After writing my previous Truth Bomb, "Salemians were excluded from police facility planning," that post got a marvelous comment about how people here put up with political crap that wouldn't be tolerated in Portland, Eugene, or Corvallis.
The commenter was Geronimo Tagatac, a really interesting guy. This is from a 2010 profile of him in the Statesman Journal.
Salem fiction writer Geronimo Tagatac draws from revelations as varied as a cubicle worker's stark humor, the flashbacks of U.S. Special Forces operations to the wisdom of immigrant Filipino farmworkers picking fruit in northern California.
For Tagatac, 69, it's crafted from as much imagination as from his experiences. In his travels, Tagatac has skirted all over the globe, from Patagonia to the dusty outback of China in Xian to the Vietnamese beaches of Hoi An.
During the Vietnam War, he was a member of the elite U.S. Special Forces. Most recently, he was a civil servant in the Oregon state government for 16 years. For awhile, he danced modern and ballet. He was a folk-singer. He was a wanderer.
Dude, you graduated from San Jose State. Me too! What I like to call the "Stanford of the South Bay" (entirely inaccurately). And you're a Ph.D. dropout. Me too!
Here's what Tagatac said in his comment.
The problem isn't, at its heart, the city council. It's the overall community that elects the city council and is willing to live with its lack of transparency and subservience to the chamber of commerce.
Yes, there's a progressive, reform-minded subculture in Salem, but it's simply not large enough or influential enough to stop what's been going on for decades.
The Corvallis, Eugene, and Portland communities would never put up with such behavior on the part of their elected representatives, the violations of the public meetings law, the conflicts of interest, etc.
Making closed-door deals with a bank to cut down trees would be political suicide in those communities.
The reason that the Salem city council does these things is that they know that the community won't hold them accountable. And there are likely to be few or no whistleblowers to embarrass them, other than yourself and a handful of others.
Tagatac said what I've been thinking, better than I could have myself, the mark of a good writer. Speaking for the small cadre of serious citizen activists here in Salem, often it feels like you're leading a charge across the battlefield where, when you look back, hardly anybody else is following.
There are good reasons for the passivity of Salem's citizenry.
Willamette University is no U. of O. or Oregon State. Students there rarely get involved in shaking things up in Salem. We don't have a critical mass of environmental, alternative transportation, social justice, or any other sort of activists.
People here strike me as unduly polite.
They either are afraid of making waves, or they are wary of the waves crashing back upon them via political retribution. (The current crop of City officials look nice on the outside, but are notoriously mean-spirited on the inside.)
Thus I think Tagatac hit the bullseye in his comment.
Salem has gotten the sort of city government that it deserves: unethical, dismissive of the broad public interest, controlled by the Chamber of Commerce and this town's version of the "1%."
Our next-to-useless daily newspaper gets away with froth-filled stories and toothless investigative reporting because no one other than me and a few others is publicly calling them out on their journalistic malpractice.
Not much will change in Salem until more people have the guts to speak out and act up.
I read Joseph de Maistre came up with the statement about getting the governments we deserve. I read also he meant it somewhat sarcastically even if not it's very true in my way of thinking. Is the 2-party system a cause I think so. Is anyone else tired of the two party system? When will politicians do what's good for the people, instead of the party? Hope you might consider me as your Write In Candidate for Oregon Governor. I'm not affiliated with a party and I don't accept donations.
Royce Cantrell for Oregon Governor
The "Write In" Candidate for You!
Twitter: Royce Cantrell @roycecantrell14
Email: [email protected]
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Posted by: Royce Cantrell | October 12, 2014 at 02:55 PM
I do not accept this "blame the victim" perspective. Sure, people in Salem tend to be more comfortable with their heads in the sand but they are not entirely lacking in intelligence or the ability to know when they are being had.
Democracies depend on a knowledgeable citizenry. Since Gannett (allegedly) drove out the local Community Press in the 80's (Gannett settled the anti-trust lawsuit out of court), Salemnians have been left without any significant exposure to or discussion of public issues. The result is a local (cough, cough) government that realizes that it can do pretty much as it pleases.
Such may no longer be the case. As freedom breeds calls for restraint, so does autocracy breed a desire for participation. The City Council may now be undergoing some changes that will result in louder voices that will penetrate the media curtain.
We also have The Salem Weekly, Brian Hines, and others in the community who are now forcefully speaking out.
Some issues (like traffic congestion) will become so problematic that the public will demand to be involved.
Posted by: Kurt | October 14, 2014 at 01:24 AM