Last week, I attended a public meeting to vote for how the community would use new park land. There were several proposals, ranging from athletic fields to an organic farm.
Two things really struck me about this meeting. First, the overwhelming support for new athletic fields. This is a park in Northern Virginia, where there are any number of athletic fields available for recreational use, not to mention the really nice high schools with immaculate fields and stadiums. Why in the world would we need any more athletic fields? There’s a soccer field in the park down the street from me that I have yet to see a game played on it.
I understand the need for suburbanites to feed their hunger for organized sports, but changing farm land into athletic fields, houses, and a huge parking lot just doesn’t make sense to me. Why not leave it as undeveloped land, where kids could play in the grass and nothing was specifically designated. Maybe that’s too unstructured?
The second thing that bothered me, was the anger in the room. It was a public comment meeting, yet when one man asked how he could comment if he had to leave before the presentation, the room yelled ‘NO!’ and the leader said ‘This is not a public comment meeting,’ while standing in front of a PowerPoint that said ‘Public Comment Meeting.’ There was so much anger at that man for wanting instruction, and so much bureaucracy (four speakers to present the five year old process. Yes, five years to decide that they should ask the public what to do with the land.).
It made me wonder if I’m too isolated from the actual political process. When I think about activism and my sphere of action, I think of public hearing where people can be heard, and I think of activist groups protesting outside of buildings. But this room was filled with people interested in their community and fiercely protecting that process.
I loved being able to cast a vote for how I thought the park should be used (an organic farm center), and I loved that we made it a point to go and participate. But that room of people really turned me off from further participating, yet at the same time really making it clear that I need to participate more. Bottom line: I think it’s easy to sit back and watch as processes unfold, complain about their outcome, and not really engage more than that. Especially when it comes to making environmental choices. It’s easier to complain that the people around me don’t understand how important the environment is than to go to something like that and try to take part in the process.
Have you been involved in similar processes? What was your experience?