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.
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.