When base news broke, local government jumped into action

By Edi Birsan on July 16, 2018

Local city government is where you can put your hand on the face of democracy.

You may want to slap them around or, for some, shake their hands, but there they are in person in front of you at a City Council meeting or at a coffee shop or supermarket line.

City government makes decisions that have an immediate effect on your life – whether it is to force you to move your electrical breaker box from a closet to a hallway (grumble-grumble, bye-bye $3 grand for me), pave your road, police a school or a park, add a stop sign or run a parade.

The national government, meanwhile, is a distant behemoth sometimes affiliated with an overblown individual personality but always remote – appearing unresponsive and beyond effective reach.

Its great power and sweep is often not felt directly or immediately. You talk to it through your representatives and try to keep the four-year vote on the top dog meaningful. But generally, the two do not directly interact in a single moment … but that was before the Net, Tweets and the instant newsflash of leaked memos.

Now the concept of process and deliberative discussion seems to have no support in Washington, and we at the local level are not only the face of democracy but maybe the last bastion of it.

With the sudden publication on a Friday afternoon of a leaked proposed Navy draft to put 47,000 immigrants in the Concord base, the nexus of the two came in crashing contrast. Immediately, emails, texts and social media exploded with contacts all through the local area – including being stopped on the street walking to the store.

While people struggled to find someone in the national government who could cast immediate light on things, there was no problem reaching the city folks. We drafted a response within hours and by Monday had a formal direct response to the origin of the suggestion, explaining that this was a terrible idea.

Hundreds of people mobilized to come to a special City Council meeting arranged on 24-hour notice, and time was put aside in the regular scheduled meeting. City officials did TV and radio interviews. We contacted people up and down the military and political chains, with the representatives in Washington being active. I even reached out to the mayor of Yuma, Ariz., another city on the hit list.

Residents’ direct involvement with local officials is the hallmark of local government, whereas with the national government, even representatives had a hard time getting access to decision makers.

The final (if there really is a final in a Washington world ruled by Tweets – or is that Twits?) change of position on the base had no real explanation, so we have no comfort that logic was applied. Thus, the error could be repeated elsewhere.

Nevertheless, sometimes all you can do is to declare victory and move on.

Email questions and comments to Mayor Birsan at EdiBirsan@gmail.com

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