You can know anything. It's all there. You just have to find it.

-Neil Gaiman


Friday, December 19, 2008

Democracy in action

I was invited to a hearing yesterday at the Capitol, so I left work at noon and drove over. The last time I'd been at the Capitol was when I ran the Twin Cities Marathon. The Capitol is the finish line and it is quite a sight to behold; especially after struggling for 26 miles and suddenly the huge dome of the Cathedral of Saint Paul comes into view and you realize you just have to stagger another 400 yards down the hill to the Capitol lawn. Every time I've run it I've never been so happy to see a church and bastion of democracy in my life.

But this time I actually went in. Then I wandered around, gaping at all the marble and general awesome grandeur of the place. I finally find the hearing room, G-15. No cell phones allowed, so I turn mine off. I walk in, the room is circular and the members of the board have a long curved table in the middle, and the chairs are in rings moving toward the walls. I lurk against the wall for a while; there's a lot of people already here, and then I recognize Ben, the lawyer and author. I wave dorkily and walk over. Ben's wearing a suit and I feel kind of schlubby. He grabs some of the booklets; they shrunk them down to save money but they still look good. He introduces me to the director of the coalition, Mike, and other people who work at other places and organizations.

Eventually, Senator Marty and other representatives come in and every sits down. Mike starts off; it is interesting that each person speaking first must greet the members of legislature and then state their name and what they do. There is a specific protocol to follow. Everything is being taped and someone is taking photos. I sit in my chair and wish I would have fixed my hair and makeup in the bathroom before the hearing, but then figure, oh well, no one is looking at me. Whoopy doo dah.

Then Ben presents the book and does the reading, and the images of the book are shown like a power point presentation. Some people laugh at some of the drawings depicting a clueless mayor, and I take this as a compliment. Even Senator Marty cracks a smile.

After Ben finishes he introduces me. D'oh! I stand up and smile and give a little bow and everyone claps. Yay for me.

Then different people start giving testimonies. Everyone from a Saint Paul police officer, to a priest from Catholic Charities, to Emergency Aid directors, to workers in shelters, to a woman who had been homeless herself. Her testimony was incredibly powerful. Basically, these group were here to show the legislature how important funding was for their programs and with the way the economy has gone and the mortgage crisis and foreclosures, these agencies need more help than ever. And at a time when the state of Minnesota is forecasting a budget deficit of over $400 million. As you can deduce, there's no easy way out, and no easy answers.

As I left I felt something that is easy to ignore with all the distractions that arise during the course of daily life.


I felt grateful I had a home to go back to that night, and I wasn't asking myself how I was going to survive in -10 degree weather. Because that night there would be thousands of men, women, and children trying to answer that question.

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