We likely all realize at this point that our political problems are not limited to the national stage. The “conservative” right has been infiltrating all layers of government from Washington D.C. right down to the smallest towns in America. The problems of inequality, racism, and corruption are systemic. What we see getting modeled at the national level is being lived out at the local level all around our country.
Last night, in one little town with a population of about 2,700 people, we saw what happens when individuals in a community come together to solve a problem. The name and location of this town are not the important part of the story; I am omitting them so that we may focus on the story itself.
In this particular city, some residents have become concerned about the administration of the town, in particular, a couple of department heads who would appear to have garnered more power than is appropriate and are impacting the working environment of city employees and residents negatively. Concerned citizens began approaching members of the City Council. One council member started what you can characterize as a crusade to get the problem with these particular departments addressed.
The governmental structure of this town gives the authority to the City Council to hire the City Manager, the City Attorney, and the City Clerk. No direct line or chain of command would allow the Council to affect (fire) any department heads directly. The management of departments within the City falls to the City Manager, and in this case, the City Manager is close friends with the department heads in question. As you can likely imagine, the “crusade” did not get very far, and in fact, the councilperson attempting to shine a light on the corruption and inappropriate behaviors became vilified by the City Manager and the rest of the City Council members.
City Council meetings are telecast to the local community via cable TV and broadcast via radio. All winter long, dragging on into early spring of this year, many residents were appalled at the treatment of the Councilperson in question, who was speaking up on behalf of the community and their constituents. Other members of Council were rude, dismissive and disrespectful, so much so that townsfolk were uncomfortable watching and listening. When people adopt an attitude that they are better than someone else, or that someone else is stupid or wrong and they are elected officials, it’s interesting to watch and listen when they act like themselves and reveal their true nature.
Americans have shared similar experiences this year. We have watched national icons, and elected officials adopt an attitude that they are better than someone else, or that someone else is stupid or wrong. We have watched more than one elected official acting in disturbing, demeaning or inappropriate ways.
I sat through a few of the Council meetings in question. It was disgusting, and it was hard not to be embarrassed for the people in question. So egotistical were they, they would leave meetings after having treated another council person like dirt smiling and happy. Meanwhile, the residents of this town were getting more and more unhappy.
Then, slowly a light began to dawn on the residents. They started talking in small groups. They began to meet over coffee, they did some social media networking, they were brave enough to have the conversation with people they might not otherwise speak with, and eventually, a plan was born.
In a town where no one but the “old regulars” ever run for office, three brand new millennials and Gen Xs are running for City Council seats this year. Two men are running for the seat of Mayor, one is an old regular (and very beloved), but his challenger is a progressive Gen Xer with a mohawk haircut and some darned good ideas!
As I sat in the audience last night listening to ‘Meet the Candidates” it was hard to keep the massive grin on my face under control. To see the three new faces sitting in the horseshoe in council chambers, the fruits of the citizens’ labor was such a beautiful thing. We don’t know until the election if the energy of a new vision of life in this little town will take hold.
These new candidates have done something else that’s new. They are campaigning together on a platform of New Vision, New Direction. Never before have city council candidates worked together to offer a cohesive platform in advance of an election.
The election is in a few weeks, and until then I will take great delight in watching these seeds of hope get planted. I don’t get to vote in this election, but I am holding my breath nonetheless.