Last night, I ended up giving testimony in Ballwin for smoke free legislation as part of my job. My experiences in Arnold (read here and here) had, I thought, prepared me for whatever would happen. Not even a musty office, and six hours straight (!) of work-related meetings would deter me. I was ready to roll.
Of course, the first rule of advocacy is leave your expectations at the door.
The meeting began with the Mayor announcing that they were changing the format, and allowing for public comment before discussing the legislation. Luckily, several people in favor of smokefree legislation were there...but the opponents were there, and they quickly drew blood.
At times, it got nasty - as one person left, someone shouted, "Don't start your car in the parking lot." People openly grumbled, defied the mayor's "no applause" policy, and then began asserting that their rights were being violated. I always find it a little more than ironic when asserting their rights somehow means trampling on the rights of their opposition. Of course, I gave testimony - normally, I get a little nervous before speaking in public, but can shake it off. However, last night seemed different, and I was extremely nervous. I managed to get my facts out, and then sat down.
Of course, the night was not without its more humorous aspects - at one point, an older gentleman carrying a briefcase approached the council. He was a retired pharmacist, and proposed that since the Library of Congress did research into secondhand smoke, and had to truthfully testify before their congressman, that they were right in that secondhand smoke was not harmful. (Trust me, I am not making this up). In addition, a young lady who worked at a very popular restaurant on Ballwin brought all sorts of kids' drawings, proving once again that family friendly = tobacco friendly.
The interesting point of the night was that a gentleman from Arnold - the one who presented a ton of reports to the Arnold City Council - gave testimony (and documents) to the Ballwin City Council. Amazingly, for an ordinance that does not go into effect until November 1st, Arnold is already a vast economic wasteland. This gentleman also, after the meeting, attempted to attack my resources, even after I calmly (but firmly) debunked his information. The city council chose to revisit the discussion in their August meeting; three aldermen were ready to go, three others had reservations, and that's all right - it just provides more preparation time.
Quite frankly, it always surprises me that there is so much venom in the pro-smoking movement, and that it comes out so broadly. Granted, it is funded by an industry that doesn't want to lose profits...but it's also a little disconcerting. Disagreement is one thing, but character attacks are simply unwarranted. (Plus, admittedly, recent events have me gunshy about taking public stances of any kind).
What's the lesson, I always ask myself. Maybe it's learning how to develop a thicker skin; maybe it's realizing that more people need to speak up...or maybe there is no lesson. Just things that happen.
At the very least, thanks to our staff meeting raffle, I now have free dinner for two at Cracker Barrel. Please e-mail if interested.