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Politics

Troll Neighbor No Fan of Dallas County Democratic Party Chair Candidate

What does it say about our democracy that a simple search for a local candidate lands one in a rabbit hole of aggressive neighbor trolling?

It’s Super Tuesday. I hope you’ve voted. If not, go here to find out where you can. The good news is that you don’t have to vote in your designated precinct, so if you want to skip out at lunch and head to your nearest voting location, do it!

Depending on where you live and what party primary you are voting in, you may be confronted with a down ballot battle between current Dallas County Democratic Party Chair Carol Donovan and her opponent, Michelle Espinal-Embler. The race sets up as a stand-off between the local Democrat old guard and a young, insurgent newcomer. Check out Donovan’s list of endorsements. It’s a who’s who of local political players. But then head over and read this Eric Celeste piece from 2017 about how it is exactly those entrenched political leaders who are holding back young and progressive voices in the local party. You’ll begin to understand why Michelle Espinal-Emblar, a young community organizer and activist, is running against Donovan.

A taste from Celeste’s column:

[T]his sort of asinine behavior by the local party—defending the indefensible, attacking smart new leaders, covering for their cronies—isn’t exclusive to the party’s elders or to southern Dallas. The hacks and consultants who’ve sucked at the Dallas County Dem teat for decades respond this way all the time. Example: after I wrote last year about the great work the Latino Center for Leadership Development was doing in grooming smart, young politicians such as State Representative Victoria Neave and Dallas ISD school board trustee Jaime Resendez, the old guard Latino Democrats made sure to register their strong disapproval. They were smart enough not to do so in writing, however.

It’s tempting to dismiss such contretemps as insignificant. Don’t. These skirmishes are the death rattle of a broken machine that can’t compete in a world filled with younger, better-educated blacks, Latinos, and women who demand accountability from their political party as they fight for progressive policies.

I’ll admit, I didn’t know much about Espinal-Embler before yesterday, but as I was cramming down ballot research last night, I discovered a few interesting things about her. I found out she was the youngest-ever intern for Hillary Clinton at age 15 and has served on the board of the Dallas County Young Democrats. I learned she wants to expand the county party’s reach; enhance its community outreach, organizing efforts, and capacity building; and reach out to younger voters through youth clubs and high school programs. In other words, she sounds like the kind of youthful, fresh air candidate Celeste’s piece suggests the Dallas Democratic Party needs.

But Googling Espinal-Embler’s name, I also learned another thing about her: she has a nightmare neighbor.

When you search for Espinal-Embler’s name, the first few hits you get are what you expect—the campaign site, her Twitter, a LinkedIn page. But then it starts to go Twilight Zone. There are multiple cell phone videos on Vimeo and YouTube posted by someone who claims to be the candidate’s neighbor. Each shaking cam shot alleges some sort of un-neighborly behavior from Espinal-Embler, making sure to mention in the title that she’s running for the Democratic county chair.

“This video shows the sound Michelle Espinal Embler makes when she is exercising with no consideration for a downstairs neighbour,” reads the caption of one video. “This video shows Michelle Espinal Embler’s dog barking for a long period of time so the police department was notified,” reads another. “This video shows Michelle Espinal Embler’s violent retaliation by causing loud and forceful impact to her floor sending a strong message to the neighbour downstairs for calling the police earlier that evening and complaining about her barking dog,“ describes the next video.

Yikes. The succession reads like the escalation of a horror movie plot, and you can’t read them without dreading what the plot twist the next video and caption might reveal. “This video shows me . . .” Fill in your horror scenario.

What does this have to do with today’s vote? Well, nothing really, but also everything. I’m not going to get sucked into whatever neighbor squabbles are unfolding in Espinal-Embler’s downtown high rise. Espinal-Embler’s barking dog or her neighbor’s ongoing harassment don’t really say anything about whether or not she would be a good leader of the local party. But, on a microscale, the ordeal does illustrate the strange political moment we live in—a time when privacy no longer exists and any crank with a phone can manufacture propaganda, disinformation, or controversy.

We shouldn’t know about Espinal-Embler’s dog. We shouldn’t know about her hyper-aggressive neighbor. When we try to seek out information about a candidate’s policy opinions, we shouldn’t be confronted with a Google search page in which half the hits are links to videos made by a barefoot crank in striped pajama pants who is watching The Expendables on cable in the middle of the night while repeatedly calling the cops on his upstairs neighbor’s dog.

And yet, this is the world we live in. It is the world of empowered trolls.

That may make you feel mad or dejected. It may make you mourn the loss of decency or civility. But it should also make you want to go vote. Because voting is one of our last firewalls against the complete erosion of civil society. Now go do it!

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