The Echo Chamber Needs to Go

Andrea Seastrand

SLO Truth is now publishing guest columns. This is an evolutionary step forward for the group that should’ve happened a long time ago.

When I started SLO Truth, I designed it so that it was more inclusive of different — and sometimes opposing — viewpoints. After all, SLO Truth is an organization dedicated to resisting political extremism. The name “SLO Truth” was inspired by the notion that truth lies somewhere in the middle. That is the nature of consensus. The first step to reaching consensus is to recognize opposite positions as legitimate schools of thought.

The formation of SLO Truth was an interesting process. SLO Truth caught the attention of liberals and conservatives who appreciated the appeal to moderation and independence.  Though I identify as a progressive, I’ve sought to incorporate views that don’t always align with my own. I’ve also learned to modulate the overarching tone of my message so that it doesn’t alienate solution-oriented political perspectives. While crafting a more balanced tone, I decided to bring other perspectives on board.

My views were tested on Sunday after I published a column penned by Arroyo Grande English professor and lawyer Marilyn Rossa. The column was critical of San Luis Obispo Mayor Heidi Harmon’s positions. Harmon is a progressive.

Harmon is also a founding member of the SLO Progressives group, which I’ve contributed to. Shortly after the column was published, I received several angry messages from the local leadership who accused me of hurting the progressive cause; that I published a “hit piece” because I “disliked” Harmon; that my decision to publish the column was no different than tactics deployed by CalCoastNews. I was even told by one of the group members that I would be “made uncomfortable” if I attended a future club meeting.

Their criticism hinged on the notion that I’m a mouthpiece for the “progressive cause.” Until I published Rossa’s column, I was considered an extension of their positions and values, and that I’m beholden to them. By showcasing Rossa’s viewpoint, I wanted progressives to understand the obstacles that Harmon needs to overcome to become a successful mayor and serve in a role that’s traditionally nonpartisan. The transition from political idealism to enacting sound policy is not easy, and Harmon shouldn’t be invulnerable to scrutiny, given her rise to power was fueled by her support for Bernie Sanders.

I invited critics to submit guest columns to SLO Truth and utilize their disagreement in a more constructive way. We’ll see.

While all of this was happening, The Tribune announced that they would make a more concerted effort to bring more conservative voices to their publication. In doing so, they replaced conservative columnist Matthew Hoy with former congresswoman Andrea Seastrand. While it’s great to bring more opposing views into the fold, it looks as though The Tribune’s decision was capitulating to far-right extremism.

Seastrand is head of the Central Coast Taxpayers Association (CCTA), an organization that opposes any new taxes. The organization is known for spreading misinformation, including the false claim that then-District 4 Supervisor Caren Ray opposed Proposition 13. The proposition restricts annual increases of property taxes to an inflation factor. With the help of Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, the CCTA pushed the false claim that Ray and the SLO County Board of Supervisors could “change” Prop. 13, a state proposition. In reality, any amendment to Prop. 13 would have to be passed by a two-thirds majority in both houses of the state legislature. The claim was regurgitated by Lynn Compton’s campaign in 2014.

Before she became president of the CCTA, Seastrand was head of the California Space Authority, a now-dissolved group that received $16.9 million from state and federal agencies, but failed to disclose what they did with that investment.  On a related note, according to New York Magazine, Seastrand once suggested that old military bases could be converted into commercial space ports. In defending her position, Seastrand said, “Think of all those poor children trapped in the ghettos. They may want to take a trip into space someday, or even go live there.”

Seastrand is known for pushing conspiracy theories, including the unsubstantiated claim that CalCoastNews’ Karen Velie’s grandchildren were “kidnapped” by Child Welfare Services and District 3 Supervisor Adam Hill. Seastrand has also backed the claim that liberal county supervisors Hill and District 2 Supervisor Bruce Gibson conspired with the United Nations to confiscate private property rights.

Interesting choice, Tribune.

Those on the far-right of the political spectrum are only interested in opinions expressed from within their echo chamber. The Tribune is catering to that myopic impulse. Likewise, some on the left are virulently opposed to opinions different than their own, and prefer to coexist in the echo chamber “safe space.” The solution to this problem is to maintain an open mind, respect the debate and work together. Easier said than done, right? It doesn’t hurt to try.

Author: Aaron Ochs

Aaron Ochs is a local columnist, entrepreneur and founder of SLO Truth. Ochs is also a member of the Progressives of San Luis Obispo County club.