April 8, 8 a.m.: The Power to Bear Witness

The other day I was on a bench in Lytle Park reading Rules for Radicals, a practical primer for realistic radicals, when somebody shouted my name.

It was Susan Thomas, Vice President of Finance for the Port Authority of Greater Cincinnati. Working at the office on a Saturday, she was out getting some exercise, enjoying the sunshine for a few minutes.

While it’s not unusual for me to run into acquaintances in Cincinnati, Susan’s simple gesture meant a lot to me.  I’ve asked critical questions on this blog about how the Port operates, questions that made it sometimes seem as though we are on opposing sides.  So, it was nice of her to treat me like a human instead of an issue.

We talked for a few minutes about the Port’s 4-hour strategic planning session we’d both attended a few days earlier.  I mentioned I hadn’t decided yet if I was going to go to their next board meeting on Wednesday morning.

She assured me I wouldn’t miss much if I wasn’t there.  “The only vote is on my Fountain Square South agreement.”  Which means getting up and dressed at an insane hour to be at the Taft Center for another 34-minute formality.

Sometimes Cincyopolis readers who share my concerns about government transparency and the integrity of our political process will ask how they can help.  “Let me know if I can make introductions for you,” a friend of my brother offered recently.  An accomplished businessman in his fifties with a very busy calendar, he made it clear that he didn’t have time for much else.  “I took a class on government in high school where they had us do all that stuff at City Hall,” he told me.  “I’ve done it already.”

Public opinion polls consistently reveal widespread disgust with our government in the United States.  We blame the dysfunction on partisan politics, Supreme Court decisions, how campaigns are funded, big corporations, the legal system and lobbyists.  But maybe it would be more productive for average citizens to stop pointing fingers and look at how we’ve contributed to the current state of affairs.  Have we abdicated our own responsibility in the decision-making process?

Democracy is a lot of work.  A lot of hard, tedious, boring, inconvenient, monotonous public meetings listening to what other people think.  The work of showing-up, doing homework and thinking about complicated problems with no easy answers.  Good government is not a class you take in high school and say, “Done.”  It’s more than voting once a year or posting comments on Facebook.  Writing checks to candidates is not to be confused with good citizenship. If we don’t like the government we’ve got, maybe it’s our own damn fault.

So, yes, Susan, I’m going to see you there at the Port Authority board meeting on Wednesday.   I’d rather sleep-in, stay in my pajamas until lunch, but I’m going to go.  Because the right to bear witness is not to be taken lightly.   It is a powerful and radical act.  When we show up for the democratic process we remind our representatives in a very tangible way that they serve for the entire community, not just their little piece of it, that we aren’t going away, that we will be back next month and the month after that.  I’m going to go because there’s nothing I can do that’s more important and that’s the way change happens.

7 thoughts on “April 8, 8 a.m.: The Power to Bear Witness

  1. Karen

    “In a democracy, people get the government they deserve” — Alexis de Toqueville (maybe — the origin of this quote seems to be a matter of some debate.)
    I’ll walk down with you. It will remind me again of how grateful I am that I have precious few 8:00 am appointments. And it doesn’t hurt to become a little bit more educated in how our government works. And it’s always nice to see you.

  2. executivedreamer Post author

    8 a.m. Barbara. I doubt it lasts past 8:34 a.m. The meeting is on the 2nd floor of the Atrium of the Westin at the Taft Center on Fountain Square. Free coffee served. You should have no trouble making your 9:30 event. Can’t wait to meet in person.

  3. Bill Collins

    Thanks for this thoughtful piece, Kathy.
    As corny as it may sound, keeping government and institutions (nonprofit and profit) accountable all comes down to whether “regular people” who live in real communities show up, participate, make their views known, and take action . . . . regardless of what kinds of “action” that might involve.
    (1) When regular people show up, institutions sometimes (but not always) modify their behavior for the better,
    (2) When that does not happen, self-serving elites (these elites have plenty of salaried functionaries to send to those meeting) are always at the ready to dominate the agenda to benefit themselves.

    As a former trade unionist and a guy who continues to see himself as a worker and union man, I learned these two lessons early on many years ago from people who are a lot smarter than I am.

    Why do so many (but not all) bosses trash unions and union leaders? It’s really simple: if workers do *not* organize independent unions to advance their interests on the job, then management and the larger corporate business class sets the agenda for workers alone. If workers DO organize collectively to try to advance their interests . . . well, that’s where things like weekends, paid overtime, paid sickdays, grievance procedures, bans on forced overtime and progressive discipline come from.
    [This kind of collective, pro-worker organizing is also how chattel slavery (the most brutal form of worker abuse) was ended in the West. This growing pro-worker, anti-slavery movement in the Americas started with the Haitian revolution (1791-1804), and then spreading to Great Britain and then the USA as slaves escaped from and fought slavery, and found support primarily from the Calvinist/Evangelical communities in the USA to create an slavery-abolition movement that swept through the entire Western Hemisphere. This, too, was a worker’s movement that involved showing up and taking a stand. but that’s another story.]

    Trade unions, in essence, are just a formal way for regular people (organizing, in this case, around the community of their workplace) to show up, express *their* perspective and take action vis-a-vis the boss’s policies in an organized way . . . . in essence, kinda like showing up at Port Authority meetings.

  4. Pingback: Wake up, Port Authority Citizens Brigade: This Isn’t Transparency | cincyopolis

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