As much as I would prefer to spend my days watching the animals, walking the woods, maybe going fishing now and then, there is a town down there in the valley, and we do have to get there now and then. Work, shopping, repairs, the library… all these things and others call us out of our highland hideout. One of the pressures that leads us into town is citizen activism.
It’s almost Independence Day, so today you get my little civics lesson: Government is not just for the big. That mantra from the 1960s and ’70s, “Think globally, act locally,” is still good.
To my surprise, we became more active and, I think, more effective in small ways, when we moved out from town. We always wrote our share of letters to Congress, and we went to Town Hall meetings to meet our Congressman, but something happened to our looking glass when we moved away from the urban clot and into a smaller community. Almost immediately we turned up at a community meeting, and then it was a watershed management meeting, a County Commission meeting, a forest management meeting, a community training meeting… and pretty soon we were on first names with the electeds, with the appointeds, and with the employeds in the County offices. Somehow, then, we got ourselves appointed (and later elected) as Precinct Committee People to the Clackamas County Democratic Party; PCP is the hat worn at the lowest rung of the Party structure. PCPs are the people who run around knocking on doors before elections, or who call you at dinner time and remind you to vote. They’re the people who observe in the polls on election night. They’re the ones who offer voter registration cards at fairs and supermarkets.
It has to be said, I am not much of a joiner of groups. I’m shy of bunches of people, and I don’t really like speaking in public. So for me to decide to offer myself as a PCP was a big indication of what I thought was important. In time, as so often happens when you join something, we found our own little projects to attend to. And, typically, they were not the ones that led us into giant committee meetings.
Once a month the Clackamas Democrats air a live TV broadcast through the local cable access channels. It’s taped at a wonderful little studio facility in Oregon City called Willamette Falls Television (WFTV). It doesn’t get much more local than this. WFTV is available for use by anyone who lives or works in the County. Any of us can go in and create a television program. The equipment is available to us at no charge, and training in its use goes with the loan. The studio comes with staff to help in live broadcasts, or in editing programs to be aired later. It’s the neatest thing. And the show was chronically short of “techies,” people to operate the cameras or to field phone calls or to type names into the character generator.
So, for about the last 2 years, Richard and I meet in town once a month on a Tuesday evening, have dinner, and then go off to the WFTV production studio. Here’s Richard, just before air time last week.
That’s the control booth below, with Marv inside. Marv is the director.
The program, a sort of no-budget version of the Charlie Rose show, hosts local officials, candidates and activists in interviews about local concerns, programs, issues, choices, and people. Since it’s live, and most of the staff is volunteer, sometimes the show has warts. That goes with the effort. We’re doing the best we can. Here’s me reading the Oregon Party Platform into a microphone with program host Larry Skidmore in the background:
It turns out there are lots of opportunities for rural, suburban, and urban people to come together for common efforts. We helped build a house for Habitat for Humanity a couple of years ago. We’ve helped clean up river banks with Tualatin Riverkeepers. We’ve picked up the litter along our own piece of road for several years now (in exchange for that we get a road sign with our name on it: Shambles Workshops, which is our marketing name).
I’m comfortable doing behind the scenes things like this. Behind the camera. Behind the hammer and the screwdriver. Behind the trash bags.
But, last year there came a cause I had to stand in front of. Our County needs a service district to fund the public libraries. Because of the recent loss of Federal timber revenue dollars in Oregon, money that had supported the General Funds of rural counties across the United States but is no longer authorized by Congress, services like public libraries are threatened with extinction here. I mean it. Really. Can you imagine a place without public libraries? Our own state legislature couldn’t, and in 1901 enacted the bill that permitted public funding of libraries that were to be “free to the public forever.” They authorized communities to assess up to $.35 per $1,000 of property value to support those libraries. What happened then? The libraries went to the voters for finance levies, looking for that 35 cents per thousand dollars. And for a time, they got it, or enough of it.
But the 21st Century has rolled around and there still is no stable means of funding those libraries. They are still grasping at shrinking General Fund dollars, and still attempting, every few years, to get the voters to pass a levy. It’s a disaster just about now, what with Oregon’s “double-majority” requirement to pass funding levies (+50% of the ballot, and +50% of registered voters voting) and the current mood of voters not to pay for anything, though they might want to continue to use it, and will complain when it’s gone (ever notice how the loudest anti-public-services voices still expect the fire department to show up?). So we, some of us Citizen Activists, are going to make a Library District. We are building the campaign, we’re raising money, we’re meeting after work, and testifying during stolen work hours, phoning and polling and printing, and speaking to groups. Good grief. I am speaking to groups. I’m going to business executives and begging money. I am compiling telephone numbers and email addresses. I’m acting just like someone with a cause.
Because, honest to goodness, I cannot imagine a County without a public lending library.
And that, my friends, is what I mean when I speak of The American Way. If you want to see something happen, you go to work to make it so. You make a phone call. You wear a button. You stand up in front of people and talk to them about it. You “speak your mind, even if your voice shakes,” as Grey Panther Maggie Kuhn said. Because, when it comes down to it, the issue isn’t whether your presentation has warts. It’s live, after all, and it’s life. It’s what we do here.
If you live in Clackamas County, Oregon, please vote for the Library District in November. It’s only $.39/$1,000. That’s less than a nickel more than than the legislature thought was appropriate 107 years ago.