I went to a public comment session tonight in Denver re updating zoning code to include tiny home villages as part of the city’s housing first strategy. Council Member at large Robin Kniech ran the meeting. She’s very impressive. Like smartest person in the room impressive.
When I attend meetings like this, it strikes me that at the local level, at least, democracy can work. When people who care show up and invest in the thing something ineffable kind of congeals from among the people gathered there. It’s messy and imperfect but ultimately it’s a pretty good expression of our shared life together.
I made a comment after the meeting to an older friend—a retired architect—that I thought it all went pretty well except there was some bile in the back. He said, “Well no one threw anything and everyone got their say, so that’s about what you want.” When people gather in good faith something can be created out of difference that functions to serve all those who are gathered.
The problem is that so many people can’t be present at an event like the one I attended tonight. Part of the reason those of us with privilege should put our shoulders behind emancipatory work for those less fortunate than us is because we want to include voices of people unlike us. Otherwise, whatever we create will be only partial.
The People really can come to know itself and become more whole at a public meeting. If life were made to be a little less hard, if work were a little easier, if transportation was a little bit nicer, more accessible, faster, if you could trust that the kids would be safe for a couple hours, if there were just a few less worries in life, more people would be able to attend meetings like these. When you’re up against it, when just taking the next step and drawing the next breath is your total focus, of course a public comment meeting is your last priority.
But we absolutely need the voice of the single mother who has hope for her children to balance out the voice of the mean old bastard with one foot in the grave who wants to find the fault in every single idea proposed within earshot. The thing is, that mean old bastard is at every meeting and the single mother is missing from too many. What we’re left with is a society where the mean old bastard is overrepresented simply because he has the leisure and the privilege that makes it possible to show up and be what he is.
So it’s on those of us with privilege who aren’t merely mean old bastards to either make it possible for the single mother to make the meeting and ensure she’s empowered to raise her voice or to show up ourselves and represent her to the best of our abilities. To not do so is to shirk our responsibility as citizens and to ignore our deepest duty to love our neighbor.