I was using a nail gun to keep my eyes open by the end of it, and the evil trolls of Increased Productivity seemed to have somehow found a way to tap extra work hours into a 24-hour day with their tiny, terrible troll-hammers.
But the second-to-last thing I did last night was go to community group meeting. A public hearing.
I love community meetings.
Doesn't matter what the topic is, the breakdown is always the same.
Experts with blueprints who tell you more than you’ll every want to know about whatever to subject might be.
Wanna know about berms, or beetles or the regs governing the signage, sidewalk-access and smoking restrictions at bistros? Go and ask.
Then there are the ramblers: the guys who do all 18 minutes of their own, personal Alice's Restaurant.
Then the business guys. Suited up and on the prowl for government sugar...and want to also be sure to tell the government to **** off if anything that's being planned might bump up against their bottom line.
The ranters. Always amusing.
The fat guy with a sheaf of grubby paper who takes an hour to make it to the mike while the temperature seems to rise one degree every minute. Then he gets to the mike and rants about whatever the **** happens to be romping through his mind at the moment.
Proving definitively that humans don't possess telepathic or telekinetic powers because if we did, Horton would have heard all us Whos’ mentally shouting, "Shut up. Shut Up. Please, Holy Mother of God, it's 170 degrees in here and why won't this asshole Shut The **** Up!"
Also his head didn't explode.
The Community Activists, for whom every forum is a Nail for their particular Hammer.
You always see it coming.
There's a few moments of frosting where they talk a little -- very little -- about the reason the meeting was called in the first place...then on to the Bitch List.
Don’t misunderstand, it’s often a valid Bitch List – or at least portions are – but every meeting is an occasion for telling whomever is gaveling the session that the neighborhoods are getting screwed. Whatever’s on the flyers – a dog park, a bond issue, bike trails or mosquito abatement – you’re going to hear 30 seconds of symbolic abatement chatter, and the rest is how they’re getting screwed in various ways by the allocation of government money, or gentrification, or The Man generally.
Then somebody rises to tell us that his cousin was arrested on totally trumped up charged. Didn't have anything else to say; just setting the record straight on that particular matter, in case we were interested.
Then there's the fragile, old woman that also take a long while to make it to the microphone, and then tells a story that breaks your heart. I remember one such woman who began her remarks at a large hearing with the Mayor present, "Your honor, your father and mine were both Sons of the City..."
Brought the ****ing house down.
And for anybody who thinks that the Left is secular, Jebus-hatin’ monolith of queers and abortionists, you will hear more “Tell it!"’s at a community meeting and exactly as many “Amen”’s as you’re likely to hear in church on any given Sunday.
And I wouldn’t have any of it any other way.
It’s raw, pure, unstepped-on democracy, which is why I love it. It draws the committed and the “should be committed” both, and if you’re not used to them, committed people can make non-political, I-don’t-wanna-get-involved, day-to-day muggles feel very uncomfortable.
"Cause" people: They don't blink much, and you're either useful to them, an impediment, or furniture.
If you’re a community leader or activist, you know everybody on your block and in your area. The Alderman knows you by your first name, and maybe to Mayor does too. Most likely you’re in the pew every Sunday because you grew up “church” and that’s where you got your mission and your vision of public service and activism: it’s the pivot around which action often turns.
These kinds of meeting are a singular opportunity; your chance to make your government listen to you. You can hold the floor and make them pay attention to you.
Then you can come back in a few weeks and make them listen again.
Government goes where the people push it, and absent the constant pressure (translation: bitching) any government will wander off into the weeds and start ****ing with you and telling you what to do.
But your rights and freedoms don’t come from them; their freedom of motion comes from you. Its hard ****ing work, and Big Money talks, but at the end of the day (sometimes a very long day) the government moves where we will it to move.
See the guy in the Rockwell painting of the “Freedom of Speech” above?
He’s nervous. Really nervous.
By his tan and his hands and his clothes, you can tell he’s a working man. Everyone around him is wearing a tie; his collar is open.
Those are his remarks there in his pocket, which he probably spent a long time writing out, tossing out, and then rewriting.
He probably told his family that tonight he’s gonna go down to the meetin’ and give those Big Guys what ‘fer.
His wife was probably very proud of her man; he can swing an ax or drive a dozer, but he’s never been too good with words. Maybe she helped him with his remarks; maybe he didn’t want his woman to see him struggling with something that he has trouble mastering.
His kids are bustin’ out loud proud of him. He’s been talking about what degenerate asswipes the politicians are for years (of course, he reserves the “degenerate asswipe” talk for the tool shed, or maybe the bar.) Now he’s really going to march down there and kick a little ass around.
Way to go Pop!
But now he’s there, in his laborer’s clothes, and all his neighbors are looking at him, and his wife and kids and the warm comfort of his home are across town.
He grabs the pew in front of him for dear life; sinks his nails into the wood.
It’s something solid. Something real. He perhaps gains strength from hanging on to something hewn and boned and made straight and true by honest hands. This is something he understands in his skin.
This, and that come what may, he’s a goddamned American Citizen, and has every right in the world to be there, to stand, and to be heard.
When did we forget that?
His remarks – toiled and sweated over as much as anything he’s done at any job site – stay rolled up in his pocket.
He doesn’t need them.
All he has to do is plant his feet, stand straight, tell the truth like he sees it, and speak from his heart.
At the end of the day, that’s all any of us are called to do, but we must do it. Even if yours is a quiet voice, or is falters, or you don’t have all the just-right words laying around at your finger tips to make your points perfectly and in perfect, pear-shape tones...**** that.
Just get up. Stand up.
Stand up and speak your mind.
And don't give up the fight.