Democracy is both messy and beautiful

Listen: Democracy Part 1
Listen: Democracy Part 2

For more years than I care to count I have worked nights. Those are typically the best shifts to work in the restaurant/bar business. And I have built my entire life around that fact. I am certainly not complaining. I never stand in a line at the grocery store, I don’t think I’ve made reservations at a restaurant (outside of vacations) in decades, and the hours at most banks and the Post Office suit me just fine. But there are some things that remain just out of reach. One of which is participation in my homeowner’s association. It’s not that I don’t want to, but I can’t really take a busy night off work once a month just to attend. And trust me, the HOA isn’t going to change the rules just to accommodate me. Years ago, in a different living/working situation, with a different HOA, I could, and I did, once.

I sat next to a little old lady – in what can only be described as a babushka- at my very first meeting. I nodded at her while perching my paper plate with its warehouse store pastry on my knee. It was a juggling act to keep the instant coffee (complete with powdered creamer) in its Styrofoam cup, and the pastry both heading towards my mouth, instead of heading towards the floor.

“How are you?” I asked the little old lady as I juggled.

She looked at me sideways and clutched the giant bag on her lap closer. As if mugging someone in a room full of people with only one exit, a signup sheet, and a security camera, might actually be an issue.

Not to be dissuaded I looked to my right at a man in a non-ironic trucker’s hat featuring what was probably an actual trucking company’s logo on it, one he quite possibly had, or still did, work for. 

“Hi,” I said.

He crossed his arms, put his lunch pail on his lap, and looked straight forward.

Luckily, the President of the Board called the meeting to order. I was sure my discomfiture was at an end.

Five minutes later, I was not so sure. Babushka began yelling at the president about halfway through his opening remarks. Her shouts didn’t make sense so much, other than the picture she painted with various insults and accusations was that she didn’t like the president very much. What followed was a lot of gaveling and repeated requests for the interruptions to stop.

At which point she removed a cowbell (yes, a cowbell) from her gigantic purse and began ringing it loudly. Bang-bang went the gavel, ring-ring went the bell. This went on for almost 10 minutes until the man in the trucker’s hat pulled an airhorn out of his lunch pail and blasted it twice, ringing out my hearing and sending my coffee to the floor.

What followed was some standing, some shouting, some finger pointing, a threat to sue and a threat to censure. What didn’t follow was any discernible business being done. The president tried to regain order, but order was not on the table. Those two people held the entire meeting hostage for, well, the entire meeting.

Gallup released a study last summer suggesting that employee engagement was up to a record 38%, meaning that over a third of working people were actively engaged in their company’s business (Gallup has been tracking this since 2000). That was a new high. The same study reported that 47% were not actively engaged and a whopping 13% were actively disengaged, including but not limited to “spreading unhappiness” and or “sabotaging” their very livelihood. And those statistics come from a situation on which those people need success to survive. One wonders what the statistics for something more oblique, like politics, might be?

Sometime later, that president was replaced by another president who did away with the meetings and conducted all HOA business in private. Apparently, it seemed democracy had better results when the democratic process was removed. Things did get done for a while. However, about a year later that new president was removed for gross financial mismanagement, including enclosing common area property as their own, and utilizing a slush fund to finance private high end vacations.

Leaving me with these thoughts:

-Man, I love working nights.

-Democracy is messy and slow, but it still beats the hell out of the alternative.

-More cowbell is not always better

-The freedom of speech guarantees your right to speak. It doesn’t guarantee that anyone has to listen.

-There are some people amongst us who don’t want to provide solutions. Worse than that, they don’t want anyone else too either.

-If you expect people to be civil without rules to enforce that civility, then you really don’t know people at all.