Wednesday, February 03, 2010

The Day I Took On City Hall

(Photo of Flint City Hall from Google Earth)

I was a bit of a nerd growing up in the city of Flint, Michigan in the late 60s and 70s. It’s not that I was the kind of nerd that wore glasses with thick ass lens that were held together with bent paper clips and scotch tape. And, I wasn't one of those nerds who had all of his writing pens neatly arranged in his pocket protector, but I was a nerd nonetheless. On Monday nights, when most kids my age would be listening to people like Wild Willie on WTAC, I would be tuned in to listening to Flint City Council meetings that aired live on WFDF. (And for you trivia buffs -- The council proceedings lead-in show on WFDF was the syndicated "Joe Pyne Show") Did I understand anything that I heard that was taking place at City Hall? Hell no, but I listened anyway.

Eventually my interest in City Council got a point where I had to see a City Council meeting for myself. I couldn't tell you what was discussed at that first meeting that I attended, but I got to see my government at work, along with the added attraction of watching the media cover the event. WFDF’s Les Root was always there covering the meetings and if there was something big going on – the news cameras from Channel 12 and Channel 5 were there to film it. (Yeah, film – this was long before video tape and live camera shots.)

The one part of the meetings that I enjoyed would be when the Mayor would open the floor to the citizens to address the council. It was the only time during the meeting that seemed real to me – there was none of that structured “rules of order” – it was a chance to people vent their views in front of their elected officials. Occasionally someone said something that would piss off someone on the council, but most of the time the people who came up to the microphone had positive things to say – unlike the night that I spoke before the council..

I was in 10th grade at Flint Northern and I saw a police car that had a bumper sticker on it that read: “You don’t like the police, the next time you’re in trouble call a hippie”. There was a couple of reasons why I got angry when I saw that bumper sticker on a Flint police car – first, the bumper sticker singled out a group of people unfairly and secondly, I didn’t think that the bumper of a taxpayer-funded police car should have a bumper sticker on it promoting anything. So, along with a couple of friends there for support, I nervously spoke my peace before the Flint City Council. There was not one comment pro or con from any member of the Council, but I quickly discovered that my comments didn’t fall of deaf ears.

You can imagine the surprise on my face the next day when I read the Flint Journal and they printed a pretty lengthy summary of my comments before the Flint City Council. The Flint Journal reporting back then not only included my name, but my address as well. Everybody I knew in school saw the article and for a day or so I was a mini-celebrity for speaking my mind.

I quickly discovered that other people read the article in the Flint Journal, too – because I also got a couple of letters in the mail. The first letter that I received was in support of what I said, but not the second letter. About two pages in length – the second letter was unsigned and hate-filled with the writer somehow figuring out that I was a “nigger lover on welfare” just from the comments that I made before the Council. And, if that wasn’t enough – the writer let me know that if I didn't like this country that I should move to Canada. As funny as I thought that unsigned letter to be, I also kept in mind that this person also knew where I lived.

Nothing was ever done about the bumper sticker, and maybe it was a coincidence, but it wasn’t too long after that that the Fraternal Order of Police (or some other group like that) had billboards put up all over town showing police in a positive light. Did my little speech accomplish anything? Probably not, but at least I had my say and I discovered first hand that you might not be able to take on city hall – but you can let them know how you feel – even when you’re just a nerdy kid in 10th grade.

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