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OPINION: From the comments section – Using your voice effectively

Several hot-button issues have been discussed by the City of Oxford in recent weeks, but two have seen the most public outcry. 

The Board of Aldermen’s decision to ban Kratom, for example, seemed pretty unpopular, based on the many comments left on the EAGLE’s Facebook page. Kratom, which previously was easy to access at both gas stations and CBD shops, is a natural substance that has some medicinal properties, but also mimics the effect of stimulants and opioids.  

The ban was proposed after interim police chief Jeff McCutchen approached the Board, noting an “uptick” in the number of overdose cases in North Mississippi, in which Kratom was listed amongst a cocktail of other substances.  

The aldermen began talking about the issue in May, and finally passed the ban on Kratom products last Tuesday.  

Now, I’m neither here nor there on the subject of Kratom – that’s not what this column is about. What this column is about, instead, is the fact that members of the public were given several opportunities to go before the board and voice their concerns about the issue.  

And yet, when the time came to open up the floor for discussion, not a soul stood up. So, based on their own interpretation, the Board of Aldermen approved the ban.  

This isn’t unusual. The Board of Aldermen – and all elected officials – were elected in part because voters trust them to make the best decisions on their behalf. And not every issue needs an hours-long discussion – some are fairly cut-and-dry, like granting permission to hang a sign on the Square or resurfacing a parking lot.  

However, when I see 15 comments, 32 reactions and 12 shares on a post, it makes me wonder – where were all these keyboard warriors hiding when their voices could have been heard?  

The other hot topic of discussion coming up in next week’s Board of Aldermen meeting is the Square parking ordinance. As the completion of the Square parking garage looms ever closer, Oxonians have seen the City propose just about every combination of paid/unpaid/permitted parking imaginable, but nothing has been set in stone yet. The Board is clearly going over every option with a fine-toothed comb, and it’s clear there is room to benefit from public input on the issue.  

Every time a story is published on the issue, I see comments once again asking, ‘Are our elected officials keeping the citizens of Oxford in mind?’ or ‘Do they have any idea how this will affect us?’  

The answer is simple. They’re operating based on the input they receive. Oxford has nearly 25,000 full-time residents. I’m not calling for all 25,000 of us to march down to City Hall, by any means. But is it really fair for us to be upset, when we’re not taking time to voice our concerns to the people in charge? 

So, I encourage everyone to exercise their right to be heard, about this and any other issue that concerns them. If you can’t make the meetings (dates and times for which are regularly published in the EAGLE), send an email or make a phone call.  

If your intention is to complain and be rude and negative, the Facebook comments section is the perfect place for that. However, if your intention is to actually speak out and affect change, more effort is required. We’re lucky enough to live in a country where our voices matter. If you forfeit your opportunity to speak up, you also forfeit your opportunity to complain when things don’t go your way.  

Your opinions don’t just matter when you’re hiding behind a computer screen – they matter in the real world, too. I promise. 

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