I was going to submit a letter about ways I feel we can improve our processes and increase transparency with the public. Instead I find myself grieving for our country right now, having heard about the mass shooting in Las Vegas, Nevada. I also am grieving for our community, as we cope with the mass shooting we had that took the lives of six people just a couple months ago. I grieve, too, for the loss of so many of our community members to opioid addiction, drunk drivers, and other senseless acts of violence.
We don’t know the Las Vegas shooter’s motivation yet, and it likely will take some time to get an answer. What we do know is that our country is increasingly divided, as are our state and community. Nationally, we are seeing an increased marginalization of Muslims, immigrants, members of the LGBTQ community, minority groups, and more. And in Taos, newcomers are unfairly labeled as old blue-hairs opposed to everything, and we are further divided by what type of growth people want to see in Taos.
We need to move beyond such marginalization and division by not asking where people are from, what religion they belong to, who they love, or how they identify themselves. Instead we must ask what they are able to contribute to the improvement of our society, and embrace them. Our nation, our state, our community, is what it is because of the influence of all. It’s not perfect, and never will be, but nothing is. As long as we respect each other like we expect others to respect us, we move closer to a united community.
We can only address our issues if we are united. That doesn’t mean we agree on everything; rather, it means we agree on a process and a strategy to address the issues we face, even if we must compromise. But that means listening to, and being respectful of, other opinions.
I have been fortunate in my time on Council to meet with so many people of different faiths, backgrounds, and traditions, and I’ve learned more about our community every day. Everyone I speak to is concerned about violence and substance abuse in our community. Everyone I speak to would like to get to know their neighbors better. Everyone I speak to, cares.
If we are going to seriously address violence, division, substance abuse, or any other issue, we need to listen and be open to a compromise. If we want sensible gun legislation, we need to move beyond the entrenched positions of the right and left. I’m a progressive Democrat and a gun owner. I know plenty of Republicans who don’t like guns. Compromise is possible. Will that prevent another mass shooting? Likely not, but will it reduce the number of casualties? Possibly.
Let’s also begin to address the root issues causing such outbreaks of violence and substance abuse, namely lack of mental health care, and poverty. For those dealing with violence or substance abuse, let’s actually start rebuilding our mental health programs, and embrace innovative, harm-reducing models like the one led by Dr. Perez-Baron that was profiled in [the Sept. 28 issue of The Taos News, “Medication-assisted treatment program fights opioid epidemic”].
Let’s come together and work to get our community members up to a wage that can support their families, give them extra spending money, and ensure they can afford to keep a roof over their heads. Let’s work together to bring in jobs that aren’t just service-industry related.
Let’s embrace the traditions that have kept us alive for centuries and brought us together, like our acequias, traditional dances, and harvest celebrations. Let’s also embrace the experience of our newcomers who want to lend their time and give their money to so many causes in our community. And let’s embrace our youth and their ideas, and give them the support and infrastructure they are asking for, because they are the future of our community.
The problems we see nationally are also seen here. And if we come together to address our local problems, we can be a model for a civil society that respects all and works for all. Unity is a part of community. We are stronger together. Somos mas fuertes juntos.
Fernandez is a Taos town councilor and chair of the Taos County Democratic Party.