Free speech carries great responbility

I am deeply concerned that Aberdeen has again garnered international notoriety, and again for the wrong reasons. I forced myself to watch the video concerning the offending sign at the Star Wars store and offending it certainly was. It was hateful and hurtful. It arguably did not belong in a place of business.

And, in my view, demeaned medical science. The assumption made in that sign was factually incorrect. We have known since the 1950s that the notion that anyone who’s 23rd chromosomal pair is XX is female and anyone for whom that pair is XY is male, is simply not entirely true. For while the plumbing fixtures pointed to either male or female, even that is not always true, the science shows sex and gender are definitively not binary.

But as morally abhorrent and as scientifically wrong as that sign was, it was within Don Sucher’s right, protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution, to hold such beliefs, even to express them. There have been numerous Supreme Court cases restating the idea that offensive speech, including symbolism, in and of itself, however horrific and hateful, is protected. There are, of course, exceptions, i.e. shouting “fire” in a crowded theater and so on.

However, stating such opinions publicly, while a right, carries with it a responsibility and with that the realization you can be challenged. Councilmember Meskis did just that. Anyone with an ounce of empathy for their fellow human beings could see how hurtful the sentiment that sign expressed would be, especially when on public display. The council member’s objections, regardless of how they may have been presented, were met not with reasoned discussion but taken as a misplaced challenge of superiority. Nevertheless, council member Meskis was well within her First Amendment rights to make the challenge.

It bothers me that this happened and escalated as far as it did, bringing such adverse attention to Aberdeen, but even this will pass.

But what bothers me more is this wrangling takes our attention away from the desperate problems that this city has that we should be solving.

It bothers me that Aberdeen, as well as the rest of Grays Harbor County, is caught in a spiral into greater and greater poverty, and the tremendous financial and social harm that accompanies it.

It bothers me that there is a large and growing number of people living here without benefit of safe, secure housing having not the resources to afford it.

It bothers me that there are county and state officials who, for reasons known truly only to them, deny the city of Aberdeen the financial resources to combat this problem even though those resources cost them nothing and even though the city and organizations in the county government passionately appealed for that support.

Aberdeen is the economic hub of a county whose economy was based on exploitation of limited natural resources but could be, if the proper effort were applied, a place where the world could come to see how to develop and foster 21st century sustainable industries now in high demand around the world.

In a 2020 survey, there were more than 85,000 jobs statewide in the clean energy sector alone. These jobs accounted for more than 25% of all construction jobs. Yet, the city does not have the resources, either human or financial, to mount an aggressive, professional campaign to seek out and recruit these industries. Aberdeen; who, in her history, spawned some of the people who developed many of those technologies.

It bothers me that major economic development and the jobs and prosperity that brings is having to fight so hard to battle entrenched prejudices rallied against change.

We are unable to fill the ranks of our police and our fire departments.

We are unable to fill the badly needed positions on staff at the city, including a good city administrator that we so desperately need.

It bothers me that our progress toward a brighter future for Aberdeen has to fight so hard against the forces of ignorance and hatred, and that the enlightenment of reason, science and knowledge are considered by too many to be evil.

All of that, and it’s only a tiny slice of the pie, bothers me more than a sign in a window.

We can build Aberdeen into the world class destination that it should be. We can make Aberdeen, and by extension all of Southwest Washington, a place where diverse, sustainable and profitable industry, along with the associated economy can thrive along with the people who live here.

I conclude with the remembrance of a quote from NASA rocket scientist Werner Von Braun, who was asked by a news reporter in the mid-1960s, “Dr. von Braun, what is the most difficult part about going to the moon?”

Without hesitation he said, “Summoning the will to do it.”

Alan Richrod is an Aberdeen City Council member. He represents Ward 5, Position 10.