The Solution to the ‘Same Ten People Problem’

What happens when, as is sometimes true in Whitewater, the same several people keep showing up on municipal committees? That’s a question city officials considered at a July 21st strategic planning meeting.

The goal, of course, isn’t to discourage ten people; the goal should be to attract twenty, thirty, etc.

One proposal would be simply to reduce the number of committees. (Common Council Meeting 07/21/2015, https://vimeo.com/134219394 beginning @ 1:04:56.)

That would reduce the duplication of attendees, of course, but it would also mean that there would be fewer opportunities for anyone to participate. That kind of approach would only trade one problem for a worse one.

Our better solution is to expand the range of our perimeter fence, and to make that fence more permeable. A wider fence includes more people; a more permeable fence is more welcoming to newcomers.

In a post from yesterday I wrote about how cultures have perimeter fences, figurative boundaries marking the divide between what they consider acceptable and what they don’t, between those of the community and those outside of it.

Whitewater’s maintained a perimeter fence that is too circumscribed, and by design too impermeable.  It’s more than generational change that limits participation. 

We’ve a fence that’s too close and too high. 

There’s still too much thought about finding the ‘right’ people for some committees, for safe choices, and like-minded outlooks.

That close and high fence will crumble. Even now, however, one sees that what passes for all Whitewater is often only a part of it. Rather than acknowledge that we are a diverse and multicultural city, there’s still an insistence that part of Whitewater is all of it.

In this way, the old perimeter fence has a limited circumference, and so actually circumscribes only part of the town. When some talk about Whitewater, they’re only talking about the approximately 7,600 or so non-students in town, rather than the actual population. That actual population includes an additional 7,000 or so resident students.

Talking about Whitewater in this way describes half the town in the name of all the town. Even within each of these larger populations, there are differences of age, gender, political party, religious views, ethnicity, and countless other important differences.

When government looks out and worries over participation, government’s answer isn’t exclusively administrative, it’s also cultural. It’s not enough for a few leaders to talk to each other, from across different institutions, and thereafter proclaim dialogue among all the city’s thousands of residents. Fifty or so political, school district, and university officials do not this city make.

Leadership discussions are only a prelude, if they are even that, to genuine discourse and positive interaction among residents of different vocations, backgrounds, etc.

The not-so-well-concealed secret of Whitewater is that the organizational leadership class in town is only a small part of the whole community. Those really animated this way are only a few hundred, I’d guess. The city’s much larger than that.

As the city is larger than the city’s leadership class, so America is larger than the city.

To our great advantage, to the benefit of three-hundred twenty-one million here and billions abroad, America by law and tradition is a diverse and (still) welcoming place.

Now, Whitewater can expand her perimeter fence sooner or later, but expansion is inevitable.

That’s not an administrative change; it’s a cultural one. Those who try to forestall this (for their own pre-eminent place in a partial community, or by simple confusion about the future) cannot alter the social change, however slow, that moves through the city.

I’m an optimist about Whitewater, because the expansive horizons of many people matter vastly more than the narrow horizons of a few. We can and should be open to those many, however different their views and backgrounds.

Tomorrow: On a Clear Day, One Can See Far Ahead (and Far Back)