In January 2008 I started a group called "Mahoning Valley for Obama". We grew and grew and eventually had 150 people at a meeting at the Chevy Centre in Youngstown before the Ohio primary. We continued to meet throughout the spring and summer and we provided a large group of local volunteers for the Obama campaign in Mahoning County.
Fast forward to January 2009. After the election I wanted to continue the group in a new form in response to Barack Obama's call for citizens to remain involved in their communities. In fact, the new Obama administration even formed two new entities called "Organizing for America" and http://www.usaservice.org/ that are designed to harness the political and community service energy of Obama's 13 million person email list.
In response I started up "Mahoning Valley for Change". We've had three meetings so far as well as a successful community service event. http://www.vindy.com/news/2009/jan/04/acting-on-the-message-of-change/, http://www.vindy.com/news/2009/jan/20/volunteers-help-the-needy-realize-dr-king8217s/
A short term project has been to arrange a public meeting regarding our local area's economic stimulus proposal(s). We thought it would help to get city, county, state, and federal officials together to discuss this region's priorities and plans for the Obama administration's economic stimulus package in front of a hopefully large group of citizens and the press.
Well, so far, not so good. A member of our group volunteered to contact U.S. Representative Tim Ryan's office. She tried at least twice to speak with Ryan's Press Secretary Pat Lowry. No response.
So, last week I went into the Congressman's downtown Youngstown office and asked to speak with Barb Ewing, Mr. Ryan's Economic Development Coordinator. The receptionist said Ms. Ewing was on a phone call and I thanked her and left my name and phone number while explaining that our group had a meeting on March 4 and we were hoping a staff person could attend and bring us up to date on the stimulus legislation and how we might benefit locally.
Today, after three days of silence, I called Ryan's office, gave my name and asked for Barb Ewing. After about ten seconds on hold I was told she was out/couldn't come to phone. So, I explained that I had been waiting for a return call and asked what the problem was. All of the sudden the receptionist said she remembered me and that she had tried to call me but that "my phone didn't answer".
That's right, it was the lamest of the lame excuses. Not, "I'm sorry we've been so busy" or "I really do apologize for the mixup". No, it was blame the citizen. Must be my phone that doesn't work. Not to mention e-mail (she also said she e-mailed me ... ah no, another lie). I tried to hold my ground, pointing out that if I hung up and used my cell phone to call my home phone that it would surely work --- it did later, by the way. I also mentioned how we have an answering machine and caller ID and NO call had come to us from the Congressman's office. I also mentioned the 30 or more e-mails I get a day and yet, guess what, that's right, not ONE from the Congressman's office.
So ... that's why it's important for citizens to get more involved in their own government. Our representatives, and the people who work for and represent them, sometimes don't respect us. And they need to learn that respect or they need to be fired.