I’m not particularly active when it comes to politics. I vote – always – and I make sure that I feel at least somewhat confident I know what I am voting for or against when I do. But I usually am not interested in public debate and feel no loyalty or favouritism towards any particular party, policy or conviction. Perhaps save to say that I am fairly liberal. Whatever that means nowadays.
Tonight, however, I attended my first ever political meeting because I wanted to see how – and in this case IF – democracy really works in real life.
The meeting was called by the Mayor as a response to rising discontent about the potential placement of new hospital facilities in town (somatic and psychological). I am not sure whether it was an attempt to put to rest the stirring rumours, beginning to spiral out of control in the press and online forums, or whether it genuinely was to inform the public. And I am not sure either what I think the result was.
Except on one count. It made me realise just how useless the entire concept of politics really is when it comes to communicating. Despite any and all intentions.
Whatever the reason people had come – pro or con – sitting there, listening, I realised that the interesting part wasn’t what was being said. It was what was omitted or merely seen in people’s eyes.
It wasn’t about getting instant results or declarations to change what hasn’t even been decided yet. It was about not being alone. As a family, as a neighbourhood, as an individual within a community.
In sports and social studies we are always taught that nothing unites like a common enemy. And nothing divides like the potential for change. I saw that first hand tonight when opportunity and vision got blurred into a rerouted debate on public responsibility and personal preferences.
It wasn’t the change as such we were supposed to debate. It was the visualization of the future as we would like it to be. It was an opportunity to reach out and say “Here’s the deal. Someone is going to throw a ton of money our way, which will create jobs and business and facilities to improve our daily lives in this town. Here’s the catch. Now, how do we maximise the gain and minimise the downsides?”
That would have put us all on the same side. No matter what we wanted out of it personally. It was that kind of opportunity. Or could have been. But instead, asses were covered, issues were circled so many times you got dizzy trying to remember what the actual question had been and opinions and feelings were dismissed. And as is too often the case with democracy these days it becomes something as autocratic as fear and rhetoric, which decides the outcome.
I don’t know if anybody left that meeting feeling heard. Or feeling like anything they’d said made a difference. And that seemed far more important to me than city planning a decade or two into the future. The town will survive and most likely thrive whether we get the new hospitals or not, and regardless where we put them if we do.
The people, though… the sense of belonging and being “at home” here… the spirit of community… what about that? Can any of that survive? And did we have this very debate in this particular manner exactly because we have already hoped and feared and gone unheard too many times in the past?
Whether it was the father with the young kids whose kindergarten would be expropriated, or the nurse, buckling under the pressure with lack of qualified hands and public awareness for the requirements and insufficient facilities in her profession, the psych ward out-patient with an appeal not to get shunned from the rest of society, or the elderly couple, concerned with the follow-on effects for the rest of town… they all just wanted to be heard.
And as democracy would have it, today they got their chance to speak…. Sadly though, democracy doesn’t come with a guarantee anyone will actually listen.