Letter from the Editor; Reflections on the 2023 Municipal Election

Published on 8 November 2023 at 11:20

As the sun rose over Washington, Georgia this morning, we knew for certain who will be making important decisions beginning in January, as the mayor and members of city council. It has been a difficult month for Washington and I think everyone will be happy to put this election behind us and try to move forward. I think many of us feel like we’ve gone at least ten rounds in a boxing match and have the bruises to show for it.

 

Who threw the first punch? It seems many believe I did, although I certainly didn’t see it that way. I had no ill will toward Bruce Bailey, I had met him on one occasion and knew he had run for city council prior to this election.  I certainly didn’t know Ken Parris. I had only met him a day or two prior to him qualifying for this election. Yes, Angela Booker is a good friend of mine but I had no intentions of sabotage to help her win the election any more than I did when I managed her campaign for city council a few years ago.

 

 

I dared to write  an article about facts that were already available to the public. Because of that, I am deemed by some, a liar, vile, incompetent, and suffering from “white guilt.” I think the saddest to me is the “white guilt” because it says so much more about those who make these accusations than it does about me. What it says is that it couldn’t be possible that I live in a town that is more than 60% black and have black friends simply because I have things in common with them or appreciate and respect them as human beings. It couldn’t be that I see the remnants of segregation and oppression in Washington today and believe life would be better for all of us if it was addressed and changed. No, my motivation must be overwhelming guilt because I am white.

 

The article I wrote set off an avalanche of vitriol and anger that I couldn’t have foreseen. Attacks not only aimed at me but other candidates, citizens who didn’t fall in line and the Baileys’ themselves. Even local ministers chimed in, quoting scripture to confirm I am likely the seed of the devil, here as an enemy set to destroy the town. At one point I was shocked to see my daughter, an active-duty United States Marine Lieutenant, going toe to toe with who I now know is Bruce’s daughter, on the gone but never forgotten, Patience Washington’s Facebook page. The ripples were felt far and wide. Many who weren’t directly named or targeted, stood silently (but not invisibly) by, for the show, tuning in and eating it up, swallowing the lies without hesitating a moment for the kernel of truth. To me, it has been shocking and heartbreaking.

 

As the days went on, things continued to devolve. Children gave parents descriptions of a man taking campaign signs out of people’s yards early in the morning while they were waiting for the school bus. Citizens who had the “wrong” signs in their yards were repeatedly told to take them down and felt harassed and badgered. Business owners seem to have no concern for the impact on their business when they publicly say horrible things about fellow citizens and customers. It made me wonder if this attitude might contribute to the lack of business growth. I have heard many times that “People come here and have big ideas and then leave.” Might this be a contributing factor? Healthcare providers who we all depend on to care for us in an emergency or crisis “like” or laugh at vicious and untrue things that are posted on social media and worst of all, teachers have had a hard time keeping kids’ attention at school because they are tuned in to all this cruelty. Jesus clearly had left the building.

 

Washington is a very small town that is often presented as charming and inviting but let’s at least be honest. Some in Washington welcome you if you stick with the script, turn a blind eye, and bite your tongue when the emperor walks by buck naked. It can seem Washington is about conforming to those who believe they hold all the power and if you don’t conform, they bully, threaten, and try to humiliate you until you leave or submit. You are an “outsider” who is not deserving of the same rights of those who were born here with the right name, land holdings, bank balance or who have lived here long enough and are deemed worthy. Laws only apply to some and there is a magic, invisible wall that divides district 1 from district 2 that isn’t invisible to anyone who visits or to many of the “outsiders.” These attitudes are from some, not all, people who live in Washington. Nobody has the authority to decide who can appreciate the unique beauty of this city, we all have the right to decide that on our own. Washington is as unique as every one of us.

 

So here we are. Still no women on city council even though the town is more than 50% female. Still district 1 representatives are all black and district 2 representatives are all white. Our new mayor will sit before a council with members he has much discourse with already. Utilities aren’t the biggest problem Washington has. Division and disengagement are the biggest problems and the election numbers reinforce that. 707 people voted for Bruce Bailey and are thrilled he is our mayor, but 619 did not and most of the citizens didn’t vote at all.

