Speaking up kind of sucks.
I did it recently. It involved a building project and a big ugly parking lot that was drawn to blight a lovely neighborhood. I didn’t know the group in charge well, but they also weren’t strangers. So I sent an e-mail… then had a conversation… then sent another e-mail. What response did I get? None, followed by a bit of condescension, followed by no word at all. Next week, construction will commence on the parking lot, complete with a twenty-year loan.
Sooooo, that didn’t go so well.
Most of us have probably had the experience of being shot down at one point or another. So we decide that it’s just not worth it, and don’t say anything. And if we do this with our local groups, it’s just that much more true of public bodies.
It’s understandable. Our government (and sometimes our schools, our churches, our neighborhood organizations) can seem so inaccessible to us, so unresponsive to our real desires. Things just….HAPPEN. And what we think doesn’t seem to matter. E-mail falls into a black hole; phone calls go unreturned; demonstrations are ignored by lawmakers; corporate money wins the day… again. We think, “What’s the use?”
It SEEMS hopeless… but it’s not. Not every time, anyway.
Up in Traverse City, this sketch, presented to the DDA by a citizen…
Inspired this project.
(Click here for the original story.)
When I worked for a transit agency, the fare structure changed. Fares were raised on the door-to-door service, which is a very expensive service to run. It’s mostly used by the disabled and elderly, as well as some people without cars who worked or lived too far away from the regular fixed-route bus lines to ride those. It was a substantial fare increase, and those who count on it REALLY need it. But do you know who came to the public hearing to let the Board know what they thought of it? One woman with Down’s syndrome, this woman’s parents, a paid disability advocate, and two bus drivers. Half a million rides per year, and only ONE person who would be personally, directly affected showed up for the meeting! Know what happened? The impassioned and emotional plea of two parents on behalf of their daughter persuaded the Board to offer a special lower-priced pass for disabled passengers to lessen the economic impact on them. All because one family showed up for a meeting!
I need to be reminded of this a lot – that it never hurts to ask. Sometimes it’s hard to know what to do, where to start, who to call. For me, too. I’m working on a resource page that I hope to launch soon that will include some ideas for where to start and how to do just that. Ideas welcome, either here or on our Facebook page.
As for me, I’m on to the next thing. What will you do this week?