Hey Pittsburgers! Do you like your friends at the Pittsburg Voice? Well, thanks. As it happens, we like you too. But do you know who really loves the Pittsburg Voice? Like, so much that they want to marry us? Our dear friends at the City of Pittsburg (“CoP” because it is our lovey dovey pet name for them). Now, we have known for a while that people in the CoP read our contributions to this ridiculous hyper-local snarky satirical weblog, but recently we saw some proof. Our own CoP city clerk decided to have herself a little rant about our blog on Nextdoor, calling us out as hypocrites because we openly use noms de plume but we ask our city government to engage in something called “transparency.” Whatever that is. Anyway, a local awesome person and true patriot was all, like, “Lol, shut up, this is a silly little website and you are the government. So it is not the same thing, get some thicker skin.”
Thanks, awesome person, we love you too! Even though you are not as obsessive a fan as the city clerk (or “CC” as we now like to call her), who obviously pores over every word and doodles “CoP ❤️’s PV 4ever” on her notebook. We appreciate that some members of the public have got our backs. But, because CC called us out into the playground and asked us to the prom in front of everybody, and because it is not the first time someone has accused us of cowardice or hypocrisy for using pen names, I suppose we owe a response of our own.
Why do we use pen names at the PV?
1. The first reason is kind of metaphysical, but bear with me. A concept can be valid no matter where it originates. We like to talk about ideas here, ideas like, “Hey, maybe a local city and county government ought to listen to the concerns of the local citizens and not trade everyone’s quality of life for the enrichment of a few developers” Or how about “Hey, maybe a local government ought to be a little less corrupt and inept in city planning.” And there’s always “Hey, maybe a city manager(?) should live in the city he works for so he, too, can suffer the consequences of his decisions.” Where we mention particular public figures, it is not directed at them as individuals, but is a commentary on how they wield the power we, as constituents, gave them and how well they are living up to their promises. If the city manager(?) were to leave his job tomorrow (oh please, oh please) and go start a City of Clayton Voice website where he takes a vehemently anti-PV stance, we would be fine with it. Hell, we would be happy to meet with him and get that ball rolling, maybe even suggest some pen names he could use.
2. The point is, the facts should dominate, regardless who points them out. We are mere private citizens of this small mismanaged commuter town who think local government officials should be held accountable for their actions. If they knew who we were, they would counter everything we said with, “Oh, that’s just so-and-so, don’t listen to anything he or she says, he or she is full of it because… (insert some personal fact about the writer here). Damning the flow of ideas by attacking the messenger is a time-honored tradition in the local government, and last I checked the First Amendment hasn’t yet been modified. CC actually illustrated this concept. Note her criticism is not that we are unfair in what we say, or that what we say is factually inaccurate – because it isn’t! No, instead she goes straight for the personal attack based on the one thing she knows about us – that we use pen names. “Oh, that’s just the PV, don’t listen to anything they say, they use pen names.” Armed with no knowledge, a city official urges you to not listen based on the one thing she knows about us. We would rather people consider what we write and accept, question, or reject those ideas on the strength or weakness of the ideas themselves rather than some unrelated fact that one of us went through the “ten items or less” lane with eleven items. (Ahem – no one was behind me in line!)
3. The next reason is more dire than the first and is a real concern. We contribute to a ridiculous, hyperlocal, snarky little web site calling attention to things that some angry, bitter, inept, and corrupt officials would rather not be discussed. We have watched the people in our local government go after those they saw as detractors, and it gets nasty. So why do we use pen names? Why did my namesake, Zorro, wear a mask? Because he was struggling with corrupt local officials who would exact petty revenge on him, his family, his livelihood, if they knew who he was. As I write this, I wish it were not true. I really do. If just once, I saw the city or county officials respond to civil, passive, public criticism the way elected officials should, the way they are mandated to do under the California and the United States Constitutions, I might worry less about this. If the city council welcomed peaceful protestors as part of the towering beauty of our constitutional system of government; if the city addressed citizens’ concerns with respect and actually took those concerns into account when they were casting a vote; and if individual officials did not misuse their power to harm the lives, reputations, and livelihoods of those who dared to criticize their job performance, then perhaps a nom de plume would not be needed. Instead, the mayor does everything she can to cut off people who follow the rules and raise questions about the city’s proposed actions, including cutting off their time. Instead, Councilmember Evola makes yet another angry speech chastizing local citizens who have the nerve to question anything he wants to do. Instead Councilmember Banales meekly states that he agrees with his majority Latino constituents that the City ought to take a public stand regarding harmful immigration policies, yet he then votes with the rest of the council against it, so that the vote may be unanimous. Instead, the mayor proposes a fatal funding cut to a much-loved institution based on a perceived sleight from years ago. In short, the peaceful voices of dissent are cut off, ignored, and stored in the ole memory banks for later revenge. Call it hypocrisy, or cowardice, we see it as a necessary part of exercising a constitutional right, though we wish this were not the case.
4. We are not elected and appointed officials, we are just people contributing to a silly little hyperlocal snarky web site. When we call for local government transparency, we do so because as the Washington Post so eloquently puts it, “Democracy dies in darkness.” And we do so because local government is supposed to be transparent. It is a false equivalency to say that this means we should not use pen names. It is not the same thing, CC. It never will be.
So, for now, maybe let’s just be friends.