Sunday, September 09, 2007

Democracy is the worst form of government - except all the others that have been tried.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. It's been a while since I posted. Shut up. I've been busy. Busy doing what, you ask? Well, I've been... um... er...

Like I said, shut up.

Really, not much blog-worthy has happened. Yes, I went to a couple of great bbq's (if you haven't guessed, that's a summer staple of mine). I had a friend from Seattle come visit. The Red Sox have been on what can only be described as an intermittent tear (and I know that doesn't make sense, but one of you will understand it). The Patriots just dismantled my second least favorite football team.

But probably the most interesting thing that happened was I went to a City Council meeting last week. As a result, I was able to witness democracy at it's absolute worst (hence the Churchill quote in the title). Call it Paralysis by Democracy. So instead of writing something clever or regaling you with further tales of injury or awkwardness, allow me to just bitch for a little while.

I've probably touched upon this in the past, but one of the things I got involved in as a result of my job was to join a city sub-committee tasked with improving community-police relations, and neighborhood quality of life. It is, for the most part, a complete waste of time. But the city council ordered the committee to be formed, and they needed members of the police department, city agencies, and community activists to be involved. Seeing as how I work for a city agency that deals with housing, I got picked to join. I suppose you could say I was volunteered.

So for the past few months, I've gone to meetings every week where we sit around and talk about how to make the city a better place to live, and how people can grow to understand and appreciate the police department better, and how to deal with the perceived escalation of youth violence and crime in our fair city.


Basically 90 minutes of pure bullshit every single week. And to a certain extent, I didn't mind at first. It got me out of the office, and it was an excuse to sit around and basically talk urban politics with city councilors, the chief of police (including my infamous gaffe written about here) and meet people from other agencies. But after a few weeks, I realized that it was a complete waste of time.

A bit of background: I work for an agency that provides housing to low-income families. I think you pretty much have to be something of an idealist to get into that line of work... I sort of stumbled into it about eight years ago, but it resonated with me, and now I've reached a point where I don't really know how to even do anything else. Which is convenient, because I actually love what I do. And the agency I work for is nationally renowned as one of the best. These are all good things. I also genuinely believe that many of the people on the committee with me truly want to help. However, one of the things that helps me be effective at my job is, in addition to idealism, a healthy dose of both honesty and realism.

And this group is not realistic. And they are not being honest with themselves. And that has basically derailed the entire process. Because when you get a group of wide-eyed folks like this together, it becomes this sort of "save-the-world" gangbang (there's that word again), but with people not actually addressing the problems.

Example: One of the problems people keep bringing up is "the youth problem". As in, we need to get young people more involved. We need to keep them out of trouble. We need to keep them in school. We need to stop youth crime. There are two truths to this, and one of them is born of simple ignorance, the other of something more subtle, yet more insidious.

1. There is no "youth problem". Statistics in the city show that over 90% of crimes are committed by men (not boys, MEN) between the ages of 19-26. These are not youths. These are grown-ass men who can't control their temper. Sure, the argument could be made that it is in childhood that these men learn their evil ways. And that's a valid point. But if that's the case, we need to work on education and daycare and teaching people to be better parents. We don't need a new emphasis on policing. And if we want to keep kids in school... we need to have better schools. But those are too hard. And this group wants easy solutions. So we're not addressing education. We're not addressing lousy parenting. Instead, we're picking easy targets (kids and the police department), even when, at the root, this is not the problem. Do we have crime? Absolutely. Shootings, and I think there were two murders this year. But it's not some crime wave being committed by a rash of evil teenagers. Which leads us to...

2. When we say "youth problem" we mean "black kids". This is the uglier truth. Because this group is very careful to never mention race or ethnicity. But they talk about kids hanging out at the park late at night (the park in the "darker" neighborhood) and they talk about rap music, and gangs. And what they mean is we have a problem with black people. Trust me. I've been around. Except that crime stats show that very few crimes are being committed in the parks. And as for a gang problem? A gang problem, as defined here, is basically three kids who get into a fistfight with another three kids, basically because one of them looked at the other wrong. This is not a gang problem. I worked in North Philly. That's a fucking gang problem.

But somehow, society has reached a point where three black kids sitting on a bench and being loud causes people to fear them. The sad truth. How many of us get a quick pang of fear when three black guys walk past you late at night? Be honest. Yeah. I thought as much. And I know that there are a million sociological reasons for why this happens. And in South Central L.A., maybe you can make a case for it. But not here.

Anyway. This all resulted in hours and weeks and months of debate over a problem that is basically smoke and mirrors. And finally came to a head at the council meeting I went to last week. And we had the mayor, and the city councilors and a bunch of other political hotshots there. For a three hour meeting on what to do next. We'd established our (albeit exaggerated if not outright fictitious) problems, and posed some solutions. What to do next?

Well, for starters... it took 90 minutes to figure out where and when the next meeting would be. NINETY MINUTES. Should we serve food? What kind of food? Where should we hold it?

