Can you make a difference?
Media Reports on Balanced Growth Issues
Summary: Why fight local political battles and corruption?
(e-mail sent 3 February 2010 from PWCBG’s Ralph Stephenson to friend and opponent of Avendale housing development project in response to her question asking whether involvement in local politics by ordinary citizens makes a difference)
[Name withheld], thank you very much for coming tonight and for all you’ve done and are continuing to do to spread the word. It’s good to see people of virtue and principle involved in the local community; the community desperately needs their (your) influence.
Regarding your question tonight about whether it makes any difference (for us to send e-mails and speak at the BOCs and Planning Commision meetings, etc), that’s a very fair question to ask. And I really didn’t give it an answer at the time, at least not a very good one.
Upon reflection, I would answer it in several ways, any one of which is enough for me. Of course, I don’t necessarily expect any one of these reasons alone to be enough for others who may make better use of their time than politics. (I’m only half-joking when I say that because I really do not like politics. I engage in it because I feel compelled to do so — probably largely because of the “second” item below.)
First, one can give what amounts to an almost-ascetic, martyr-like response to your question: It doesn’t matter whether we win or lose, as long as we stand for what is right, particularly in things that matter such as quality of life for us and our children (schools, roads/traffic, natural beauty), economic issues (taxes for individuals, individual property values, the county’s financial and economic health), and trying to clean up Dodge so we don’t have to live in a place that is overrun with political corruption and be bullied by political machines that benefit a few and swindle everyone else. (Sometimes this one works for me when I feel like I’m fighting necessary but lonely battles.)
Second, one can, like Lincoln, argue that we, too, are dirtied and sullied when we don’t protest against public evils that are close at hand and accessible to us — and that we thus might be able to stop, slow, or mitigate if we only tried.
Third, and this one, like the second one just above, is very compelling to me: You often do win (see paragraphs below for explanation of why), and I very much like to win victories in what I think are worthy and important causes. : ) (A hard-fought victory against difficult odds, as in Brentswood, is one of the best feelings you can have.) See the last sentence of the second paragraph that I’ve forwarded below from Michelle Trenum. Her count is 10 victories, 1 loss. Since Brentswood in early 2006, I count all victories and no defeats, except for one half-win, half-loss (let’s call it a draw) on an attempt by the Board of Supervisors to make incursions into the Rural Crescent in Dec 2007. My experience has been that before the loose citizens alliance to fight this sort of nonsense formed in early 2006 during Brentswood, it was one loss after another in western PW county — mostly losses, with only a few (and sometimes very temporary) victories, typically when a critical mass of people got very angry just before an election.
Most politicians love the backroom deal where there’s no transparency, no public input, no awareness, just the opportunity for them to further their ambition and vanity and sometimes line their pockets. And most politics in most places is practiced that way. Politicians get away with it because of people’s apathy or fear of getting involved. But when you smoke politicians out into the open, where their actions are visible and they can be held accountable, they are much more likely to behave in a responsible way. At least, that’s my experience — and in many places, not just here, including in several political campaigns and in a couple overseas American communities where my wife and I were involved in political battles.
“In darkness and obscurity, the interests of the powerful and affluent prevail;
while only in the bright light of public scrutiny can the common good be secured.”
And, one of my all-time favorite political quotes:
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” ~ Margaret Mead