I grew up as a gay kid in the early 2000s in Albuquerque, New Mexico. It seems like not that long ago, but it was light years before the “It Gets Better Movement,” or even Facebook and YouTube. I say this because I know, intimately, what it’s like to be bullied. I spent my formative middle and high school years unconvincingly in the closet, and receiving the verbal, social, and even physical abuse for what and who I was.
There are some universal truths to being bullied. First, it is designed to make you feel isolated and alone. Second, being bullied will make you feel that you deserve the mental and emotional anguish of the bullying simply because you are different – and since you chose your difference, you ASKED to be bullied. Finally, bullying is public. It is never done in the proverbial darkened alley; it is done on display because the act of bullying is to create an “us” and “you” and to shame the person being bullied. Bullying makes you feel outside of the pack. In my experience, all of this is coupled with yet one more indignity, that someone watching will always quietly come up to you after and say “Hey, that’s them, that’s not me. I would never do something like that.” In my experience, these comments have only served to further my own sense of isolation.
In moments of my life where I have felt harassed and othered, I often find myself thinking,“Where is everyone else? They see this, right? Am I crazy? Is this not that bad? Do I deserve this? Surely, if it were as bad as it feels, someone would say something? I must be doing something wrong. ” This cycle of bullying followed by self-doubt and insecurity has followed me well past high school and into the workplace, and now my mayorship.
My guess is that many Lambertville residents reading this have had similar experiences with bullying or abuse. Likely, many of the folks that have been organizing the harassment of me and my family online and in public have also had direct personal experiences with bullying. This is a terrible cycle, and if left unchecked, will continue: hurt people will continue to hurt people. In order to stop this, we have to have empathy for each other. We have to remember that first and foremost, we are all humans, living our messy, joyous, challenging lives together as neighbors in a city we love.
But empathy isn’t enough. The inappropriate actions that we as a community accept today will be the standard of our tomorrow. I can no longer accept the way in which I have been treated by certain members of the community who excuse their behavior by saying that “I asked for it” because I ran for public office, while they hide under the guise of civic engagement.
Over the course of the last year, an organized group of Lambertville residents have threatened myself and my property, called my employer to advocate I be fired, printed signs to hang in windows saying “Julia Must Go,” sent fliers around the community accusing me of multiple ethical improprieties and federal crimes. All of this has culminated in anonymous people tagging my personal social media accounts with memes about my mayorship, with bullying messages like “tag an elected official that you hate” or with memes advocating I kill myself. Most recently, a community member has publicly compared me to convicted sexual predators. While each of these actions have been reported to the appropriate authorities, on a more personal note, this has taken an incredible toll on my emotional and mental well being.
I ran for mayor in 2018 to better my community. I have worked every day since then to help my neighbors to the best of my ability. While these bullying actions have been that of only a few members of our community, it is incumbent on each of us to push back against this type of bullying that is misrepresenting itself as civic engagement. Bullying on facebook is NOT engaging in politics.
This is not just about me and my experience. Multiple parents in town have reached out to me to voice their concerns about the tenor on Facebook. We must push back on this bullying not only to ensure that people in the future will continue to agree to volunteer their time for this community but, more importantly, because people — including our community’s children — are watching. Our community is modeling for our children how to engage with not just public figures, but with our neighbors. I do not believe that this is the behavior we want them to emulate.
Facebook itself is poisoning our community. I’m asking each resident of Lambertville to stand up with me against the members of our community claiming “if you volunteer for Lambertville or if you run for public office, you are asking for it.” Let’s model the behaviors and language we want our children to use and get back to addressing each other like the neighbors we are.
In a step of modeling better behavior, the City of Lambertville will be disengaging from its public Facebook page. While the City intended to use this page to disseminate timely information, it has turned into a large source of bullying and divisiveness. Instead of continuing to use Facebook, the City will bolster its existing outreach through its City-wide emails, text messaging system, and Swift-911 phone calls (in cases of emergencies). Please subscribe to both our email and text systems here to get information on upcoming events, street sweeper changes, road closures, and other Lambertville-centric information. If you’d like to engage with the City administration, please reach us out through the Ask the Mayor button on the City’s website or, directly, here.
Julia Fahl serves as Mayor of Lambertville.