Generally there’s not much going on in Wallowa County on a Tuesday night. A couple of 6th-8th grade boys basketball games, and not much else. Until now, the weather has been mild and amenable to getting out and around. Of course, it’s dark out there, and a little chilly. Perhaps that explains why civic engagement and attendance at city, county, and other meetings seems to be at a low point in overall attendance.
Admittedly, listening to a powerpoint-driven explanation of the installation of handicapped curb ramps is not the equivalent of watching Frozen II. Or maybe even Frozen I on the Disney channel, since a pilgrimage to see Frozen II requires a long drive to La Grande or beyond and an actual chance of getting frozen.
But when 1.5 million dollars is about to get spread around the community it would seem we’d all sit up and take notice. Instead, the Chieftain was the only member of the public who showed up for the ODOT presentation on the installation of handicapped curb ramps, pretty much four on every corner in Enterprise along North and River Streets. They are the spots that may become the traffic-bottlenecked bane of our existence this summer. We may all be frozen in unaccustomed downtown summer traffic, although to its credit, ODOT has worked hard to get us used to waiting in long lines for a pilot car in the past year while they repaved the highway between Enterprise and Joseph.
More to the point, civic engagement is a pillar of our democracy. Protesters in Hong Kong are literally fighting for the right to be able to vote, and to attend meetings where they actually have a say in whether handicapped curb ramps get installed. (Quick quiz: What and where is Hong Kong? a. A city in Japan made famous by a very large gorilla; b. A former British Crown Colony on islands off the southern coast of China, c. A place in Taiwan that makes a lot of rubbery dog toys. Answer at the end of this editorial.)
“I really thought there would be a lot of people here,” said Enterprise Mayor Stacey Karvoski. “Especially the merchants, since this construction is going to get in the way of pedestrians and the places people usually walk. I guess they’ll all wait until construction starts in the summer to complain.”
Perhaps we have all fallen victim to the same malady that increasingly besets teenage girls: boredom and it’s related disengagement. Unfortunately, teenage girls are more subject to boredom than ever before., according to a Washington State University study which found that boredom among 8th grade girls (and 10th grade boys) has increased steadily since 2010. The cause is uncertain, but may be linked to digital media use, sensation-seeking, and depression, according to researcher Elizabeth Weybright.
Most of us have something to be depressed about these days, especially regarding politics and civic engagement. Perhaps that explains it.
Maybe our city councils and county commission should get with the 21st century and do their business virtually, over gotomeeting.com or other conferencing service so we don’t have to go to an actual meeting.
That seems to edge toward excessive digital media use, though, another possible harbinger of boredom, and consequent disengagement.
Perhaps this kind of human engagement will help us all be more human.
Still, there seems to be something decidedly unrural about internet-based civic engagement. The real work of democracy here is done face to face, eye-to-eye, handshake to handshake. See you at the next city council meeting, or the next school board meeting, or the county commission. Just to help us all with civic engagement, on evenings when there’s nothing to watch on Netflix, or you want to watch some real drama play out among people you know, starting next week, the Chieftain will include a calendar of upcoming civic meetings on its editorial pages. And, oh yes, the answer to the quiz is b.