 

This election showed us where we are divided and as ugly as that has been, it moved people in ways I have been told, they haven’t been moved before. Many voiced that they don’t like the division, bullying and disrespect they have witnessed. Conversations were had about difficult things like race and old wounds that were civil and productive. Within the heap of trash and mud that has been thrown, are glimpses of opportunities for mutual understanding and healing. I pray our new mayor sees that too and works to unite the governing body and our community so we can find a way to heal from these battle wounds, as they are deep.  Healing, after all, is his expertise.

 

Written by Michelle Chaffee


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Comments

Shawn
5 months ago

I can’t find unsubscribe button.. please remove me from this list

Pam
5 months ago

How can you call yourself a reporter when you seem to be so thin skinned?

Elizabeth Johns
5 months ago

Thank you Michelle for reporting facts in the midst of the heated election. I'm one of the outsiders watching this, and yet I am not an outsider in that I live in Wilkes County, have a small farm based business, pay taxes in Wilkes County and this is my community dispute living out in the rural county. Shame on the people for their poor behavior. Thank you for reporting the facts even though this hurt you. I pray for your healing and for the healing of Washington-Wilkes.

April Puccetti
5 months ago

The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.

Josh
5 months ago

Yes this town is divided but the numbers show that Bruce had the support from many black voters. The truth is that people are tired of the shenanigans from district 1. Not saying district 2 is innocent but majority of the problems stem from district 1. The election is over. No need to keep going on about it. Your journalism is part of the problem. You can’t be a “journalist” with thin skin. Your stories are based off more emotions than facts. We all have to do better but you can’t pick and choose and be bias as a journalist. Maybe that’s why your career hasn’t gone up the better and bigger things. Thanks.

Gussie
5 months ago

Well said Michelle. Too many people are scared of facing the truth about Washington, Ga. It's a shame. Thanks for pointing out some of the glaring flaws in our little village.

Jessie Lynn Williamson
5 months ago

you mention segregation and oppression. there is certainly no oppression in washington or wilkes county. as for segregation, it is some but because of family homes being passed down or where one chooses to buy. not either because of unequal rights or oppression for sure. My father had one of many saying, the one i think is applicable here is "you will find what you're looking for". I would hope rather than the negatives you write about you will begin to look for better things. you talk about no women on the council like they were kept off. the few that ran were in fact beat by a more popular candidate, surely we don't need to put a women in place just to have one. this is a constitutional republic as is the United States. you did your best to sway the election, i feel your pain it didn't work out like you wanted.

Jill Harris-Cobb
5 months ago

There's a huge misconception here. The issue with certain Council members is not because of the color of their skin, it's how the conduct themselves, the constant combativeness, and complete lack of willingness to work together.
You're new to the area so you do not fully grasp the ongoing issues that's been happening for years!!

Also, the reason so many are upset with you-
You only reported one side! As a reporter you're supposed to remain unbiased. Deleting of comments from one side but leaving others is another reason. Trying to silence the ones who had first-hand experiences with Mr Parris showed your true agenda. It wasn't just one person, it was multiple people who worked side by side with him and knew the real truth vs the one prior employee that supported him. That alone speaks volumes.

Dunn Fred
5 months ago

,

I read your reflections on the 2023 Municipal Election with great interest. It is evident that the election has been a challenging period for the community of Washington, Georgia. As you mentioned, many of us are eager to move forward and leave the election behind us.

In your article, you mentioned the perception that you threw the first punch, but you did not see it that way. It's important to note that intentions can be misunderstood, and it seems that you had no ill will towards any candidate. Your personal connections and previous campaign management for Angela Booker should not be seen as sabotage, but rather as a testament to your involvement in local politics.

It's disheartening to witness the backlash you have faced for simply presenting facts that were already in the public domain. Accusations of being a liar, vile, and incompetent are unfair and unfounded. The accusation of "white guilt" is particularly troubling, as it attempts to dismiss the possibility of living in a diverse town and acknowledging the historical context that shapes our perceptions.

Jason Anderson
5 months ago

Well said Michelle as always. You are a force to reckoned with and I’m sure that will have future success moving your small town in the right direction. Ignore the haters they are all morons.