “It’s Only Temporary” appears next to Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” on Nightmare Magazine’s list of the 100 Best Horror Novels of All Time. He lives in Northern California with his wife, Rhoda, and their two sons.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Very well said and totally on point. Let’s hope that we can find some civility, passion, and maturity. The behavior has been exhausting and embarrassing. We deserve much more.

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