Clara Shortridge Foltz showed us a thing or two about civic responsibility. As a woman in her late 20s, she was the first female attorney on the West Coast. In fact, before 1878, women weren’t allowed into the California bar, so she spearheaded legislation that changed that.
Previously, she fought the rules that didn’t allow her into Hastings Law School. In addition to being a champion of women’s rights, including their right to vote, she also pioneered the concept of the public defender for those who couldn’t afford their own attorney. Foltz would have been proud of the public defender in the case where I was on the jury, because that lawyer tried her case skillfully, securing a mistrial for her client. As a juror, it was a very tough case to hear and decide, but the system worked like it was designed to.
This brings me to my second recent experience on civic responsibility, one having to do with the April 13 special election for the 43rd Assembly District. A Republican cousin of mine put me on an e-mail distribution, along with many of his Republican friends, for an e-mail he sent to one of the Democratic candidates trying to provoke debate. I decided to respond to the e-mail with my own thoughts, thinking dialogue on the issues would be a good thing.
By the second e-mail, it degenerated into personal attacks on me, demonstrating that some have lost the ability to listen or even consider any diversity in ideas and thoughts.
This e-mail exchange also showed me that we are missing substantive public dialogue on the hard issues we as a society are facing, even when we might disagree, whether it is between Republicans and Democrats or just between ordinary citizens.