The murder of Eve Carson, student body president at the University of North Carolina, shocked not only the lovely town of Chapel Hill, but the rest of the country as well. After much consideration, blogging town council member Sally Greene published an email she received from Eve several weeks ago. The post was noticed and linked at a blog from the local daily newspaper, as it showed Eve's connections extended into her community and to its issues, and beyond the university walls.
Sally was elected in 2003 and re-elected in November. Her blog has become a vital place for her to discuss not only important local issues but ideas and interests outside of her council responsibilities as well.
Municipalist contacted Sally days before Eve's murder, as we simply saw a blog that we liked and wanted to profile. Sally then agreed to not only answer our questions about her blogging experience, but to speak to her community's grief. Sally sent the following:
During my first campaign, blogs were still foreign to me. I did, however, make use of a listserv to keep my supporters informed on my positions, to let them know about campaign events, etc. After the election, I posted a note asking my supporters if they would like me to keep the listserv going. Yes! they said. So, after most council meetings or at other times when I have news to share, I’ll post a message. I did the same in my re-election campaign and have kept it up since. Folks have told me they appreciate hearing my take on things. Often they write me back with their own comments or concerns.
I began blogging in the summer of 2004 as a guest blogger for a friend, (UNC law professor] Eric Muller of IsThatLegal? (We didn't know each other well then, but he was on my listserv and knew I was not afraid of the keyboard!) When he came back from vacation and rightly wanted his blog back, I realized I was hooked. So I started GreeneSpace. I gave it the subtitle “on law, life, literature and a little politics.” And it is just that: only “a little” politics. As important as my town council work is, I don’t see myself as primarily a public official. I am also a lawyer, an academic, a parent, and a person interested in a variety of subjects from modern architecture to historic preservation to photography.
Yet I do know that people read my blog to see what I am thinking as a public official. I have found that the blog is a useful forum for taking certain issues that I care about into a depth that goes beyond what the news media covers. You’ll find many posts that have to do with homelessness, because I’m deeply involved in our county’s Partnership to End Homelessness. You’ll find a number of posts having to do with civil rights topics, some of them historical, having little to do with Chapel Hill, but others having everything to do with Chapel Hill’s own civil rights history—a topic that has relevance to issues before the town council even today.
When we went through the process that resulted in the change of the name of a major street, Airport Road, to honor Martin Luther King, Jr., these issues of civil rights history and current political dynamics came together in a powerful way. I was a vocal advocate for the change, and my blog was one of the ways in which I made my views known. I posted a copy of a speech on the subject that I had made to a local Kiwanis Club. The speech drew heavily on a book called Along Martin Luther King: Travels on Black America’s Main Street. Next thing I knew, the author, journalist Jonathan Tilove, was calling me on the phone to thank me and to talk about what was going on. Tilove writes for the Newhouse News Service, specializing in contemporary race issues around the country. He’s a great reporter; his stories are feature-length essays that make you think. Though we’ve never met, we have a regular correspondence, and I consider him a friend.
This is the kind of reward of public service that I treasure the most: the personal connections that arise, sometimes from the most unexpected places.
My blog is languishing this week because, like the rest of Chapel Hill, I’m in stunned grief over the senseless murder of student body president Eve Carson. Words seem almost beside the point, and yet we need to talk to each other. I have written about it several times, most recently simply to publish our mayor’s sensitive remarks, which I think well capture what so many of us feel.
I also posted a reflection of my own in which I published an email message I’d had from Eve a few weeks before her death. I thought hard about whether to do that, but I finally decided that whatever privacy interest I might want to honor, still, between Eve and me was outweighed by the message I wanted to convey about her and her enthusiastic, optimistic spirit. That post was picked up by the Raleigh News & Observer’s blog Orange Chat, reminding me again that the public is interested in what a town council member has to say on local issues of importance.
Certainly, there are as many ways for a public official to blog as there are public officials. I’m doing it the way I feel comfortable:
I write on topics that I care about, whether they are “official” or not. The very act of writing is a way of exploring who you are. My own journey as a blogger has taught me surprising things about myself and what I care about. And it’s a good way to let my constituents know that I’m interested in hearing what they care about, too.