March 16, 2011 recognizing power in our (sometimes small) voices
[ from a. addair who is listening to Ryan Adams (Love is Hell) ]
I’ve recently read that “democracy is not merely a set system of government, something done to us or for us”, rather, “it is the way we interact and experience democratic principles” (Frances Moore Lappe). I agree and am encouraged to write a letter.
I’m fairly new in my role of adult democratic citizen and so I’m finding that I need to write a pre-letter to organize my thoughts:
I’ve been working as an elementary school crossing guard for the past few months. At first, I found it tedious, sitting at an intersection busy with cars but few pedestrians. When I say few I mean that an average of 9 people cross over a two-hour period. And its the two-hour period that I take issue with.
Please excuse the following exhaustive details, but know that they are relevant:
I started the job showing up at the aforementioned intersection from 7-8 am and then from 2:30-3:30 pm because these were the times given to me by the officer in charge. Soon after the crossing guard, posted a half block down from my post, informed me that actually the times were 7-8 am and 2-3 pm. Seeing that somewhere along the line there was a miscommunication and noticing the severe lack of students during much of the alloted time, I thought it best to ask the school for clarification. At the office I was told that the school doors open at 7:15 am with the bell ringing at 7:45 am, and school dismisses at 2:45 pm with all students gone by 3 pm, at the latest. She suggested that I be there “a bit before and after” the times stated above. This made good sense and so I proceeded arriving and departing in this fashion, confident that the job was getting done.
Once my routine was recognized by my fellow crossing guard, the supervisor was promptly notified; and I, in turn, was notified that the hours were indeed 7-8 am and 2-3 pm.
Did I understand and was I able to keep these hours?
I answered in the affirmative and felt a frothing sense of anger the rest of the day.
It took me an afternoon and part of the evening to understand why I felt so affronted but finally came to the conclusion that I deeply resented being subjected to an inefficient and chaffing bureaucratic schedule. Both for the sake of my own wasted resources and the collective’s.
Why did I have to stand on the corner (in cold rain at the worst of it) during times (most extremely 50 minutes in the afternoon) when there was no conceivable chance of a school child passing by because they are not yet released from the building (two children cross after school, the first arriving at approx. 2:50, the other at 2:55)? I resent that I my job performance is based on the letter of the guidelines rather than the comprehensive question of objective.
I understand that my mismanaged hour or so and my discomfort and frustration are minor in the grand scheme of things. But I also understand that the wide world is made up of lots of small things. And that these small things matter and form the broad attitudes, values, and infrastructures of our culture. In a globally interconnected era, our cultures affect every other organism on the planet.
This local example of frustrating bureaucracy ripples out and is representative of the way we tend to handle larger scale issues.
And so I’m thinking that probably it is my responsibility to write (a version of) this letter to the police boss.
I hate to ruffle any feathers, my comfort-loving self telling me to just quit or learn to live with it. These may be my options, but not before I at least do my job in this living democracy to say, “This doesn’t make sense to me, can we talk about it?”
Tags: bureaucracy, citizen, crossing guard, elementary school, frances moore lappe, getting a grip, government, inefficient, letter, living democracy, love is hell, painting, power, responsibility, rules, ryan adams, ugly uniform