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No rest for the apathetic.

I have been involved in may community initiatives, processes, and committees over the last several years, and I have begun to notice something about people. I don't have any links or stats or such - this is just my viewpoint.

Any time there is something done - there are always that camp that must complain. We all know them, the folks that are never happy with any solution. They are more than happy to tell you how the government screwed up, or the government screwed the people, or the government is full of idiots. There is no project too big or too small to draw their ire.

You hear them complain about roads, about Transit, about bicycles, about development, about zoning, about environmental restrictions. Here in Portland we have had some high profile projects that people just love to hate. The Tram. The Streetcar. MAX. South Waterfront or the Pearl.

But if you ask those people "Well, did you attend any of the meetings?" the answer will invariably be "no". (Usually followed by a "but...")

Now, first let me make clear: I am by no means claiming that public process is without flaw. In fact, I know full well based on my own personal experiences that their are many flaws with the system.

It is, however, a functioning system and there are ways to be involved. From the small: writing a letter. All the way to the extreme: run for public office.

But here is the deal. I am just a regular guy with a job and a family, and I try to be involved as much as I can. Anyone can do it. It really is not that hard...

I have had people complain to me that their neighborhood associations don't accurately represent the people who live in the neighborhood. These people whine about decisions the associations make. I then ask "Well, do you go to the neighborhood association meetings?" The answer is "no".

I get people complain about transportation, things such as roads or congestion or transit. Always how this agency or that office is not doing enough or how things cost too much. And I ask, "Did you go to the town hall meetings?" ... "no" is the answer. I pose "Did you send in your statement during the public comment period?" "nope." "Did you volunteer or apply to be on any of the citizen design committees or task forces?" "nope." "Did you ever attend one of the responsible agency meetings where the votes were cast and make a statement?" "Not me..."

And often people will complain to me that government is lopsided, too many environmentalists or planners or too many transit advocates. They will claim that government is stacked against the common man. But when you ask if they ever volunteered or applied or ran for any of those spots = the answer is invariably no. At transportation seminars almost all of the attendees tend to be transit or bicycle advocates, and the car folks just never seem to show. At planning or design meetings you have people who are motivated about the environment or who want to make change get involved, while the apathetic person is not present.

These people are the same people who don't vote and then complain about who gets elected.

Here is the simple fact: the government usually goes way out of their way to involve the public. So much so that it drives the timelines into forever and the costs into the stratosphere. (I did say usually)

In addition, almost every agency has task forces, committees, and panels that citizens can be on. Agencies host seminars and subsidize classes at local colleges to help people get acquainted with things that they deal with - such as planning and transportation. They have public comment periods and public hearings.

If you are apathetic about what happens in your community you have no right to complain. And don't give me that bull about "but I pay taxes" because we all pay taxes and that is just a tired argument. The simple fact is that projects will get built. If you want to shape them and care how your tax dollars are spent, get involved.

Realistically the people who do get involved are the people who really really care. People who are willing to put their time and their life on the table. Those people will tend to be progressive.

If you don't like it, maybe I should see you in the next town hall meeting to voice your side.

Unless you are part of the process stop bitching about the product.


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