Published: Sep 09, 2009 09:52 AM
Modified: Sep 09, 2009 09:47 AM
How many of you have attended a City Council meeting? I recently attended one and it was interesting in many respects, particularly because I write about national and state politics for my blog.
This meeting drew a standing-room-only crowd to the council chambers. I was there because the members of the council were going to vote on a resolution that would endorse and support "the rights of same-sex couples to share fully and equally in the rights, responsibilities and commitments of civil marriage." Many of my blog's national readers were looking for a first-hand account, so I was there as a citizen journalist.
When I arrived at 6:30 (proceedings start at 7 p.m.), there was already a large crowd outside the chambers. I wondered what the demographics would be of those attending the meeting; after all, we were talking about an agenda packed with the minutiae of municipal business), not just a couple of high-profile issues.
Many of the people in attendance that evening were children -- part of the Durham Striders Club -- there to receive recognition from Mayor Bell. Another slice of people there were Bull City senior citizens who must regularly attend council meetings as they were well-versed in the protocol of signing up to speak. I picked up a card to speak on agenda item No. 37, though I was not sure whether any public testimony would be taken.
Mayor Bell walked in -- I said hello to my former neighbor (as in way back when I was 8, a lifetime ago). I mused to myself that this is the oddity of local politics: there's always a chance you actually know the people running the government.
I checked my videocam as people started streaming in. I casually noticed that the seat next to me remained open. I didn't realize why until the meeting was about to start and Lavonia Allison of the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People sidled by me and sat down. "Hmmm. Had I taken her usual seat?" I wondered briefly, then I went back to Tweeting to update readers in real-time as the council started taking their chairs.
After several recognitions and awards for civic accomplishments it was on to the main items of the night. First was the city's recycling vendor contract. It was an excruciating hour of debate among council members that shed little light on matters to most in the room, many who were visibly perplexed. But running a city is like making sausage. People perked up when it was time for the resolution on marriage equality and I sent my last Twitter message and fired up the camera.
The council was ready to move the item and vote without public comment (it wasn't required). All but one of those who signed up to speak was in favor of the equality resolution, in any case. One woman in my row stood up, local activist Victoria Peterson, to object -- "Excuse me, I'd like to speak." Mayor Bell firmly but politely told her "I'm running the meeting." And then they cast the unanimous vote -- and there was a standing ovation. I Tweeted it and the news spread around the country.
As I recorded the goings-on, I suddenly noticed the racial divide in the room -- those who were standing and who remained seated. I didn't see any people of color standing or clapping. I jetted home to load up my video to YouTube and spread the news; you can see it: tinyurl.com/m3fj9v
The reaction I saw makes it clear there is work to be done to build bridges in the community regarding LGBT equality. That, however, is for another day -- I will be the keynote speaker at NC Pride on September 26. The parade weaves through Old West Durham to Duke's East Campus, ends with the keynote and other guests. It will be a good opportunity to celebrate the victories -- and address this sad divide in understanding. I hope you'll stop by.
Pam Spaulding is the creator of the political blog Pam's House Blend. Write to her at email@example.com
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