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Miami-Dade County has a democracy problem

Miami Herald

This op-ed was originally published in the Miami Herald on Sunday, September 6, 2020. Click here to read the September 6, 2020 e-edition.

By Zelalem Adefris, Catalyst Miami;
Meena Jagannath and Alana Greer, Community Justice Project

The Sept. 3 Miami-Dade County Commission’s budget hearing should have every resident, regardless of political views, deeply concerned about the state of democracy in our county. The meeting defied all conventional assumptions about civic engagement. The message was: If you turn out in numbers and organize around a collective vision, you are more likely to be belittled and ignored.

More than 200 people, including many youth, delivered three and half hours of public comments, imploring the commission to invest more in housing, health and environmental sustainability in these extraordinary times. Yet, their message and personal stories were summarily dismissed by Mayor Carlos Gimenez as “scripted,” unworthy of careful consideration by those on the dais who purport to know what’s best for us.

The mayor would have us believe that periodic voting by an unacceptably small percentage of the electorate is plenty democracy for us. A healthy democracy requires active engagement and accountability once leaders take office. The residents who take time off work to attend commission meetings, educate themselves on complex agendas and spend their evening waiting to speak, many for the first time, understand that. Our leaders must, too.

We often wonder why Miami-Dade is disengaged with what goes on in governmental halls. The answer lies in the consistent attempt to make those who speak out feel small and foolish. People shouldn’t have to subject themselves to censure to participate in democracy. People are exasperated by the state of governance in Miami-Dade, but speak we must. The future of Greater Miami’s democracy depends on it.


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