My Spasm of Activism
My Spasm of Activism on Lincoln Place
I am a member of the Lincoln Civic Block Association that back in November held elections to fill seven positions for officers. The election was a bit of a mess. Despite numerous candidates wishing to run, a rule in the by-laws prevented almost all of them from doing so. The rule states that to run for office one had to have attended four “official” meetings in the last year. For some reason summer meetings did not count. Even though they were the best attended meetings, devoted to holding summer events, they were not “official.” So at the November elections there was one candidate for president and one candidate for treasurer. They were elected, and to fill the other five positions there was a request for volunteers. Many people volunteered and my understanding was there would be an election for them next month on Thursday, December 13. Many people shared my understanding but not the president-elect, Ken Marable nor the old board of directors made up of current office holders most of whom were not running for office again.
I was especially eager to get a new set of officers working because Marable had revealed that there was a terrible lack of financial documentation. LCBA owns a building occupied by renters, it has a bank account, it must file a tax return as a business and it has to pay property taxes. As a business it should have a budget and a record showing whether it has achieved that budget. As far as I understand, there little or no documentation for these items. It seemed to me that a special committee should be appointed, and at least two members of the LCBA had the skills to look into the finances and were willing to do so.
So having heard nothing about it, I sent a note to Marable at the beginning of the week saying, “We are having a meeting on the 13th, right?” The answer was no, that we were done having meetings for 2018. I also heard from someone who had been attending board meetings that Marable had begun to appoint people to the various empty positions. If the elections in November seemed a failure of democracy, making appointments to elective positions seemed to me to be making matters worse. Not letting the membership know that this was happening even worse still. Uncontested elections by controlling who can run, failure to hold elections, no public announcement about appointments – that is not democracy. In fact, it is just the opposite. Plus this was happening in a situation in which, at the least, there had been negligence concerning financial record keeping.
Why do some situations call on one to do something. I really don't know, but in this situation, I decided to act. I put together a petition and took it to the person on Lincoln Place whom I admire the most – Jimmy Burton, aged 90, a man who has seen and done it all. The petition read, “We the undersigned call on Ken Marable... to call a meeting for … December 20th.... We believe it is important to have such a meeting to address issues related to the election of officers to fill vacancies... to consider revising the by-laws... and to [put] the organization's finances on a sound footing.” Jimmy read the petition and said something like, “Yeah, it's the same old shit,” but he signed and got everyone in his family to sign as well. Carrying around a petition is something I like to do. It can mean being invited into people's homes and talking at length. It is all the more enjoyable if the response is good. In the course of four days I got forty-four signatures. My goal had been forty. Only two people said no, one because she never signs petitions and the other because she said she did not know enough.
Not wanting to seem like a one-man band, I enlisted two members of the LCBA to deliver the petition to Marable. They had both signed the petition, they wanted to fill vacant positions, and they both had offered to work on the finances. Perfect, I thought. I thought wrong. One let me know right before he was supposed to deliver that petition that he felt “uncomfortable,” and he wanted to know why I had asked him. I told him he had agreed to do it, that he should just go ahead and do it. He did; late Sunday evening the two gentlemen met with Marable, gave him the petition, and talked for a long time. One of them made no report back and the other simply reported that Marable had agreed to call a meeting. For an extended meeting this did not seem a full account, but I thought we got what we wanted, a meeting to start dealing with the three issues – elections, by-laws, and finances.
I went back to the petition signers and ultimately 22 of them told me they would come to the meeting on the 20th. I then sent out a notice to all the members of the LCBA for whom I had an email address and thus invited another 60 people. I heard back from five that they would be coming.
However, just as I thought things were going well, I heard back from the man who told me Ken would call a meeting that he would not call a meeting. This was not quite the full story and the other petition deliverer was maintaining complete silence – no response to emails, phone calls or a knock on his door. In response to what seemed an unaccountable reversal, I asked Marable to have a meeting and invited any petitioners to join me as a delegation. Three agreed to do so including the redoubtable Jimmy Burton, though not the two petition deliverers. We were to meet Marable at 8pm on Wednesday night, the 19th, the day before the proposed meeting. At 7:50 Marable canceled the meeting because he was held up by Christmas shopping, but he offered to meet at Dunkin Donuts at 9am the next day, the same place he had met the petition deliverers.
I wrote Marable an email telling what I thought was wrong with the LCBA – not democratic, in a financial mess, not open to participation, and I told the petition signers what had happened. The two petition deliverers both wrote letters of protest to me. The one who had said nothing now said that I was putting words in his mouth. I wondered why he didn't put his own words in his mouth. He said he had never heard Marable say he would call a meeting. Well, why did he not tell me that because he knew his colleague had said just that? He said there was a danger I would cause a rupture in the organization. The other petition deliverer reminded me of his previous “discomfort” and said I had not used the right words and had missed the “spirit” of what he had told me. These two complaints had me wondering what had actually happened at the long meeting these two guys had had with Marable. I have the feeling I will never know.
If my allies had turned hostile, my meeting with Marable was totally friendly. He came on time. He told me he had not called off the meeting, but the board had at a meeting Tuesday night. He complimented me on gathering names on the petition and was glad to know a sizable group wanted to be involved. He said he was sympathetic about dealing with the issues raised, but that he had a more extended calendar in mind. What I understood from what he said was he wished to make temporary appointments to get things going. He suggested I might want to be Corresponding Secretary. He did want to deal with financial issues, though perhaps not as I had suggested. He would be happy to look at the by-laws, maybe through a committee appointed for that purpose. He did suggest he thought the four-meeting rule served a good purpose. We had a friendly disagreement about that and a few other issues. He seemed interested in the LCBA engaging in activities it had not in the past – maybe creating a list of good service people such as electricians, plumbers and contractors. This was an idea suggested to me by Norman Bethea. Maybe the LCBA should restore its non-profit status that had been allowed to slip away in 2010. Maybe various fund raising activities could be held for building repairs and charitable purposes. So we came to an agreement. I agreed to call off the meeting; he agreed to address the issues with the larger idea that the LCBA would proceed with a new spirit. He told me if I took the Corresponding Secretary position, I would be on probation. I told him he would be on probation also. So our hopes are for a new era that should emerge between now and March.
My spasm of outsider activism and protest is over. I mostly enjoyed it. I discovered things about myself and my neighbors that made me feel the world is complicated but that my understanding of it is better, that I am stronger, and that in trying to change a tiny part of the world I have a better idea of what will actually happen. I will keep my predictions to myself and perhaps write more another day. After all, this story has just begun.
– John DeWind