Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Opinion:Mondy Gets It Wrong; Questioning Government Officials at Heart of Vibrant Democracy

By Andrew Bagley

While at home recuperating from a recent outpatient surgery, I received an email from Elijah Mondy, the owner of KJIW-FM 94.5 in Helena-West Helena.  The email, sent to a large group,  provided a transcript of a set of editorial comments that he aired frequently on his station on Monday.  After reading the email, I turned the radio dial over to his station near the top of the hour to hear the news and his commentary live.

Elijah Mondy:  Stop Criticizing Mayor Willis
In the editorial comments, KJIW’s chief executive officer calls on councilmen and the citizenry to mute their criticisms of Helena-West Helena Mayor Arnell Willis, even in the face of obvious chicanery, disingenuousness, and mismanagement.  Why?  He says because Arnell Willis is the Mayor and we have the Golden Rule.  While decorum could certainly be improved in all areas of our political discourse from the local to the national level, the commentary’s solution to ask other alderman and attendees at local meetings to sit mute in the face of prevarications, poor governance, and dictatorial tactics provides a misguided path that leads to continued failure for our government in a democratic society.  While listening to him say Mayor Willis should get a pass,  it makes a person wonder how those that agree with this position would allow the citizenry and members of the legislative branch to oppose what many believe has been a disastrous 21 months under Arnell Willis.

History provides us with some guidance concerning why the on-air directive to the community is wrong in its conclusions.  History shows us repeatedly that questioning the established authorities in times of corruption, incompetence, and crisis has been essential to overthrowing the failed leadership.  Mr. Mondy, as he usually does, seeks to make this a Biblical command to let Willis off the hook.  He seems to forget how Jesus challenged the authorities of the day.  Has he forgotten the money changers being thrown out of the temple?  That certainly wasn’t a display of deferential respect for the established rules or the rule makers.

To continue in the realm of religious history, where would Christianity be had it not been for the courage of a man named Martin Luther?   In the 16th century when he challenged the growing corruption in the Catholic church, he literally challenged the Pope who led all of the Christians in that day.   Would the owner of KJIW have had Mr. Luther stifle his discourse rather than nail those 95 theses to the door at the Church of Wittenburg?  Would the author of this commentary have had us continue buying indulgences as a cash payment for salvation?  Because of Luther’s courage and his questioning of authority, the freedom of Protestant Christianity was born and the corruption of the Catholic Church of the 16th century was forced to reform.  I don’t think there is any doubt that this resulted in a better Christianity and is the result of a clear confrontation with the established religious authorities.

Let us now look to our American experience.  In the world dreamed of in the radio editorial, the Founding Fathers would have not taken on King George III to question the taxation without representation that was being imposed upon the 13 colonies.  If we followed the admonitions of Mr. Mondy, we would still be singing “God Save the Queen” instead of “My Country Tis of Thee.”  We would not have established the greatest experiment in republican government on the face of the Earth and become the most powerful and wealthiest nation on the planet.  There would have been no United States of America to save the world from Hitler during World War II.  The willingness of those great men like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Samuel Adams, Alexander Hamilton and many others to question and fail to respect the despotic ways of the English monarchy in the 18th century gave us this free society we have today.

In the 20th century, many across this country failed to respect and actually defied the laws of the existing authorities to rid our society of segregation and de jure discrimination on the basis of race.  Simply because Bull Connor was Mayor didn’t mean he shouldn’t be questioned or even defied.  He was wrong.  Other leaders across the south were wrong.  If those men and women who questioned the authorities and defied the laws setting up segregation had followed the guidance of the on-air editorial, many in this country would not have the opportunity to be all they can be because of the legal discrimination that might still be pervasive.

In short, the history of the world is filled with great moments that were fueled by courageous individuals fighting the establishment and defying the authority of the day.  Martin Luther was excommunicated from the church and forced to practice his faith underground.  The Patriots had  to fight a war for independence against the British where many would die for the cause.  Martin Luther King, Jr. went  to jail and was ultimately assassinated.  Senator Robert Kennedy would be killed as he stood up for many of these same values in his 1968 run for President.  The  directives included in the commentary aired on KJIW would lead us down a path where poor leadership is never questioned or forced to take responsibility for its actions.

Does Mr. Mondy really believe what he says or does he simply want Mayor Willis to proceed unchecked and be able to continue to steamroll an opposition calling for answers to questions and demanding more than double talk, deceptions, and untruths?  That is debatable based on Mr. Mondy’s own recent actions.

It hasn’t been that long ago that Mr. Mondy on the airwaves of his three stations that can be heard in four states did not show the deference he wants for Mayor Willis to President Barack Obama.  When Mr. Obama took a position on marriage equality for homosexual couples that Mr. Mondy disagreed with, he took to the airwaves raising more kinds of holy perdition than Dante had levels of hell to discuss.  He did what those opposed to Mayor Willis and what many Americans throughout the history of this country have done when they have disagreed with our leaders.  He spoke out.  He brought in others to his radio station that would carry his banner.  He did everything but play “Onward Christian Soldiers” in the background as he spoke.  It appears it is OK if he speaks out, but it isn’t ok for the opponents of Mayor Willis to speak out.

Locally, Mr. Mondy recently pronounced from his Holy Hill in Helena that he would not carry Central High School Cougar Football anymore.  That's his right.  But he did so without talking to the Superintendent of the Helena-West Helena School District or its Athletic Director before doing so.  He just took his microphone and went home, leaving the athletic department and the student-athletes in a lurch.  That doesn’t sound like he gave those figures in authority the same respect he demands everyone else give to Mayor Arnell Willis.  Why is that respect required for the Mayor of Helena-West Helena and not for the hard-working Superintendent of the Helena-West Helena School District?

In closing, the conduct advocated in the commentary undermines the democratic process instead of enhances it.  Democracy requires a free exchange of ideas, even if those exchanges aren’t always pleasant or polite.  It cannot function if the opposition is told it must stop criticizing the person who occupies a position of authority simply because they are in a position of authority.  Protest is a part of a healthy democracy. 

Everyone would like to see people get along better and have better manners, but not at the expense of sacrificing conviction to let the corruption present be given a pass.  This administration has a very poor record of management and judgment.  Mayor Willis deserves to be questioned about the poor financial management during his 21 months.  He had cash in the bank, a projected surplus, and a solid foundation to build upon when taking office.  He came in and immediately hired convicted felons as department heads and now the phones don’t always ring.  Mr. Mondy asks that criticism of Mayor Willis cease because he holds an important office, and he does it in the name of the Bible while at the same time criticizing those he disagrees with in a manner similar to what he complains happens to Mayor Willis.

The esteemed leader of the area’s radio station specializing in gospel music has taken actions to shield Mr. Willis’s administration from criticism in recent months.  One must wonder why he all of sudden has chosen to protect Willis at his media outlet. 

Finally, he offers no solution for the airing of grievances.  Mayor Willis acts as if our city is totalitarian North Korea and is averaging a police officer for every four spectators at council meetings and is threatening to arrest anyone who dares to declare an opinion opposite his at those meetings.  Willis fires those who dare associate or fraternize with his political foes.  Those actions fly in the face of the values that have made this country great.  Perhaps we should start with giving more respect for the dissenting opinions at the council meetings.  Perhaps Mr. Mondy should start with the defending the right of the people to express their opinions as freely as he expresses his.  If we want to live in a dictatorship like Willis seeks to create at council meetings, we could move to China, Cuba, Russia, or Venezuela.

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