I’ve gone from getting goosebumps before voting to despising the process. Happily, I’ve had a civics lesson this year that has reminded me that a healthy government doesn’t come from passive citizenry.
I volunteer for an organization that has a drastic cut in funding. We anticipated some of it–5 year grants were ending; however, the city cut out our funding unexpectedly. We discovered that while there were some concrete and excellent suggestions we can follow to improve both our program and our proposals, the biggest problem was that the councilors didn’t know who we were, who we serve, and why our services matter.
So, we’ve spent the intervening months increasing our visibility, honing our message, and making program improvements. As a result the budget committee chairman has become a supporter. Monday night was the last public comment hearing on the budget.
I admit that I was awfully excited to be in the council chambers with scads of people waiting to speak about their hopes and needs. I was interested in the people and issues that people brought up.
When it was our group’s turn to speak, and the 5 people who’d been asked to speak on our behalf got up, the chairman asked for everyone associated with the group to stand up (we all had bright yellow name tags, so he knew we scattered throughout). I’m lousy at estimating crowd numbers, but perhaps 50 people stood up: staff, volunteers, but more importantly, there were kids the program serves (tutoring) and their parents. It was an impressive group, if I do say so myself. :-D.
People know now what we do, and why it’s important. We made a noise, and it mattered. We may NOT make it into this budget, because we started late. But we’re definitely a better organization for the effort, we have advocates in the council, and kids have had a voice in this process, which is, well, pretty damned cool.
A corporate mentor once advised me to make myself known to any executive I could get in front of. “At the very least, ” he said, “they have a harder time cutting someone they’ve met than someone who’s just a name.”
I may not get goosebumps when I go to vote next week, but I’ll sure as hell feel better about it.
As an aside, my city council has a list of reasonable recommendations for making the strongest possible case. I see where we could be stronger still. It’s a bit like reporting bugs to Microsoft. If you just say “Word crashes! You suck!” you’re not likely to get much satisfaction. If you submit a cogent bug report, they’ll listen. They might not be able to do anything about it, but they listen.