I had a thought while at work the other day. My work painting houses is great for thoughts, as after many years of painting and fix-it-up working, I know exactly what to do, and proceed through an orderly sequence of steps. My body moves, I keep busy, I get the job done, and my mind is free to wander. This is the great perk of being a self-employed, sole proprietor, even though the self-employment taxes are high, and it never seems possible to get ahead as a small-time guy. Life is like a conveyer belt, it inevitably keeps coming at me. I move through and with it, having surrendered to my Fate. At the end of the day, I still have enough time to participate in civil society, and by being my own boss, if I need some time off, I take it. All of the above I have characterized before as being “independently poor”, but it only works here in the Bay Area and in Sonoma because my landlord has kept my rent to a manageable level.
So, the thought. People’s impressions of city council members are largely their own projections. If the time is not taken to know what, where, and why, then your call on them is projection. This is not really stunning, because all perception can be seen as a type of projection, as consciousness wraps around life and tries to make sense of it. But, like socio-linguist Deborah Tannen said in the book, You Just Don’t Understand, there is nothing more frustrating than not being heard for what you mean to say. While the public may project, and get them wrong, council member also have to take steps to be cognizant to share their plans and ideas with constituents.
Pragmatically, for a council member to be really known by 10,000 people, is hard. For a county supervisor, the distance and separation from over 100,000 people gets even greater. State and federal levels, they are unknowably separated. The more separated, the more smoke and mirrors, bromides and bullshit that can be passed off onto a sea of disconnected constituents. One thing we can see, and project about, is how much their votes appear to be run by big money versus the people’s interests. The more poltiicians supporting big money on bills and votes, the more they appear out of touch.
Council members and politicians exist as sort of condensation points or lightning rods for people’s hopes and expectations. And when people’s hopes and expectations are not realized, they impute their own sensibilities onto the council members, or city manager for that matter, and then judge them by their own criteria.
Thus, we hear bitter accusations of local politicians being biased, of not hewing to the facts, when in reality, all that has happened is that these people are not you, and they’re not perceptually on your team. These people have freedom and volition to be themselves, and if they are smart, they will do just that. If you can’t be yourself, who can you be? Like Tannen’s message again, communication is critical to bridge the gaps in how we all perceive the same thing.
Views can divide, or they can be a vehicle to dig into nuance and greater understanding. Personal relations are the metaphorical atomic level. Local politics is molecular, state and fed start to get to organism levels of complexity, but they are all fractals of the same pattern.
To an extent, people do share values, and so there comes a sense of being on the same team about things like housing or social justice, but while in large brush strokes there are commonalities, people have the distinct tendency to get all in a huff about fine differences of similar flavors. Too salty, too plain, spicy, crispy, sour, sweet, challenging, interesting, too cold, too hot, etc. But as housing goes on and on as a serious problem, the city as a whole seems to be stuck in a place of indecisiveness and inaction, for years now. Now we are going to get a study? Shoot, the roof has been leaking, and needing some wet tar for years now. Put wet tar on day one and fix it better after the storm.
Projecting? Maybe some are not cut out to be decisive political repairmen. Everyone has to find their own place in life, and maybe Sonoma is content to elect indecisive repairmen because why? Fill in the blank, ___________.
Now in the throes of Trump doing way more than tweeting, there is a widespread angst unfolding among the liberal team. How to align and organize the push back? We’re not going to take this lying down, are we? How can I get some satisfaction locally? How can I get a local Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez? That was good, give me another one. Could one or more please step up here and be that breath of fresh air my projections long for? I have a new column in the works titled Bubble Trouble, born out of all those work-a-day thoughts I keep having.
So why don’t council members just lay out their positon profile so everyone can know where they stand? Well, they are scared to be too transparent because of the Brown Act. And why is that a problem? Well, because sharing views in public starts to get close to pre-arranging votes and doing the people’s business outside of a publicly transparent context. People who are running don’t have that problem, they can say just what they would do, and people can then elect them hoping for those same things, or not
So, when I am over here at work, with all kinds of hopes and dreams for equitable housing and social justice for Sonoma and Sonoma Valley, the land of apparent self-satisfied plenty, and I wonder, why the hell aren’t these politicians and electeds doing more? Why aren’t they being bolder? If I was there, I would. Well, I am projecting what life must be like on their conveyer belts, and I don’t know all the reasons, laws, mitigating factors, and constraints. I imagine some are on the same team as me, but in the end, I really don’t know. I imagine others are not on my team. If I could just know them, then I would know where their thoughts and plans really were.
The fact of the matter is that it is easy to sit back and throw bombs at people, to judge them. They may be after all, quite thoughtful, and proceeding in their own ways to similar goals as me. If I don’t put in the time to get to know council members, and to develop a sense of their profile, and their goals, and then I pop off, that is projecting. My bad.
Like a restaurant breakfast, everybody likes it a particular way, eggs over medium, bacon crispy, sourdough toast hot with butter, home fries party crisp. Political positions are the same, we all see housing as a need, but the way we go about it ends up like a breakfast we either like or not. Are council members, settled in their ways, really going to deliberate and become convinced that over easy is not their preferred style of eggs?
There does end up being social pressure for popular demands and positions. With enough demand, politicians will be smart to take note and represent, rather than just stay on their own comfortable channels. Like all relationships and communication, a certain dynamism, growth and presence is called for, or things can get stale.
My projection, and the conflation of my values as common sense for the coming council election: the undercurrent of Trump angst is going to play a huge and hidden role for the pack of contestants that are generally liberal. Any who appeal to business and process as usual, will lose, as bubbles are starting to pop, and locals want see their values represented strongly, in the face of those values being under all-out attack nationally.
I’m projecting that people who are seeing a wrecking ball taken to environmentalism, civil rights, unions, women’s rights, to basic humanitarianism, are going to yearn for and want to see local control that pushes back on all these things, to give the local populace a sense of control, and of solidarity. Just what is really going on is the subject of much analysis these days, but one thing is for certain, the national Trump volatility factor is one big wild card of a void to fill with all kinds of projection.