Anyone feeling civically inclined? A little? Well, now's the chance to get in on the action. Caring about where we live - our communities, our state and our government - is back in style. That's the sense people got coming out of UMASS Dartmouth's hosting of the Civic Engagement Transitional Committee for Team Deval Patrick. Just before I left the meeting, David and I had a quick chat about the meetings in general. David, of Bluemassgroup, is one of the sitting members of the committee on civic engagement. I was curious how helpful they were: David seemed very enthused - and said there were a core group of common themes he was hearing from across the state, which makes it all the more likely those themes will be strongly considered.
Some of the key themes last night were community development, community service, and an extension of the sorts of transitional committees into permanent committees, giving people a chance to weigh in on the government process. Then, of course, there's what could be labeled "non-applicable," like when a Reverend from the community came to speak about the Iraq war and how angry he was not only about the fact that the US is there, but that those Muslim "extremists" in Iraq (the secular state!) were at fault for making US go there (pun intended). Yet, the crazy rants and random, unrelated pet-project promotion at Public Meetings are to be expected. At least people have a place to gripe and speak their mind, even if it's completely off topic. Democracy can be messy at times, but on the whole its good.
While there was no startlingly good idea presented last night (save, of course, my own), there were a few good points mentioned. Lots of people want a better state website, something that informs everyone what the heck's going on in detail. Same-day registration earned strong applause from the crowd. People were tired of gay-sniping and want the whole gay marriage issue put to rest (which really does effect civic engagement). One of my professors, Mark Santow, discussed a project he's working on - the "Clemente Course." It takes people from low income families, often young, single mothers and "puts their foot in the door" on a college education. They get to go to a free college course, complete with top-notch professors and for college credit. For only $200,000 a year, the program gets about 70 people annually, who would otherwise be just about hopeless, on track to graduate. Not so shockingly, it was gutted by Romney and Santow hopes for Deval Patrick to exert his weight to get the money restored as soon as Possible.
While there weren't any profound ideas presented last night, there was a personal revelation. While I always considered the Civic Engagement Committee to be the most important of all (because it effects everything else and will be the key to solving many other problems), I never realized just how right I was. I came from the perspective that civic engagement can help get bills passed, which it can. However, everything else effects civic engagement too.
Believe it or not, Peter Porcupine - who was at the meeting - produced that revelation. Coming from the Cape, Peter Porcupine complained about Public Transportation. Peter wasn't complaining from the perspective that she couldn't get to work on time or that it was inconvenient - but that Civic Engagement is impossible in more rural and remote areas without a good transportation infrastructure. No grassroots project can survive without public transportation, it just isn't feasible to expect everyone to drive or be able to drive. It extends beyond transportation in the traditional sense, as well, as one speaker complained about not having access to high-speed internet in Dartmouth, Massachusetts! He was ecstatic about Deval's hope to spread Wi-Fi across the entire state. I don't know how feasible state Wi-Fi would be in more rural areas, but every man, woman and child should have access to high speed internet. It's not a matter of convenient, it's a matter of civics.
Last night hopefully foreshadows a greater movement toward people-powered politics in Massachusetts, where regular people have a say in their government. It's regular people who best know what the real problems facing the state are: they're the ones who drive through the traffic; they're the ones who live in this state's struggling cities; they're the ones who work in the fields that can offer a new source of wealth and expertise on issues we need to work on. Our state has to get past just being satisfied with meeting day-to-day operations and become an active force of change that takes risks and creates bold, new strategies. It's people who are going to come up with those ideas and implement them through civic action.