I recently decided to stop attending or reporting on Anderson County Fiscal Court, Board of Zoning Adjustments, Planning and Zoning, School Board, etc.…
Today, I am going to tell you why.
On May 19 last year, two days after the primary election, there was a Fiscal Court meeting at 10:00 a.m. I cut the tags off of a brand new, pink and white-checked blazer, and drove the 9 miles to town, excited to see everyone.
I arrived early like I always do and made my way down the long hall and into the Fiscal Court. If you’ve never been there, the room has the formal, majestic, dark wood feel of an actual court, a room where justice takes place.
I immediately spotted a man I knew by name but did not know personally, and he looked, in a word, enraged.
As I set my purse and bottle of water on the floor by my chair, he let loose. “You came after me!” he yelled, pointing and jabbing his finger my direction. “I didn’t come after you! You came after me! You ****** liberals!” He continued screaming for several minutes, clearly angered by a public Facebook post he himself had shared, a post I’d then shared on Twitter, writing something like: Does this look familiar? Trumpism is deeply rooted here.
The man and I were about 10 feet apart. He kept screaming, one fist digging hard into the seat of the chair next to him, his other hand in the air. I kept holding up my hand, saying “no” and “no, that was not my intent” and asking him to stop.
He would not stop.
I tried to explain that I deleted had my Twitter post, even though he himself had shared this post publicly and that it was still being shared by his friends on social media.
The man was having none of it. He kept screaming.
I noted there were several Fiscal Court members and department heads standing just to my left, in the hallway, listening and/or watching.
No one intervened.
No one asked him to stop his abusive, inappropriate behavior.
No one asked him to leave.
When the man finally stopped, the people standing in the hallway filed in, and the Judge Executive called the meeting to order. We stood for the prayer and it was business as usual, as if nothing had happened. I was holding my reading glasses in my hand so tightly I broke them in half. I wanted to be anywhere else.
When the meeting ended, I walked to my car, dictated contemporaneous notes of everything the man had said into my phone and called my husband, a friend in law enforcement, and my lawyer.
For the next many months, I continued to attend these meetings, but my heart is no longer in it.
I understand what this sounds like. It sounds like I am weak. It sounds like I am a tattletale. It sounds like I am a quitter. It sounds like I can’t cut it. Women in politics and the media are forced to deal with these kinds of abuses — and worse — on a daily basis, just to do our jobs. And we tolerate it, because what choice is there?
That said, the male rage we are bombarded with is usually from a distance: on social media, in the comments section, in our email, in our voicemail.
What I can tell you is that this kind of rage coming at you feels different, more exhausting in person. It feels different in a small town where everyone knows everyone. It feels different when the people in power, the people you know personally, the people standing silent out in the hallway find this behavior acceptable.
It is unacceptable to me.