Wednesday, August 10, 2011

people are political animals

aristotle said it 1st but it bears repeating. wherever 2 or more are gathered, so there will be a caucus.

here on the rim we went through another seismic shakeup that wasn't, with a result similar in 1 district to another seismic shakeup-that-wasn't just in april. (I've begun to be asked when voting to provide identification which the state republicans, in a solution in search of a problem, insist will counter voter fraud, but seems to have no impact on actual voter fraud.) the democratic party won 2 seats in the recall--and there is reason to see hope in that--but lost the other 4 by margins that the gop will surely consider an electoral mandate. there will continue to be no compromise on the part of the state ruling group.

I'm not a believer in a golden age. but a mere 2 years ago there was an incredible outpouring of relief and hopefulness when barack obama, a candidate whose campaign slogan was the positive "yes, we can," was elected. we've lost that hope somewhere as we have moved from a political culture of "yes, we can" to a politics of "no, you can't."

this is not entirely unexpected but what makes it particularly galling is that, amid the national and local talk of economic feasibility, of cost benefit and entitlement and loss and "what it costs the taxpayers," there is no corresponding talk about human beings. of sharing. of community. of helping 1 another. we have entered a time and political place when a majority of voters--as opposed to a majority of citizens--feel the motto of the us ought to be changed from e pluribus unum, "out of many, one," to meeum habeo, "I got mine."

decades ago, after I'd graduated from college the 1st time but was still hanging around new paltz, word got around that the student senate had voted to cancel spring weekend. this was a special time for people in the area, a weekend when a major bands were brought in to play free concerts in the rear fields of the campus, a place dubbed "the tripping fields" by grace slick when jefferson airplane and the who played there in 69. it was an incredibly unpopular decision but the senate had good, solid reasons for doing so: every year the senate, which footed the bill from student activity fees, lost money because of injuries, arrests, vandelism to the property and cleanup. I'd attended for years and the place on monday morning looked like parts of britain currently look.

a guy I knew from my time as sports editor, marty, was on the senate and he and a small coterie of senators had spread the word that there should have been public discussion of the decision since it had an impact on a huge number of people. the following week a special session of the senate was held and the meeting, which normally took place in one of the smaller rooms of the student center, opened in the auditorium, which had been outfitted with bleachers and stacking chairs. it was packed, and by the time I got there a half hour before the meeting, it was standing room only.

to call the meeting contentious would be an understatement. it was raucous and loud and the senators tried valiently but in vain to keep the crowd from interrupting proceedings. it soon emerged that the senate was overwhelmingly against footing the bill for a drunken orgy every year.

but the noise and the tumult was democracy in action. soon the senate voted to hold its meeting in executive session, which meant only senators present, a vote that was immensely unpopular with the visitors. marty led the effort to rescind that vote, listening to the hundreds of people who'd come to make comment on the decision. there was 1 guy, I never knew his name, but he was among the loudest and most adamant that spring weekend ought to continue as it had and that he was there to make certain that it did. marty seemed to look on him as an ally in the crowd.

1 by 1 the senators recanted their votes on the executive session and the noise when they reappeared in the auditorium was deafening. 1 by 1 people stood up and addressed the senate and the group and it was obvious that springweekend, whatever the cost, was a popular and extraordinarily well-received tradition. 1 by 1 the senate votes changed until, at about midnight, the vote stood at a plurality of senators in favor of continuing the practice, damn the cost.

the place erupted in applause. and almost immediately emptied out. but the meeting wasn't over yet: there were still a number of issues to consider like a possible rise in student fees to cover the costs, new rules for student organizations, additions to the campus code of conduct and others.

I remember marty standing in the center of the room saying vainly, "stay and have a voice about what to do with these issues too." but everyone swarmed out of the room, and I remember marty addressing the guy he'd seen as his ally and the guy saying, "I got what I wanted." soon, there was no one in the room except the senators and about 12 people, including me, and I left soon after because it was getting late and the bars would close soon.

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