ethel’s words

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Examples of “Leader and Follower” mentality, a barrier to self-governance in Utah, are easy to find, even in partially-liberated Salt Lake City. Utah will continue in its peculiar, non-democratic, super-republican Republican way, but Salt Lake City should be a center where humans, dogs, and birds (et al) should breathe free.

Political liberty requires more than voting on volunteer candidates; active citizen participation in governance is essential. A first need for practicing participation is simple to understand: the basic arrangement of meeting rooms. Consider meetings in the Salt Lake City and County Building. Sometimes, rarely, gatherings are held in somewhat modest rooms, with attendees seated around a table. That leads to an actual meeting--attendees seeing each other, hearing each other, getting acquainted with each other--and–with the Chairperson. Communication flows with limited guidance by the Chair.

Meetings held in one of the almost-cavernous rooms, with “leaders” (no matter whether they are called “chairs”) at tables or desks at front, and attendees seated in rows like school children, or like an audience -- it is not a participatory meeting. The attendees do not see each other, cannot therefore, anticipate proposals, and cannot adjust their own presentation to avoid boring repetition. They offer their views or suggestions to “the leaders” not to the other attendees. In the stately, cherished City and County Building, we feel a profound respect, but feel left out. Is there a justified caution that attendees would pay attention to each other, to the exclusion of presentations and responses of officials? Would results be diluted?

Few overlook the fact that, despite hearings, decisions are usually already made, but democracy-seekers know the need for perseverance in the face of near-hopelessness. If there is a vote, it is likely to prove a sham, with the “Leaders” doing what they wish, dropping even a pretense of obligation to the public.

Decade after decade, administration after administration--alike--activists must speak to “the Leaders” (who are elevated like royalty) with their backs to the ones who matter most--their fellow citizens. This arrangement suggests there is a single channel in a single direction, for information to have any value. Oftentimes, it seems that officials are merely tolerating recitations by private citizens, with a disinterest in examining any ideas not coming from Power.

Ethel C. Hale