By Dr. Tawny Lanos
I just finished a book by Branko Milanovic, an economist for World Bank, about the imbalance of wealth in the world and how the location (by country) of your birth largely determines your distribution of wealth for your entire life, or simply, one’s social class. Although I found it strangely interesting in light of the citizen protests worldwide and even here in the states, I find it strangely applicable to recent events here in the community of OB. With all of the time on my hands of a retired educator, I find myself a student of local politics and even of neighborhood politics – the rumor mill. As a student of this discipline, I find that you only have to ask some questions and people will gladly confide in you all of the facts that you require as if you were a On-the-scene reporter for the NY Times. In other words, if you give someone a stage…they will gladly act out the scene for you. This will be important later.
The turmoil and hubbub over the relocation of the Post of the Veterans of Foreign Wars is a particularly fascinating event to me because it seems to highlight some of the principles laid out in the text I read above and parallels them into our community. Simply put, where you are born or even where you live – determines your social class. No amount of working hard or effort may truly change that and most people will toil in their social class their entire lives and even retire at the same quality of life or social class as they were born. Don’t get me wrong, America loves the dream, sells the dream and even immortalizes the dream that any person who is honest and works hard can “make it” and break out of their class and be a “made” person for life. And the dream itself is vital to Democracy, for… it is the dream that attracts the middle class to this country like drink specials attract CO-EDs to the University bars. It is the perfect marketing tool.
A student of government will tell you that Democracy (perfect Democracy) depends on a voting middle class to outweigh the much more influential and powerful upper-class. It is the check and balance that is necessary to ensure that the rich don’t just keep staying rich and our government doesn’t simply become an aristocracy or even worse…a dictatorship – both systems of government that show an imbalance of power to those who have wealth and then create a system where revolution is the only way to destabilize the system and recreate a more representative government – that represents the majority.
Seems like there is a revolution a day on the news right now. People who are clearly fed up with their situations and want change – radical change even – to bring their quality of life or standards up to where they feel they believe it should be. We’ve even watched similar unrest here in the United States where people’s slice of the dream (however fair or not you think it might be) were threatened and they’ve decided to voice their opposition to the leaders who are in place and elected by…the majority. But were these leaders truly elected by the majority? And did that majority truly represent the will of the people or just the will of the people who chose to vote that particular day?
The song doesn’t lie – “Don’t know what you got, till it’s gone…” – and people give up their rights to be represented all the time. Look at our little microcosm of OB now through the lens of the world and you can witness (in smaller scales) much of what I’m writing. I’ve watched for years now the decay of true democracy (where the full will of the people is represented) into a pseudo-democracy/aristocracy of sorts that currently exists. Lack of big issues, low public awareness and high turnover rates are all contributing factors to the low public participation in the election of our local assemblies and henceforth the decay of Democracy in our neighborhood. The majority of the people just aren’t interested. It isn’t nearly as interesting as a re-run on the television or even some humorous video on the world wide web. That is a true shame, because it really is interesting, and important decisions are being made about the community all the time – by a group who don’t truly represent the majority of OB. Of the 25,000 persons that reside in OB, only 35 voted in last year’s Planning Board election. That was down from 90 the year previous when there was a hubbub about the representative from the Newport Business district and one of the candidates was deemed – not entirely sympathetic to the will of the Mainstreet Association.
Then who are you trusting to make the decisions in OB? Well…simply put…the people who have something (no matter how small) and don’t want to lose it. Other than a few naive “boy scouts” who run and represent our neighborhoods who think, incorrectly, that they can get a slice of the American dream and move into the next class, the Triad of the Planning Board, Mainstreet Association and Town Council are dominated by a group of folks who make money in this community and don’t want that situation upset – even in the slightest.
What is going to change this situation? Nothing. This situation won’t likely change until one of the above duly appointed bourgeoisie suggests another bridge to Mission Beach or Paid Parking and puts the community in a tizzy. Since none of those issues are on the ballot though, my politico hat tells me that there won’t be much change this year.
However, I’ll lay out some simple recommendations that may encourage better representation of the people and hopefully move the community forward instead of continuing to win first prize in the armpit-of-the-council-district each year. A community of have-nots only because they chose to not be interested or that they hide behind the mantra of Never-wanting-anything. Well, look where that has gotten us in the replacement of a simple beach restroom facility for the last two years?
First, you’ve got to give them a stage. People crave attention and the spotlight and absolutely love it when others are forced to listen to them talk. Why not give these people the opportunity? This is the media’s job and you will be rewarded by stories upon stories of how candidates made themselves heroes or goats during some public question forum. Why is the election two weeks away and all we get is a candidate Q&A session imbedded into the agenda of tonight’s planning board meeting? That is a shame. I would have liked more time to research these uncontested candidates to see if I won’t vote – sense my sarcasm here.
Next, you’ve got to challenge their position on issues. When the votes are cast and a candidate elected on a platform, they need to be held accountable to it. Since other neighborhood publications are simply NOT going to cover issues in OB, that would mean that ALL of these news stories are ripe for publishing. It is clear that when you publish issues that are directly impacting OB, that you are rewarded with commentary and opinions on the issue via the bloggers.
Lastly, you’ve got to celebrate the results of every vote as if it were cast on the very establishment of the Constitution itself. I realize the limitations of an all volunteer staff. That is why I am pledging to contribute on occasion to the micro-political landscape of my community with the occasional commentary. But I simply don’t see enough commentary on the decisions made in the meetings of the Triad and I have to rely on personal connections for my information.
If my contacts are correct, there are only 3 declared candidates for the upcoming OBPB elections for the 7 seats open in the election. None of those are contested. Unless there is a popular uprising that I’m not attune with Well…..there you have it folks….you’ve made your decision. “…and the song remains the same” as Mr. Plant proffered.
And to bring my points to conclusion, the text indicated that where you are born or live determines your life. I would say that theory might be temporarily true in the case of those who are moving revolution in the Middle East right now – but when the bullhorns are gone, and the protest camps cleaned up…won’t they all celebrate the procession and anointing of their new boss to the tune of Won’t Get Fooled Again by the Who. “…meet the new boss, same as the old boss…”
Can’t change your world (or your neighborhood) if you sit at home and only read the results AFTER the election. Good luck to all of the candidates.
Dr. Tawny Lanos is a retired educator and has been a proud OBcean for over 40 years.