Strong Towns Week: “This blog has changed my life in profound ways and, in the process, your reaction has given voice to a movement that is slowing seeping into those cogs of government.”

The Copperhead can be intimidating.

You know, this guy up in Minnesota getting involved, and finding it discomforts the governing cliques, the sycophants serving them, and the oligarchs being served by them.

Comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable? Marohn is an engineer, but it almost sounds like journalism.

STAYING STRONG, by Charles Marohn

I wanted to share this because I know there are Strong Towns advocates out there who occasionally get similar responses in their communities: Why don’t you move? Let’s see you run for council. Why don’t you show up? These are really destructive and dysfunctional notions that are meant to intimidate and shame the receiver. We can’t let that change what we do.

We all need to understand, first and foremost, that you don’t need to attend a meeting to care. You don’t need to be involved in the system that has been set up for you in order to be involved in your place. A base assumption of the Strong Towns movement is that the city is ours. We are not relegated to secondary citizens simply because we are not following the process set forth by those in power.

One of the more deeply offensive moments of my professional life was at a meeting of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s citizen’s board where one of the outspoken board members stated that, “the world is run by those who show up.” This was said in the context of defending the actions of a wealthy, highly-connected group of prime property owners who not only could afford to take time off work and travel 150 miles to the meeting, but retain legal staff and professional experts to advocate on their behalf. Needless to say, their opposition didn’t “show up” in the way that they had — their concerns thereby invalidated with a pompous remark.

City council meetings are incredibly unfair environments for a member of the general public wanting to be heard. The layout of most council chambers is intimidating and isolating. A person asking to speak has to come up to a podium, stand there alone and face an assembled group of officials who are seated behind an intimidating table and, often, elevated above the crowd. In my city, they are on television to boot. I’ve seen grown men shake with fear when asked to address the council in this way.

This is the home field for the staff and the city council. They have the benefit of having spent a lot of time in this abnormal environment. They know how the protocols work, how to control the floor and how to direct the discussion. They have inside information that members of the public don’t have, adding to the asymmetric power structure. I will never fault someone for not subjecting themselves to that, no matter how important their cause.

The format of a council meeting creates feedback that is disjointed and unhelpful. There is little opportunity for back and forth dialogue. Complex issues must be discussed in limited timeframes. Members of the public are often given cursory slots at the beginning and the end of the agenda and frequently leave feeling as if they are being patronized or tolerated, not listened to. I don’t blame anyone for finding little value in spending their time this way.

And this:

Here is what are we called to do as Strong Towns advocates:

  1. A Strong Citizen is a leader by example, sharing the values of a Strong Town in the way they live their own life.
  2. A Strong Citizen is actively involved in their community, although not necessarily in local government.
  3. A Strong Citizen knows their immediate neighbors and works with them to resolve conflict and build a strong neighborhood.
  4. A Strong Citizen seeks connections with others outside their neighborhood as a way to gain knowledge, build understanding and strengthen the community.
  5. A Strong Citizen honors the work of past generations, respects the needs of the current generation and protects the interests of future generations.

Don’t be intimidated by haters. Keep doing what you can to build a strong town.