On Again Off Again Civics
At last week’s Santa Cruz City Council meeting hundreds of locals showed up to express their concern about the purchase of an armored rescue vehicle known as the BearCat. As someone who frequently attends these meetings, the showing was awe inspiring. Yet what was truly moving was the level of discourse that took place, both positive and negative. While the dialogue surrounding the BearCat was laughably one-sided (against), and sometimes plain disrespectful (people literally telling the Council and Police to “F@#k off”), it was the spillover of the BearCat crowd into another impassioned debate that really got me, the debate over the “stay away” ordinance.
For those of you who don’t know, the “stay away”ordinance would ban repeat offenders from public parks and beaches for various periods of time, depending on the number of infractions they have received. The ordinance is controversial because this includes infractions like sleeping/camping, and being in these spaces after hours, which many homeless people are cited for despite there really not being anywhere else for them to go.
Supporters are adamant that the intention of the ordinance is to crack down on anti-social behavior, drug use and littering, not to punish crimes of necessity like sleeping.
Opponents, acknowledge that this type of behavior is unacceptable, but believe that the way the ordinance is written effectively makes it a crime to be homeless.
Both arguments have merit, and from watching the debate take place, I genuinely believe in the intentions of both sides. I was also inspired by the level and sincerity of dialogue that took place. The ordinance did pass 6-1. It also seems seems a future compromise of some sort is imminent.
However, of the hundreds of people who showed up to rally against the BearCat, less than half stuck around for the “stay away” discussion. And while I can admit that the BearCat is symbolic of a larger, national discussion around police militarization, the “stay away” ordinance is much more impactful to our community and our local civil rights. The BearCat, if purchased, will hardly go noticed, while the “stay away” ordinance will likely affect hundreds, perhaps even thousands of people over the next year. So why did all of these caring and concerned citizens disappear?
To me this touches on a larger problem: it’s easy to get upset about symbolic issues, like the purchase of an armored vehicle, but when faced with something that’s not as black and white or as sharable across social media, people tune out.
I am genuinely curious about why this is. If you were one of the supposed activists who showed up to protest the BearCat, but left before the “stay away” debate began than I would love your help in understanding this problem. Why did you exert so much energy about that issue in particular, but not about the other, when they largely represent the same type of issue, that is the role of the state in dictating the limits on individual rights, whether that be the right to peacefully protest or the right to sleep.
Furthermore, why did you choose to become engaged in just that one issue, or go to just that one meeting? Why not go to City Council more often? If 1,000 people can stop the police and fire departments from taking free money to buy what is essentially an armored truck with some holes drilled in it, than what’s stopping 1,000 people from addressing our local housing problems, or solving our water crisis? The answer is nothing, only the will to want to solve those problems, of which there is little beyond a small group of committed people.
So here is my challenge to you, the average person, the BearCat protester, the Mom or Dad who laments the state of our local parks and beaches: Stay Engaged. Your primary issue may have had it’s day, but someone else’s may be just around the corner, and we as a community have been afforded a tremendous freedom of self-determination. This means that we really can dictate what our values are and see them through to implementation if we try.
It’s not as if this is really difficult. Every week I personally examine a multitude of different publications, pick out the items I think people will care about most, and then send them out to as many people as possible for voting and feedback. Chances are, if you are reading this blog right now that you have seen me do this. I don’t just do it for myself – I want people to use these tools to help promote greater civic engagement in general. That’s why they are completely free and open to everyone. Even if you don’t use our site for whatever reason, use something else. The Credomobile app was used to collect over 1,000 signatures petitioning the city to give the BearCat back – that’s great! I wish I had 1,000 votes on the over 50 water proposals that we crowdsourced for the city, but we don’t. So I am still pondering…what will make you stay engaged?