Thursday, March 29, 2012

I like the word "citizens" in the headline in the Potrero View for April--"Citizens Demand More Time to Evaluate SFMTA's Meter Proposal."

The San Francisco Municipal Transit Authority wants to put parking meters in places where they haven't been before. Some people are trying to stop that, people here called citizens, not, for example, activists.

Vaclav Havel, the writer who ultimately led Czechoslovakia and then the Czech Republic as the Iron Curtain unraveled, spent some scary and some boring times being against the oppressive government.

He wrote pieces aimed at people on the other side of the Iron Curtain protesting the use of the word "dissidents" to describe people tangling with the government in the Warsaw Pact dictatorships.

He said people who weren't there wrote like being a dissident was a sort of profession or noble hobby that you decided on for theoretical reasons and then worked on doing.

He said that in an oppressed land anyone can be in the against-the-government position without a considered process like thinking, "Now I will be a dissident."

When Havel was in jail, he met a man who never would have been jailed in any faintly fair situation who was there because he cared about making good beer. He knew about making good beer.

When the government, which messed with everything, told him to do stuff that was dumb in terms of making good beer, he wouldn't.

Hence, he was in jail. Havel felt the use of the word dissident didn't include that kind of person or knowledge of how often that kind of process happened. Having any personal integrity about anything was potentially a source of getting in trouble.

I therefore appreciate these people being low to no risk participants in public decision making being called citizens. That's what they are. Those for whom it is easy should do it with integrity and class to honor those for whom it is difficult.

Citizens are people being awake in their situation and reacting with their best wisdom.