Friday, December 08, 2006

Civic Engagement Post-Analysis

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.


laurel said...

ryan, what was your idea? did you get to present it and what kind of reception do you think it got?

Ryan Adams said...

My idea was essentially what I wrote in my big idea thread from about a week ago. Mainly, that we need councils created by the governor, probably through executive order, that would be something similar to the transitional committees - just permanent.

They could be a way for creating new ideas, building those ideas and crafting them, or allowing Deval to bounce off his own ideas to the councils - without having to worry about the press misconstruing them before they're even started.

I think the reception was pretty strong. I certainly wasn't the only one who advocated something like it. I think I presented the idea well, up until the end when I didn't write in advance how I was going to end it... so it was something like "and I think that's all I really have to say" kind of moment.

I really think Deval will continue with these councils after he's in office, but my only hope - and main purpose in advocating for it - is for the meetings to go through the arm of the Governer's office - and not Deval's campaign committee. First, it would probably become something permanent that would transfer far beyond Deval's administration. Furthermore, I think it would add legitimacy, knowing that it's not coming from his campaign - especially when he's going to keep his field org alive to help advocate over the next four years (which is a good thing). A degree of seperation between fostering ideas and advocating for them would be a real boon to the construction of forward thinking, big ideas and bold, new policies.

bostonph said...

Sounds like a wonderful experience.

Did you ask Peter Porcupine about funding public transportation? She's an active member of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Also a staunch supporter of Mitt "we don't need no stinking Green Line extension" Romney.

At core, this is why I have so little patience with PP/CS. She says some interesting things on occasion (any monkey with a 1000 posts, right?), but they rarely hold up under scrutiny.

Maybe that goes with being a "loyal Republican" instead of a conservative. I don't know.

Here's another example, from the PP blog:

I support human rights, and that includes gay people. I am a fan of equality under the law, not preference under the law.

Yeah, whatever.

Ryan Adams said...

PP actually seemed very enthusiastic about the potential rail. Perhaps public infrastructure is one area she's willing to spend public money on in order to improve?

bostonph said...

That would be a pleasant surprise.

My general experience with the CLT folks is they're the most single issue folks on the planet. The message begins and ends with "I got mine and you can't have any."

I truly believe Barbara Anderson would vote for putting the elderly out on ice flows if she thought it would reduce her tax burden.

Read her columns if you disagree:

Anonymous said...

Rural communities often are neglected and feel under-represented when the state passes laws. Remember the ban on leg traps they passed because all the poor animal rights people didn't want to kill the beavers. Well you don't have to worry too much inside of Rt 128. Many neighbors have failing septic systems now becuase the prolific beavers are plugging up streams and creating a higher water table than ever before. It sours people on civic enagagement when local considerations are ignored.

Ryan Adams said...

Oh, the beavers do plenty of damage inside 128. Just ask the folks from towns like Lynnfield, Peabody, etc.

However, it's important that Massachusetts isn't completely Greater-Boston Centric.

Laurel said...

Anon 9:22. The "damage" beavers do in no way compares to the excessive damage people have done who have moved into their habitat. Let's keep some perspective here.

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