How to protect family/self/team during public controversy?
November 18, 2017 9:29 AM   Subscribe

For a long time I've been mulling a campaign to rename a local street and (possibly) a state county. I'd start with the street. It also has a park associated with it which I'd like renamed but feel like the street needs to come first. My hesitation is the negative attention that seems to come with these endeavors and I'm wondering if there are ways to protect myself.

Like a lot of place names, the street is named after an early "American hero" whose life included shirking duties, massacring Native people (in the name of American expansion), starting ill-advised skirmishes, and for murdering one of his brother-in-law's female slaves (was acquitted). I've read a lengthy biography of this individual and he's just a textbook example of "fail upward" and was lauded for incredibly dubious distinctions because he was a military man protected by certain powerful people.

There's almost nothing this man touched that didn't have a clear negative effect on the people around him and our American history. Now that I've learned about him, it really bothers me everytime I see his name and I continue to think about trying to get this changed. Of all the abhorrent things he did in his lifetime, the beating death of a female slave stands out for how personal and how vicious it was. But also it stands out because he was actually brought to court over this(!) and they let him go. It was early in his "career" and he could have been stopped right there but the good, god-fearing people of that time just couldn't find it in their hearts to issue consequences.

Another landmark named for this person was renamed a year ago.

I'm thinking of putting together a small team but also thinking about how to protect ourselves and our families from doxxing and abhorrent public behavior. Any ideas for how to set things up so that we can channel that negative attention into protected channels? Obviously, I'm thinking of a P.O. Box but also wondering what else I could do to protect ourselves?
posted by amanda to Computers & Internet (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
A PO Box is a great idea. So is setting up dedicated social media channels for this so trolls have somewhere to go that's not your personal accounts. And lock down Facebook so that only friends can see things like your employer and most of what you post.

If you are actually in Portland, the street/park name change might well be as simple as sending a letter to city council and meeting with a few council members. It doesn't necessarily have to turn into a huge campaign.

Of course, the county name change would be a bigger deal. It may or may not make you feel better to know that even in this era of online harassment of activists, based on my personal experience of being an activist and knowing a lot of activists, the kind of harassment you're asking about is still really, really rare. I know hundreds of activists and only one that has personally experienced this. Not to minimize your concern, but just to say don't let this stop you!
posted by lunasol at 9:52 AM on November 18, 2017 [3 favorites]

I'd start hyper local and see if you can get a city councilor on this - that is their job anyway, and maybe they'd be interested in leading the charge on the street change. If there are others in your community who share your sentiment, then approach the city councilor together.
posted by Toddles at 10:43 AM on November 18, 2017 [2 favorites]

Activism is always better when there's more than one person to share the load. Create an organization -- nothing fancy, just a name -- which spearheads the advocacy. That's the name for social media etc.

When you're speaking up in public, ID yourself as "I'm Amanda, and I represent GroovyOrg in the effort to rename $county." You don't have to incorporate, although if you have an historical society or improvement district you could get on board, that will increase your effectiveness.
posted by Jesse the K at 12:05 PM on November 18, 2017

This is the time to make a push against any man who has succeeded (even dead ones) despite their treatment of women. It would be an interesting feminist thinkpiece for a local journo to put forward, either on the news or some other outlet - why are we publicly lauding this despicable person, and then outline their history. You could practically write it for them and give it to them as a spin on a current hot topic. That way it's not you putting this forward, it's the news station asking the greater community a question. Then hopefully it will gain traction.
posted by Jubey at 12:47 PM on November 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

If you're able to travel next March, there's a summit in New Orleans for this exact purpose: The group was instrumental in gettting many of our racist monuments removed this year and definitely faced strong resistance (though there was also strong support).
posted by CheeseLouise at 4:33 AM on November 19, 2017 [2 favorites]

CheeseLouise, that's brilliant.
posted by amanda at 8:01 AM on November 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

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