Bear in mind - the MAYOR was there. But he refused to make the call, insisting on a democratic process. Mainly, I think, because if the next meeting was a bust, he didn't want to be the idiot who'd fucked it up (did I mention it's an election year?). After 90 minutes of discussion as to time and place, we moved onto... the next subject. The only problem was, no one had figured out what the next subject was. Seriously. No one knew why we were there. The council had called a meeting to discuss our findings. And to schedule a meeting. But they didn't know how to discuss it, as bizarre as that sounds. And since no one on the council, nor the mayor, wanted to take control and risk ruining our beautiful democracy, we spent another 90 minutes discussing what to discuss next. I swear I am not making this up.

So. I went to a three-hour meeting where nothing happened. People were wringing their hands and getting upset and... accomplished nothing. The final result of the meeting? All issues (including when/where/how to have the next meeting) were tabled... until the next meeting.

Oh, God. I only hope that a meteor crashes into my car before that date. Because if I have to do this again... well... you'll probably read about someone spontaneously exploding in a city in Massachusetts and go "Oh! So that's what TK's real name is. Well, he did warn us..."

Now playing: Tonedeff - Porcelain
via FoxyTunes


Ranylt said...

Cool firm fingertips rubbing your temples...rubbing...rubbing...rubbing...


Hang in.

New Texan said...

Your meeting(s) remind me of every faculty meeting I ever attended in the 7 years I taught... ugh.

On an unrelated note, I think the Sox need to go out and get Kazmir next year, as that fucker always finds a way to beat us.

Alex the Odd said...

I hear ya re: the "youth problem". The British tabloids are currently whipping themselves into a frenzy about the "growing gang culture" and the problem of what they oh so patronisingly call "hoodies". I suspected that it was mostly overreaction until I moved recently (way, way down the property latter) and now I know it's pretty much entrely baseless hysteria about a few random incidents.

People annoy me.

country roads said...

90 minutes deciding on a location, time, and food? I would've lost my mind. The word gangbang would've been the least of their concerns.

I hope one day that the police can find a way to help keep bad occurrences from happening without being a bunch of militant dicks....but, again, that takes someone teaching respect for authority (you can say it like Cartman if you want..I just did) from a young age...gah, it's just mindboggling.

A Lover and a Fighter said...

I serve on a similar committee that works with HIV/AIDS education and prevention in the city, and our discussions are just as circular and just as infuriating. They also use "urban youth" or whatever to actually mean "non-white kids" which is not only incorrect, and not only further aggravates the problem but so enrages me that I become incapable of rational expression and just end up sputtering insults and yelling about gentrification.

Our meetings NEVER have food, by the way. They're pretty much BYO.

litelysalted said...

You mean TK isn't your real name?!

I always pictured your birth certificate to read T.K. McGillicuddy. Now I'm disillusioned.

TK said...

Ranylt - ahhhh... that's better.

NT - 10 K's? Are you fucking kidding me?

Alex - People annoy me. Join the club. I'm thinking of making hats.

Country Roads - No, worse. 90 minutes deciding on location, time and food - and NOT REACHING A DECISION.

L & F - Food is the only reason it's even remotely tolerable.

Salted, Goddamnit, I'm not Irish! How many times must I tell you?!

Alex the Odd said...

Of course you're not TK. Surely the Mc would make ya Scottish?

girl with curious hair said...

Well, at least no one was playing a video game as you were rolling out new processes that would impact everyone in the group. No, I'm not bitter about it.

After sitting through YEARS of these meetings on a weekly basis, I started to appreciate benevolent dictatorships. To prove the point, I am the unofficial dictator of our little group. I make almost all the food/timing decisions when necessary, and cut into rambling discussions that go no where. In addition to keeping most meetings under an hour, I have unified everyone into hating/fearing/mocking my "look".

Kerstin said...

I was once voluntold to be on a committee at work. My third meeting in, I couldn't take the fact that we had not gotten to one single thing on the agenda since the committee was formed. We had one girl who droned on and on and on. Now, in my head I was cursing her and telling her to shut the hell up...I was apparently saying it out loud too.

I was given another assignment and never asked to join a committee again.

To get something done a committee should consist of no more than three people, two of whom are absent. ~Robert Copeland

Anonymous said...

You just summed up nearly every meeting I ever attended during my eight-year tenure in Corporate Hell.

Only things missing are some f*ck on his Blackberry the entire meeting and a totally useless PowerPoint presentation with accompanying handouts.

Lawdy, am I glad to be free of those shackles.

MelodyLane said...

See, this is what happens when people procreate without taking an intelligence test first. Or when no one in a damned room full of people has the balls to grow a pair and make a damned decision!

People don't annoy me, I plain hate people.

5 years of retail work will make a person very bitter.

You can always start imagining the people spontaneously combusting. That helps, along with some good whiskey.

Jez said...

Just start making decisions for them. If someone can't make it, fuck 'em.