What Sun Prairie Democracy Can Teach Hillary Clinton

If you ever need an adrenaline shot of democracy-lovin’, attend a local school board meeting where the items on the agenda have got the people riled up. Most of us sit back and effortless reap benefits from the work of martyr public servants until it changes our own lives. Then, move over and give me the mic, I’ve got something to say.

The faces of Sun Prairie students are changing. Ten years ago, 93.2% of those faces were white. Today, only 78.8% of them are. Ten years ago, 14 out of every 100 students came from families who could not afford to buy them lunch. Today, 18 of every 100 students are trying to be conspicuous about their Free & Reduced Lunch tickets. Sun Prairie students are getting poorer and more ethnically diverse with time, but realistically, the majority of them are still well-off white kids.

At the same time, elementary schools are getting crowded. A seventh elementary school opens and the School Board is charged with deciding who gets to go to which school. On March 11th, 2008 the Sun Prairie School Board made that decision. Tonight, parents whose kids are involuntarily changing schools spoke up; they think they deserved a say and want the previous decision rescinded. The room where the School Board Meeting was held in City Hall was packed; standing room only. The parents had organized and brought the whole herd to defend their young.

Some spoke with anger and accusations. Others spoke quietly, invoking the best interest of the children. Within their 3-minute time limits, all but one member of the public said the same thing: rescind the decision.

Democracy works best (and public meetings are much shorter) when everyone’s best interests are aligned. Its not until we find ourselves on the defensive that our blood boils and our hearts beat loud enough to mute the words of our opponents. Maybe this is why the minority faction can’t always hear what is really going one: the decision was made without us because it was easier to do without argument.

Democracy’s greatest gift, for which I am grateful today, is the right of each concerned party to argue their point of view.

In the end, the parents made a very compelling case. Those that reminded everyone that we were working for a higher purpose – the children of Sun Prairie – had certainly changed some minds. The School Board voted on the motion to rescind their original decision, 4-3 against. The motion failed and parents immediately got up and left. Some with resignation, wordlessly. Others shoved back hard on their chairs when standing up and stomped out vowing revenge come election day.

When we finally got to agenda item 7, the one I had come to hear, the Board requested more cost-benefit analysis before making a final decision. Two more weeks until I know my fate, held in the hands of publicly-elected officials. I feel for ya, Hillary. Just be sure to recognize the moment where the move in your best interest is to bow out gracefully.

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