Democracy Dies in Darkness

I’ve borrowed the banner line from the Washington Post.  I’m sure they won’t mind.  I love it for its sense of drama, for the alliteration, and for the elegant simplicity of the message.  It's a bit like a three-word haiku.

Although I consider my flock to be an example par excellence of democracy in action, this Yarn is not about my sheep.  It’s more by way of explanation for being mostly AWOL on social media and the farm journals for the last couple of months.

Back in March, I let myself get drawn in to a conflict about one of our local community associations.  Several of my good friends had felt the chilling impact of a management team who were running the association for their own benefit.  Several others were concerned that our community newspaper had been shut down, apparently because of an unflattering report about our local government Council (who provide funding to the Association).

At first reluctantly, and later with a distinct relish, I entered the fray.  I was happy to be doing something to help and protect democracy at its most basic level—community—as a way of offsetting my frustration with the cavalier way democracy is being treated by the current government in the US.  (As an aside, although I would not want to return to the US to live, I really don’t want the US I believe in to disappear.  As a result, I’ve become a compulsive reader of the Washington Post online, using time I used to devote to Instagram.)

Working with three of my friends, we managed to change the course of the association, and to reinstate the newspaper.  In that one sentence is hidden hundreds of hours of consultation, discussion, planning, and just plain hard work.  Phew! we said to ourselves.  Take a breath, we’re doing ok.

Then, as Treasurer, I started digging into the finances.  Yikes.  The next month was spent getting access to bank accounts, cancelling credit cards, and devising a strategy to pull us back from the brink of insolvency.  The key elements of the strategy were:  spend no money, re-establish the available sources of income, and sell off equipment and supplies that were surplus to requirements.

I’d never organised a “clearing sale” before, though I had sold items in others’ sales.  Jeez.  You would not believe how many hours we spent sorting, cataloguing, determining prices that were, hopefully, “just right” as auction reserves and market table prices.  The clearing sale went beautifully, and we made more than enough to pull us out of the financial hole.

Phew! we said to ourselves.  Take a deep breath.  Just the funding proposal for next year to get through Council, now—we’re in good shape.  And then, our newspaper printed a letter to the editor and a short editorial that seriously ticked off the Council. 

I need to say here that in reinstating the newspaper, we were conscious that we needed a way to protect it from undue influence—even from ourselves as officers of the supporting Association, as we are reliant on the goodwill of the Council for funding support for the other entities we manage.  A tricky potential conflict of interest.

To that end, we established an independent Advisory Board for the paper, right from the start of our tenure.  We removed ourselves from any oversight about the content of the newspaper.  The Advisory Board was given the task of establishing a Code of Conduct for the paper and also serving as a conduit for information—and complaints—between the paper and community.

However, the local Council was so incensed they have openly argued they should not fund the Association because of what the paper published.  Needless to say, the officers of the Association consider such an action to be unethical, at best.  At worst, it is a blatant attempt to gag or shut down the newspaper.  We are determined not to let either thing happen.

Next week, we have made an opportunity to present our case for funding directly to the elected Councillors (we’ve been dealing principally with Council administrative officers to this point).   My usual buoyant optimism about the way the world should work is struggling to rise above the behaviour we’ve seen in this process, so I’m not at all sure we will prevail in our argument.

However, I am completely sure we will be able to keep the newspaper alive.  We have enough in the bank to run the Association until the end of December, when our lease with Council expires.  If there is no funding forthcoming, and no willingness on the part of Council to renew the lease, we will move the paper to another building and continue publishing it.  We believe it will be self-supporting by that time.

I truly had no idea when I started this intervention back in March that it would mirror the same issues playing out at a national level in (arguably) the most powerful country in the world.  Standing up for what is right, and for the light that illuminates dark corners in our political world, is hard, often tedious, occasionally terrifying, work.  I’m so proud to be a tiny part of it.  This is how we protect democracy.  At this level, by standing up for the truth and ensuring it sees the light of day.