I bet we all have a few phrases or quotes that we carry around in our heads, and sometimes they pop out at the right moment to punctuate a thought, idea or observation. Some may be famous and frequently used, others obscure or one-off comments someone shared with you. This past week, two of these phrases popped into my head as I once again took my place in the back of the room during the monthly CCSD public meeting.
The outrage from a subset of the community continued on from the last session. This time the outraged came equipped with home-made signs that carried the message “Cambrians are tapped out!!!” with a graphic of a faucet dripping chocolate gold coins. Maybe they were doubloons. Probably not bitcoin though – after all, this is Cambria! It struck me as a bit funny, since a different group of Cambrians used a similar tap graphic as their logo last year as they rallied in support of the very Board and measures that today’s protesters are decrying. (*Note to self – design a new, dynamic graphic that can be licensed to anyone on any side of any issue, donate part of the proceeds to GROAN – Group Rage Over Anything New. **Additional note to self – form GROAN, incorporate, sell memberships, build striking new headquarters (but not in Cambria) with no water fountains, and make it super-exclusive by allowing membership to only people who agree with the platform and can demonstrate the ability to get spun up on a test issue in 30 seconds or less. ***Additional note on note to self on note to self – great Franchise opportunity for GROAN, using the soon-to be branded and proprietary “Pick a Protest” process. (Available in Cambria for Cambrians, but must be surrounded by a big wall that Morro Bay will be forced to pay for.) ***** Take all additional profits, become a greedy big time developer.)
No matter – the message was clear. The escalating cost of service was reaching an unsustainable level for some in the community. This was the first meeting after CCSD customers received their water and sewer bills which reflected the recently enacted rate increase – an increase that was not insignificant. It also coincided with the ongoing discussion about the proposed raise for the CCSD’s General Manager, which is also not insignificant.
Several community members strode to the podium during the public-comment section of the meeting. Almost all of them spoke forcefully against the proposed raise and were quite vocal in their distain for the General Manager and the Board. There were some very good observations, and some very personal and distasteful accusations that did nothing to further the discussion and in my view added some tarnish to the speakers. One community member had the courage to come forward and voice his support for the Board and the Staff, and in a poignant and respectful way he acknowledged the positions of some in the crowd but reminded us that, in America, we all have the right to build our futures through our own efforts and realize our dreams of building a home for ourselves and our families: The American Dream. He was later berated for expressing that opinion.
The meeting went on, and every update or staff report was followed by muttering and small outbursts from the crowd. It became increasingly clear to me that nothing would go by without comment, and no comment would be good or supportive. Everything that was shared by the General Manager, every response to every issue raised was decried as “Lies!! Spin!!! Bullspit!!!! ” I mean, it got really stupid after a while, to the point that the GM could have just said “the sky is blue” and he would be deemed a liar and heretic. Crazy stuff indeed. Every comment from a Board member, legal counsel, District Engineer – didn’t matter. It was embarrassing.
Particularly bad was the behavior of two individuals, both long-time community activists who have spent lifetimes fighting for causes they believe are important. They both seem to do a lot of homework and advocate passionately for their positions. One is a real bulldog on fiscal issues and comes fully armed with a long list of what I guess are questions, but come out as accusations. This community member starts off fine, but within a very short time winds up screaming at the Board President and ends with demands for answers at a pitch and volume that I swear knocks birds out of the sky.
The second activist claims the high ground of environmental stewardship, but also carries the spear against growth. This community member strikes me as the more dangerous of the two, because the arguments are filled with “facts” that are often just not facts at all, but are presented so aggressively that they gain the air of truth through the force of personality. I’m reminded of the playbook followed by Donald Trump – talk big, talk loud, be outraged, pick a target, blame everyone else, claim unfair treatment, blame the victim. I was particularly unnerved by the last line shouted at the Board about an ongoing lawsuit supported by the activist. “…this lawsuit – it’s your own fault; you caused it by your actions” Sounded a lot like the things you hear from abusers – “…Look at what you made me do!!!”
Anyway, about those quotes.
A lifetime ago I made my way in the Arts, working as a musician and composer. I got to spend time with a lot of different artists – real pros who you might not know by name or sight, but you would definitely know by sound. I was at a party at the home of dear friends who own a Production House back in NYC. Every year they would host a gathering at their home in Golden’s Bridge. A stage would be set up, drums, keys, amps and mics laid out, and the floor opened to anyone who wanted to get up and jam. Oh, the jams! I was chatting with Bob, who had been the keyboard player for a very successful group that enjoyed more than a few top-ten pop hits in the 70’s and 80’s; I still hear a few of them in commercials, and of course on the radio. Bob was and is a very mellow, peaceful and introspective person who happened to play a lot of instruments and had an almost freakish vocal range. I had contracted him to sing on a project I was producing, and he ended up being the de facto vocal arranger on a few tracks. We were catching up on life, and he told me he had pretty much retired from performing and had dedicated his life to teaching music at the high school level. When I asked him why, he hit me with the phrase that still makes me chuckle yet explains it perfectly.
“I’ve done the rock star thing for a long time. But I realized that it was time to put away the leather fanny pack and move on.” I laughed out loud, then realized it was a perfect summary of where he saw his life’s work heading.
The second quote that sticks with me comes from Charles DeGaulle who famously said “The graveyards are full of indispensable men.” Wow.
The ongoing cry for change is everywhere. People are really angry about pretty much everything. The anger is currently pointed at the leadership of the CCSD, and the vitriol grows uglier with each passing day. The freeing power of Social Media makes us all instant opinion makers who can quickly build up small armies of supporters and opponents. Things are said with no filters. Or facts. They are smushed together with opinions sprinkled with lies. Rinse and repeat. A turnout of about 40 people is trumpeted as “HUGE!!!!” Vocal, maybe, but huge? Out of a population of over 6,000? Less than 1%? What about the other 99%? Is that equation only reserved for certain occasions? Based on recent voter response to Board elections and protest opportunities, there are clearly way more than 40 people who hold similar views but even with that, the majority of Cambrians have been supportive of the Board and the GM. The percentages may be shifting as more people feel the bite of higher rates, or are captured by the surge of anti-whoever is in charge today. I certainly don’t think those voices should be ignored or disregarded because they have not reached majority. And I truly do not believe the Board or Staff holds that view. I do believe it is time for change, but the change I think would be helpful is a bit different.
In my back-of-the room opinion, I think it is time for two of the long-time activists to put away the leather fanny packs and allow different, less offensive but just as passionate people to come forward and take the reins. I really believe that these two leaders have moved from positive to negative forces. I believe they have lost their way and have moved into that place where the only thing that matters is the battle, and not the cause. I believe they are keeping good people, smart people and committed people away from the process through their behaviors. I believe it is time for them to be celebrated, thanked for their valuable and passionate advocacy, and elevated to the position of respected advisors, the keepers of the scrolls. But put down the cudgels and give others the chance to find progress through cooperation, respectful disagreement, and hopefully real solutions. The squeaky wheel gets the grease; the worn-out wheel needs to be replaced. Read the message, don’t shoot the messenger.
“The graveyards are full of indispensable men.” And women. Give it a rest. You fought the good fight.