Beltrami County Board Meeting 1/21/2020

My name is Jeremiah Liend, I live in Turtle River. I am speaking before you for two reasons, the first urging the board to consider the impacts of their votes to disallow refugee resettlement, and the second to demand greater civility and accountability. I speak to these matters as a resident of Beltrami County and with a passion to create a more sustainable community, county, and world. I could show you the research that supports why your vote to disallow refugee settlement will have both short and long term negative impacts. A county that relies on tourism, international students, and professionals should at least appear welcoming. I could share with you the policies that show how no refugees would be capable of being resettled here, even if you did vote to allow it. I could show you the numbers which show that statistically refugees have a positive impact on local economies, or how their resettlement is funded by federal, not county dollars. I could draw you a map, and show where and how and why what you’ve voted on has accomplished only in isolating us within an ever shrinking world. But instead I’m going to tell you about my friend, Jim.

Jim’s family fled Laos in the wake of the Khmer Rouge as refugees of genocide. The Khmer Rouge killed almost two million people in South East Asia over a four year period. Jim’s family resettled in a number of cities, eventually living in Saint Paul. Jim graduated high school and enlisted in the Army. During his service he spent two tours in Iraq before his honorable discharge. He then focused on his education, securing an undergraduate and then graduate degree all while continuing to support his growing family. I wish I had time to tell you about Jim and his accomplishments, his intellect, research, and bravery. To show what this refugee has given back to a grateful nation. There isn’t time in five minutes, but what I need you to understand about Jim, is how the decision to refuse a family of refugees is the difference between helping to create a beautiful, thriving, productive family, or that family being dead in an Asian mass grave. Nothing less. It is an act of humanity and grace to accept refugees. It’s the calling of Abrahamic religion, Jews, Christians, and Muslims, to assist refugees and those in need. The separation of church and state is a plastic wall in constant battle with one another, cruelly selective in application, but shame on anyone who would claim to believe in a loving God above and then leave their war-torn children to the killing fields. It is a shameful cruelty.

To my second point regarding civility, I believe that our species did not rise to stand above all dominion only to drag one another into the gutter. I get it, we get angry, and bored, and frightened, and we lash out at one another. We make bad choices. Maybe you use some hate speech on Facebook? Maybe you say some things you can’t even believe are coming out of your mouth? Well, stop it. Please. I am here, pleading with you to stop it. Behave. Be civil. Model adult behavior. Members of this board have been attacked, threatened, and harassed. They have been called a variety of slurs and told to leave. This behavior is counterproductive, asinine, immature, and beneath us. It is behavior I would not accept from my children and I don’t understand why my elected officials should be held to a lower standard.  Which brings me to my final points regarding accountability, specifically basing policy on rooms full of people raising their hands. If these chambers hold 240 people and there are more than 24,000 residents in Beltrami county, that means that we have access to less than 1% of the population. A small sample size that is not representative of the population as a whole. If I were to poll the county from 240 people, then I would try to make sure that everyone was represented. Every age group, economic back ground, family size, and so on, in order to fairly represent my constituency. But, if we were actually reckless, ignorant, and absurd enough to base our policies on a room full of people raising hands, and I was a bad person who wanted to ram laws down people’s throats without them having any say, then I would make it my business to have every vote by hand-raising and I would fill every meeting with my closest allies. I would have them bully, and berate, and harass any opposition away and instead of making sound policy, we would create laws that benefited solely us. We would vote for things that made us feel good, and powerful, and in charge. We would spread misinformation, relying on voters remaining ignorant to facts. The term for this behavior is demagoguery and it is not democracy. Not the democracy our for-bearers from this and every county have fought and died for. In consideration of this, I suggest that the rules of the board be amended to forbid policy making by raising of hands. Law should be created and overseen with thought, consideration, and planning. A survey of public opinion should be scientific, comprehensive, and legal. Policy should not be made by filling rooms with raised hands.

Of the many things I miss from the pre-9/11 world, I miss bipartisanship the most. There were differences that separated us, certainly. But just because you favored a political party did not mean you were the enemy. Adversaries foreign and domestic have weaponized that partisanship. They have misinformed, divided, and suppressed us in hopes we will kill one another rather than find common ground. Instead, let us take the time and energy we expend, fighting one another, and focus on solving these problems. Homelessness. Hunger. Poverty. Refugees. Xenophobia. Let us take a stand against those problems and face them with the generosity of a community united in love and compassion, not separated by hate and fear.


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