The Power of Showing Up
take a chance – the Chippewa Valley is ready to listen
You know what my favorite movies are? My favorite movies are the ones where a ragtag group of misfits are assembled – by design or by chance – to overcome seemingly insurmountable odds. Movies where just a handful of people topple massive foes through hard work, luck, and insane bravery.
Like, when a group of nerds bands together to end their school’s nerd oppression. (Nerds Fight Back). Or like, when a group of kids in weekend detention end up having to save the whole city from an invasion of alien ninja warriors (Space Detention). Or like, when a veteran lacrosse player assembles the perfect lacrosse squad from old has-beens and unpredictable rookies to defeat the Soviet Union’s steroid-guzzling militaristic lacrosse champions (Lacrosse Eyed). Or like, when a small group of vampire hunters from the year 2213 (each with a special skill) is sent back in time to track down Dracula, only to realize that Dracula is an alien ninja warrior (Space Detention II).
If 10 people got together and lobbied to build a giant boardwalk made of trampolines extending from one end of the city to the other, I kinda think it could happen.
I have a spiral-bound notebook full of these ideas, but I’m betting you get the picture. There’s just something inspiring and downright awesome about a small group of people coming together with a common purpose to do what’s right and good and maybe – just maybe – change the course of history. And if it happens to involve intergalactic space kung fu, all the better.
Well, let me tell you, that same dynamic can be seen right here in the Chippewa Valley every day. Small groups of citizens end up provoking noticeable changes all the time. But instead of an elite team of mutant space-shark hunters (Shark Side of the Moon), we’ve got five or six people who really think a bridge should be saved or a pavilion should be built.
Not as exciting as the movies, but much longer lasting. And do these small groups of people prevail because of their hard work, luck, and insane bravery?
Um ... not really.
In general, they prevail because they’re the only ones who bothered to show up. We’re not talking about a well-organized group of passionate human beings, we’re talking about a couple of senior citizens, an obsessed business owner, and some kid who wants to run for City Council next year – random, disconnected people who literally just came to a meeting.
I’m not even talking about “the people who clock in and do the hard work that needs to be done.” I’m talking about people who simply show up and say, “I want option A. Gotta go, now.” The Chippewa Valley seems to have a number of public systems in place just begging for someone – anyone – to simply show up and say what they want. Yet very few people do it.
If 10 people got together and lobbied to build a giant boardwalk made of trampolines extending from one end of the city to the other, I kinda think it could happen. I mean, you’d need to have the proper federal trampoline funds lined up, and an endorsement from Wisconsin’s Crazy-Ass Walkway Consortium won’t hurt, but you get the idea.
In reality, we’ve got numerous channels for pubic input that are rarely used to their full capacity, if at all. Most public input sessions are woefully unattended, even ones concerning singular issues on which most people have opinions. City officials are left to speak with five or six people. We’ve got loan programs, matching grants, fund allocations, and more. I’m not saying the area is flush with money, but there a number of programs local citizens and business owners routinely ignore.
So a few people show up, officials listen to them, and it’s their opinions and ideas to be written down and considered. This is fantastic. And really kind of scary. It’s great that we live in a place were public opinion is valued and utilized in so many different ways. But holy crap – who are these people bothering to show up? And more importantly, are they cool?
We tend to look down on people who always show up to lots of meetings, unafraid to voice their opinions. It’s gotten to a point where being active in your community comes with a certain stigma, and that stigma often overshadows one’s ideas. But if you’re worried about what your neighbors are saying to the City Council, maybe it’s time you showed up and listened. Think about what you want to see happen around here and go tell people about it. You might be surprised by the results.
People are far more comfortable complaining about what other people are doing and saying than they are actually doing something. Hey, I do it all the time. I’m probably dealing with the guilt attached to being apathetic, taking it out on those who take action. I’m no expert, but I think less complaining and more showing up would benefit all of us.
So, to sum up, the next time the City Council is holding a public input session on dealing with the alien ninja warrior invasion, just go to the damn meeting and state your opinion. You could end up a hero.