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Sunday, April 30, 2017

Acting Locally: A Learning Process

As I've grumped my way to being politically awake over the past year, I've been working to figure out where I can fit in to effect positive change. I coordinated local involvement in the Women's March, have hosted multiple postcard writing parties, and attended other people's similar resistance efforts. I'm good at contributing to any effort with the goal of being obnoxious.

I realized early on as part of this crusade that I've paid little to no attention to the government that affects my life the most, local government. I've paid some attention to state government - those people have gotten obnoxious postcards, faxes, and phone calls from me, alongside the national jokers, but I am embarrassed to admit that I knew almost nothing about either the local school board or the Belfast city government.

My first step toward learning more about what these entities do was attending an RSU 71 board meeting last fall. They discussed quite a bit, including how to use the district's money - there was extensive talk about whether to shut down the smaller elementary schools and consolidate them into a large one, or invest in renovations. Even more extensive, though, was a discussion about dress code, and I found it absolutely infuriating, as did the teachers surrounding me in the audience.

RSU 71 has long had the policy that students can wear hats unless a teacher or administrator requests they take them off. Teachers in attendance affirmed that this policy works just fine and that students do, indeed, remove hats when requested. However, a couple of school board members very melodramatically bemoaned the downfall of proper civilization as exemplified by hats. They very desperately wanted hats to be banned outright. Significant energy was spent on this heated argument, with the emotional attachment to the meaning of a piece of clothing inexplicably strong.

Since in my job as a school social worker I routinely deal with kids who don't eat enough or are filthy because of no running water and fifteen cats in the home, hats are pretty much last on my list of "downfall of society" issues. So this group, I realized, was not for me. As part of the school board, I would simply raise my own blood pressure and piss other people off. I don't have the patience with their particular set of details and priorities to be an effective and positive influence.

That said, I'm not completely naive - I realize there is some degree of this sort of impassioned bickering about largely useless issues in any level of government. However, when I went to my first couple of City Council meetings and learned what City Council does, even though members all had to make sure they had their individual say, what they had to say was generally pertinent, useful, and did move the topics along. They debated measures that would affect local businesses, housing, and summer events. City Council, I can do, whether as an informed citizen or, perhaps, should voters someday approve, as a member.

Yes, that's right. I found something I'm interested in. I'm the purple hippo you should vote for in 2018. Purple Pottamus, City of Belfast, Ward 5. Are you with me?

Stay tuned...

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