I grew up in Westfield, and am currently attending college in New York. To all appearances, New Jersey matters—especially those pertaining to the BH/Watchung area—do not concern me. However, it's inevitable that I be drawn back into local affairs if I sense what I judge to be unfair treatment. I'm writing today because of the dispute between the Berkeley Aquatic Club and a group of Warren residents over the former's plans to build an aquatic facility in the town.
Like most politics, the issue has provoked a heated exchange between the opposing factions. In the interest of full disclosure, I swam at BAC for many years prior to graduating (albeit casually.) Despite my bias, I have tried to approach the matter with an open mind. However, while I can understand that the Stop the BAC group's concerns regarding the move, I cannot comprehend their treatment of the matter, which intentionally obfuscates the issue for voters and outright silences debate.
BAC has commissioned exhaustive studies to gauge the respective environmental, financial, and local impacts, the results of which are all available online at backthebac.org. Despite this, Stop the BAC continues to make claims which directly contradict the findings of the independent experts who repeatedly report that the new facility will not have dramatic effect on the surrounding neighborhood.
My issue lies not so much with this, however, as it does with Stop the BAC's concerted efforts to stifle discussion on the matter. A large part of the battle is located on their Facebook page: over a hundred people subscribe to their updates, which distort the issues to an alarming degree.
Social media are obviously a huge means of reaching people; there are many voters who may be unable to attend town halls or special meetings whose sole sources of information may be Facebook statuses or Twitter feeds. It's not optimal, but it's reality.
Recently, I was asked by a friend to respond to a status they posted regarding an email he had sent. I passed on his message: it was respectful, sympathetic to their concerns, and aimed at encouraging dialogue between the two coalitions.
Rather than seizing this as an opportunity to for productive conversation, however, Stop the BAC did something simpler: they deleted my comment, and blocked me from the page. I'm powerless to post, comment, or otherwise inflect on their content, which is frequently outright hostile. Friends of mine have been subject to similar treatment (ergo, why I had to post a message for someone else in the first place.)
This, by far, is the most alarming aspect of this alarmist group. Beyond the simple fact they are preventing their audience from hearing a balanced—or even accurate—portrayal of the issues, they are stemming the open dialogue which is essential to community enrichment and a basis of our fine nation.
Stop the BAC's unwillingness to tackle open invitations for criticism of their opponent's plans also signal something more sinister: that they do not feel they can adequately counter BAC's arguments.
While BAC is backed up by specialists' opinions, Stop the BAC does not cites sources for the statements they constantly spew regarding cost, pollution, traffic, or any other number of issues. The group's attempts to portray BAC as a heartless monster are willfully misguided, and worse, their perspective on the issue is hopelessly biased without any interest in uncovering what the real impact to Warren will be.
When I became involved, it was my hopeful belief that the conflict was simply the result of two passionate yet reasonable groups of people that could be brought to level with each other. To my dismay, given Stop the BAC's treatment of my attempt at outreach, it is increasingly difficult to believe that, or that Stop the BAC is at all interested in respectful discussion—or discussion, period.
BAC is a benevolent organization which has fostered nothing but goodwill with its surrounding area for 36 years, and whose community is infused with integrity. As far as I can tell, Stop the BAC, though obviously passionate, is disreputable and dishonorable, and their attempts to control and censor the debate are downright shameful.
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