Divisiveness in Gulfport
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This is in response to Cathy Salustri's Hard Candy column: I Hear You.

I know much of the information in her column is true because I am one of the individuals who has said as much in recent months, both to Ms. Salustri and in discussions with more than a few of my friends and neighbors. I also find it quite ironic the truth of the column was so clearly proven with some of the ugly personal comments directed at Ms. Salustri on The Gabber's Facebook page and elsewhere.

It is quite clear there is an ugly element in this city these days. It consists of a very small, very loud, very negative group of citizens who have been vicious, personal and as nasty in their attacks using social media, city council meetings, and other means of communication as I think it is possible to be. The "1%," if you will, because it is certainly not the vast majority of the residents of Gulfport who are acting this way.

The 1% seems to operate on the "divide and conquer" methodology. Be louder than everyone else, make people shy away from expressing a different opinion for fear of mockery and retribution, isolate them from other like-minded people, and then railroad your own agenda through city channels in the absence of "opposition."

The bad news? No one is going to stop them from acting as they do because creating an atmosphere of chaos and fear is what they do best.

But the good news? We, the "99%" of Ms. Salustri's column, may not be able to change their behavior. But we absolutely have to power to change our own response to it.

First - our city council members and the mayor need to understand it is time for them to step up, man up and stop allowing negative behavior in city council meetings. Residents get a little emotional over issues sometimes and they may get a little heated during public comments or in workshops. That's okay. If it is not a personal attack and if it is respectfully done, there is nothing wrong with that. People should have passion for their city and the issues they feel are important to them. And difference of opinion is a wonderful thing. It forces us to think outside of our own little boxes and consider all the solutions, all the angles, all the possibilities from a myriad of directions and viewpoints. But it cannot and must not be made into a war of personalities and personal agendas. The minute public comment turns ugly or personal or vicious, our elected officials need to put a stop to it immediately. Do you want more participation from the residents of Gulfport? They will attend more meetings and feel safer doing so if they feel secure in the knowledge there is a zero tolerance policy toward ugly behavior and personal attacks.

Second - the residents of this city need to step up as well and decide whether or not they are going to allow this behavior to affect them. If you don't like it, then start simply ignoring anyone or any group who uses fear, personal attacks or negativity as a weapon. Don't feed into it. "Unlike" their social media pages, especially the ones run by cyberbullies who use those pages to shame and invalidate other residents, but who hide behind a cowardly mask of "anonymous" and refuse to identify themselves. Don't respond to ugly criticisms or inflammatory comments meant to foster divisiveness rather than create positive change. Ignore it and ignore those who operate like this. Chaos and divisiveness thrives on attention. If you take away the attention and take away their audience, then you take away their power to create conflict.

This is all about our own personal responsibility. If we of the 99% continue to provide the oxygen to allow this kind of negativity to breathe, then shame on all of us. We can continue to empower those who are tearing the city apart--or we can make a conscious decision to belong to and empower the side that proudly loves this city, that has always loved this city, and that wants to use our diversity and our differences to continue to keep moving forward to make it an even greater city.

The choice is ours.
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