July 17, 2004

...This Town..., Part One

You're nobody 'til everybody in this town
Knows you're poison, Got your Number,
Knows it must be avoided...
You're nobody 'til everybody in this town
Thinks you're a bastard...
Elvis Costello, ...This Town....

No, this blog is not about what you might think it is; however, it may be about it. It could be about anything. However, it's about my Thursday night in Arnold, MO.

It all started with a phone call from a colleague - some smoke-free legislation which we had helped pass was in danger of being repealed. There was going to be a "packed house" of people who would protest, and we were needed. Since the only major activity I had planned that Thursday night was my laundry, it was an easy choice, and so I prepared, studied up, and put on my game face.

Later that evening, after arriving in Arnold, meeting with the alderman who sponsored the bill (and got some preliminary strategic information), and conferring amongst ourselves, we went in, prepared for conflict. Of course, we weren't going to be nasty or insulting about it - we were just going to be calm, give the facts, and let the chips fall where they may.

However, always expect the unexpected - at the beginning of "business from the floor" (where citizens get to provide input), a gentleman approached the microphone. He admitted that he was in favor of the ban, but that he didn't appreciate the fact that restaurants were not advised beforehand (despite several notices in the local paper). He also then asked why I - stating my name, occupation, and residency - was there (as well as other people) when this was passed, but why business owners weren't invited. 
For some reason, this time...it was personal. Normally (despite some people's opinion), I'm not seeking self-promotion; I'm more than content being a background guy. However, I was singled out first...but I needed to bide my time. See what would happen. 
Testimony progressed, and it was a continual back-and-forth: testimony about "rights to smoke" vs. scientific data about the health costs of secondhand smoke. People not voting on this vs. public health matters (like asbestos) not voted on. Parents of asthmatic children vs. older people wanting their right to smoke publicly. (Of course, the pro-smoking individuals couldn't consider putting their cigarettes out before dining).

After about an hour of give-and-take, I rose to give my testimony. Although I had prepared a dry, clinical presentation about health benefits, I decided to improvise. I thanked the council for their boldness, and reminded them that the public was behind this legislation. Businesses wouldn't suffer - in fact, businesses tend to thrive and improve. Finally, citing my employer's mission, I informed them that this was a key first step towards safe, healthy, drug-free communities. (E-mail me privately and I'll explain & debate)

Then, after some more testimony, including a gentleman who had researched all sorts of information against smokefree policies (and sounding like he had watched too many episodes of The X-Files) provided volumes of information for the city council. And then...the real fun began.

(Stay tuned, kids - it gets better)

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