I attended a hearing on Tuesday night of our legislature's Joint Ways & Means committee held at PCC-Rock Creek campus north of 185th and the Sunset Highway. The meeting began at 7 p.m. When I got there at 6:45 the large meeting room was packed with standing room only. Lucky for me I found a front row seat. The W&Ms committee is holding such open meetings all over the state, a tradition. It's a chance for people who can't get to Salem to "talk truth to power."
And "talk truth to power" the audience did and moss of the 14 members of the committee listened intently. But alas some were buried in their I-pads and when one testifier noted this - all those "buried" eyes shot up and for a moment paid attention. Having sat in many legislative hearings it's always bugged me that some members just don't keep eye contact with those testifying - they just monitor their I-pads or laptops. It's like saying "OK, I have to be here but you're not important enough to pay attention to."
But I digress. Again 12 of the 14 legislators were paying attention. And what they heard was very personal stories from many high school aged and college aged students who talked about how important school based health clinics were for them as they navigated the challenges of youth in these days - being LBGT, facing bullying or the identify crises that come at this time of life. As I have found with homelessness if you put a face on the issue - people will pay attention.
Why is this important? It's important because too much of our so-called political dialogue (as evidenced in the long rants on my Hillary post coming from both sides) doesn't get beyond the shouting phase to the human face of people's hopes and fears. We are locked into a debate on things like climate change and closer to home "dirty diesel" in Oregon where both sides have their talking points but they don't hear each other. They are like two trains passing in the night.
Politics ultimately is not about the "facts" it's about how real people are affected by issues like climate change and/or interactions with police (notice I avoided the term "police brutality.') While in the Puzzle Palace yesterday afternoon I noticed an unusual presence of Oregon State Patrol officers outside the Capitol on bikes and then inside the Dome. Then I realized why - there was an overflow hearing on gun control - another hot button issue - so a showing of security was in evidence. Thankfully nothing happened that required action.
I didn't attend the hearing but watched a bit it as I passed by the TV monitors as I went on my way to talking to legislator's LAs about housing, homelessness and education funding as a follow-up to the W&M hearing. But what little I heard was stereotypical. One young fellow suggested if requiring background checks in private gun sales outside family member exchanges became the law - we would be on the brink of "revolution." This was an ironic echo from the '60s when the Black Panthers said change "by any means necessary."
This is an an example of how raw political rhetoric has become and why it's hard to find a middle ground on any issue. Frankly, it's amazing anything gets done here or in DC. The blame doesn't stop with the Super PACS, the flamethrowers in the media from the right and left, or groups like the NRA or NARAL who's default position is to go for the juggler. I get e-mail every day from the left (since I'm one of them" saying the "sky is falling" if I don't contribute.) The fault dear Brutus is not in the stars, it's in us.
What we need are lessons in active listening... unless we want to devolve into some Hobbesean state of nature depicted by those "end of times" horror flicks on TV or in movies where Armageddon is upon us and it's every person for themselves My message is that the system works "if" you give it a chance but the first rule is to stop shouting at each other... In other words, quit acting like 2 year olds having a fit when you don't get immediate attention!
I thanked a Republican legislator's staff for their bosses vote to kill a bad land use bill in committee. I had already sent him an e-mail message the day before. I was informed that he was being threatened because of his "no" vote. As Edward R. Murrow famously said after his broadcasts in the McCarthy era - "good night and good luck."