No, that is not a typo; it is the motto of Henry Stamper, the father of Hank Stamper in Ken Kesey’s novel “Sometimes a Great Notion.”
The notion is probably familiar even to those who have not read the book or seen the movie, because it is being played out in politics all over the country. You do not need MSNBC or Fox News to see it. Turn to cable channel 16 and watch the spectacle of intransigence on both sides at any given City Council meeting. Or pull up a video – say, of the July 15 meeting – and watch the show.
Evanston, like too much of the country, is at a stalemate.
An unsettling mixture of ethics and politics consumed much of that three-hour July 15 meeting, centering on the proposed resolution to censure City Clerk Devon Reid. (See story on page 3.)
Many residents who are frustrated by actions of Council members or City officials or both have allied themselves with the Clerk, believing they are fighting the same battle. Several speakers who ostensibly supported Clerk Reid aimed their attacks at the City Manager, the Mayor and certain other City Council members who had allegedly committed various violations and who were not censured for these actions.
The feud between the City Clerk and some other City officials is not new. We do not know what will become of the resolution to censure the City Clerk, but we do know that, regardless of the outcome of the vote, things will not be settled.
We do not know how City officials or Council members respond in private to such attacks, but we know it cannot be comfortable for them. It is customary for Council members not to respond to public comment. Council members have discussed how to limit public comment, signs and demonstrations at City meetings, and many have publicly indicated they feel they are undeserving of the viciousness they hear from residents at Council meetings and read in their emails from residents.
Each side – the residents and the City – seems to be entrenched in distrust of the other side.
One speaker, who pointed out mistakes by City officials and by residents, said, “We can do better.”
“Doing better” does not mean that residents should simply accept what the City is doing, nor does it mean the Council should agree to all residents’ demands. But it could mean that each side can do a better job at trying to accomplish its goals – the one side to carry out City business in the best interests of the residents; the other, to petition for changes they believe are needed and hold City officials accountable when necessary. And everyone can do this in a manner free of animus and personal bias.
Someone has to take the first step. Someone has to give a inch.
That first step, we believe, must come from the City/City Council side of the dais, and it should be a sincere one. Public meetings at which City officials try to justify the City’s positions and actions rather than respond to residents’ questions do not serve the public.
Painful as it may seem, City officials are just going to have to listen fully and without interruption. These are people who have put their trust in you and now feel let down. Hear them out, and let them know you listened.
But what City officials have to listen to must also change. Residents are going to have to state their objections to policy, rather than resort to personal attacks. Piecemeal vitriol does not tell the whole story anyway, and it is often misleading and incomplete. And while it may offer temporary satisfaction, it adds little to the Great Scheme of Things.
And someone on the other side has to meet that first step. If we really want the community to break out of this gridlock and again work toward becoming the Evanston we believe it can be, everyone has to put aside personal animus for a time.
What we would ask each side to remember is this. You all love this City. You have invested time and effort and passion here. You asked people for their vote. You voted for people you believed would move the City forward.
We now have a lot of threats to our peaceable City, as well as to our country and even to our planet.
For our part, we are placing our trust in the collective intelligence and resourcefulness of this community. Figure out what you can live with; attack the problems, not the people.
Give a inch. You might gain a couple of feet to help this community stand taller.