Archived Opinion

Public rhetoric should prompt removal

Public rhetoric should prompt removal

By Jesse Lee Dunlap • Guest Columnist | As someone whose politics are centered on bodily autonomy, I sympathize with folks who are against forced vaccinations. I bristle at anything that encroaches on a person’s individual freedoms — restrictions on abortions, prohibition, gun laws, etc. — any mandate, especially any mandate from the government, especially from the American government, which has a long history of using “medicine” to harm black, indigenous, and poor people. We all have ample reason to be cynical and skeptical of the American healthcare system, and no one should be ridiculed for questioning what is in a vaccine. This stuff is going right into your body. It is normal and prudent to question what goes in your body.    

Extremists also garner my sympathy. As someone labeled an extremist myself, there are specific events I can point to as things that radicalized me. That’s a common thread with extremists — something happened to us that commits us to an ideology. For me, one of my radicalizing events was watching court proceedings in Haywood County. Sitting in a court room and watching the “justice” system chew up and spit out poor white Appalachians has forever altered my consciousness, and my entire worldview is filtered through that experience. I understand where extremism originates, and I fully understand that people generally view me as a lunatic when I articulate my abolitionist beliefs.  

I am also reluctant to belittle folks who are labeled “conspiracy theorists.” Again, if we look at all the awful things the American government has engaged in since its inception, no one can be blamed for thinking that the government has ulterior motives. Sometimes, given the screwed up state of the world, conspiracy theories are the only things that make sense. So, I can totally see why folks might believe that something like a vaccine for COVID is a government conspiracy to microchip everyone. It definitely would not fall among the worst or most outrageous things that the U.S. government has ever done.  

 Since COVID began to interfere with normal life back at the first of the year, I’ve heard Janet Presson speak on a number of occasions at public meetings. She’s been called an extremist and a conspiracy theorist due to her anti-vaccine and anti-mask stances, and I have gotten a little bit of insight as to why Janet has landed in this extremist camp — having a child be permanently vaccine-injured would definitely push a parent to extremism. But there is something to be weighed against our ideologies when we enter the public sphere no matter how autonomous, extreme and skeptical we are of the government, of society as a whole, and that is personal responsibility. 

Personal responsibility requires that we make certain that in exercising our personal freedoms we do not harm others. If I am consuming alcohol, my responsibility is to not injure someone else in my altered state. I am personally liable if I wreck a car into someone when I am drunk. If I am carrying a gun in public, it is my responsibility to make certain that my head is on a swivel and that my gun is secure enough that someone can’t disarm me and use my gun for nefarious purposes. I am personally liable if I allow my gun to be snatched from my holster and used to shoot someone because I am preoccupied. When we consider illness in this context of autonomy and responsibility, we are responsible for not getting others sick if we are unwell and contagious. If we do get others sick, we should be held liable for doing so. 

However, Janet Presson is unwilling to engage in the trade off of personal ideologies and personal responsibilities. She and others have spent their life energy during public comments lately to rail against COVID precautions and mock simple measures that would keep our community safer. And it is one thing for Joe Public to get up during public comments and say whatever is on his mind, but it is quite another for a nurse, a nurse who sits on the Haywood Healthcare Foundation board, to stand up publicly and deny science. With the power that rests in the hands of Haywood Healthcare Foundation board members, it is important that we have people on the board who rely on data to make decisions. It is obvious that Janet Presson cannot serve in this capacity and needs to be removed from the Haywood Healthcare Foundation board immediately. The well-being of our community depends on it.

(Jesse Lee Dunlap lives in Waynesville, is a harm reduction advocate and works for Down Home NC in Haywood County. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

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