Sometimes No Context is Needed

There are often times when you read comments made by people and without context they may look bad, but they seem less terrible when “in context”. That’s the famous argument celebrities and politicians use, right? “That comment was out of context.” “You didn’t read the comment in its entirety.” Whether that’s a legitimate excuse or not, that’s the one we get. Then, we get to debate about whether or not the context was worthy of the comment. It’s a crazy cycle; one that does its job of division.

In my city, comments from a councilman went viral. Comments like “…if you go to a sketchy nightclub known for these types of attacks with inadequate security, you bring unreliable friends with you and something happens, don’t be surprised.” And that seemed to be his defense for his other comments like “…use common sense and avoid the best you can if you want to avoid sexual assault. I assume that you wouldn’t go hiking in an area littered with grizzly bears, would you be surprised if you were attacked?” On social media after this story made it to our local forums, he defended himself by saying “…someone asked my opinion about something so I answered it truthfully. I could have lied just to make everyone happy but I’m not that type of person. I’ll be honest even if it hurts me.”

So was this commentary out of context or an honest statement about what he truly believes? Is he just ignorant of what those type of statements could mean for people who have experienced their own assaults, some who still suffer in silence because “it was their fault”? Or does he mean it and truly believe victims should be the ones to not put themselves in public, rather than maybe saying “okay, no matter where you are and what you are wearing, it’s never the rapists fault. Unless you happen to be in your own home and they break in. Or you’re at someplace where rape doesn’t happen. Because, there are ‘rape-free zones’ that are always obeyed.” But, if they broke in and someone was wearing just a t-shirt and that’s provocative, maybe that was their fault too? It’s obviously not the rapists fault. If it were, then maybe there would be harsher penalties for those who commit these devastating crimes.

So, was it out of context? I mean, potentially. I don’t know the guy. I don’t follow him on Facebook to know. But, I mean, is there ever a good context for saying things like that? I’ve been pretty pissed about something when talking to someone and I don’t recall ever comparing their victimhood about something to the plight of a rape victim. But I mean, I suppose you could claim ignorance about the implications with those statements. Again, who knows. Maybe they never had to watch someone suffer through the aftermath of an assault to take it as seriously as they should. Was he baited into the comments by someone else who just got under his skin? I’ve seen people annoy my husband, never heard him ever say something like that to prove a point.

Was it ignorance? He kept repeating the emphasis of how people should be taught in schools about sexual harassment and the like. Then, people can learn. I remember being in high school, where I graduated 18 years ago. I definitely remember learning about what sexual harassment was and what my rights were. I don’t really remember there being a section about how not to rape, but I sort of assume a decent human being would already know that lesson… though arguably any decent human being would just know sexual harassment is bad.

Or, was it just that this was how he personally believes? Again, I don’t know this person. But based on his interactions on this topic, it seems that he does believe this and stands by his opinions. I honestly admire people who stand by their convictions. Even if I find their convictions to be disgusting and disturbing and not one that I would want representing our city. If he truly believes this misguided notion that there are just some cases where women had it coming, then that’s his belief and who are we to tell him what to believe?

He’s not my city councilman. I’ve only engaged minimally with my city councilman and I found him to be a decent man that cares about his constituents. He fixed the problem I had as soon as he could and I couldn’t be happier. This councilor in question insists he will be re-elected anyways despite this, defiant to anyone who tries to help educate him on the errors of this thinking. How this type of thinking resonates with women, which is why many assaults even decades later go unreported. Because after something like this happens, they blame themselves when they shouldn’t. But now, they have an elected official that believes it. Whether out of context or not, whether out of belief or not, this belief system is why we are still behind on the times. Why rape is still something that people sweep under the rugs, as a shame that a woman brought upon herself and her family. Why rapists can walk free because “why should this few minutes of his life destroy his future”, disregarding the fact that those few minutes already destroyed another life. Any notion of assault being the fault of the victim isn’t one that I would ever support, no matter the context.

My (Mis?)Adventures at a Neighborhood Meeting

I’ve written a few blogs about my issues with my neighborhood. I did end up getting the attention of the city councilman, who actually cares about doing the right thing. He listened. He was responsive and not sure how he missed my email. He immediately took a look at the street and determined there was an issue with parking. While I simply wanted the curve to be a “No Parking” zone because fire trucks couldn’t make it through the bend the way it was, it turns out there was a bigger issue.

Out of the people who attended the meeting, 90% of them were residents of the apartments, 7% were city officials, and then only 2 homeowners on the street: myself and my husband. The ones that they blamed for the horrible situation they are in now: they can’t park all along both sides of a curved street. I was prepared. Public safety was a major concern, which should trump any convenience that they felt they were entitled to. It does suck that good people have to suffer because some people want to be inconsiderate. I felt like offering up a suggestion of permit parking in the apartment parking lot would be a great idea.

Was I pissed that my property was not just damaged once but 4 times in the 4 years I had lived there up until that point? Absolutely. But there was a bigger issue. There were ambulances that had to park in my driveway because they couldn’t park close enough to the apartments. That’s time that could matter in life and death situations. What if a house catches fire and the fire truck can’t make it around the bend to save people? That should be a concern. Not “but it’s too far to walk”, despite the fact that the people who complained at the meeting either a) didn’t have a car or b) already parked where the “No Parking” spaces end. They should be happy the fire trucks and ambulances can better reach them. That their public transportation can get to them easier.

But no. I’m an evil, horrible human being that is targeting the apartment people because I hate poor people. Because I have an in with the government because obviously I’m rich since I’m a homeowner. First of all, I was a single, teen mom who worked long hours to make ends meet and still failed and needed public assistance. I know what it’s like to be poor and I never forget sacrificing my own meals so my son never starved. Second of all, if I were rich I would be living on the other side of the school where the houses are bigger and have better lawns. I didn’t know that my complaint would get “No Parking” signs along half the street on both sides. The thing is… it wasn’t just me.

Sure, my complaint may have started the snowball effect but it was them who turned it into a snowman. The fire department said that they had issues and wanted the “No Parking” signs. But still, it was my fault. Somehow a nobody like me can apparently influence an entire city government. I can’t. If I could, my blog would be a lot bigger and I’d be much more famous. And rich. And living on the other side of the school.

The meeting itself was a mess. They were yelling over each other. They pointed in my direction, saying “just because some flower pots got destroyed” as if that mattered. It didn’t. It was the catalyst; not the cause. The government officials there explained the case and I understood. I didn’t like that I can’t have guests parked outside of my house but it was a logical choice from the city engineer standpoint. As the councilor said, “It may not have been the popular choice, but it was the right choice.” I agree with the signs even more today than I did before. Plus, they should be happy now that they have have more room to sprawl out their lawn chairs and grills in the street. It really is a win/win.

We explained that we wanted a safer neighborhood for everyone to enjoy. Some understood. Others stormed out of the meeting feeling like they were ignored. Again, those were the people that were unaffected by this. They felt as though they were entitled to park in the street and didn’t like it when our councilor told them that they aren’t. That the street isn’t a parking lot, it’s a public street that the city dictates what can and cannot happen. He made sense. He listened. He tried to explain the point repeatedly of how the signs were really fixing a mistake of the past. He was kind to them, only to have them disrespect him and the very kind head of the DPW.

I admit that I’m a misanthrope, but my intentions were good. I didn’t ask for parking to be banned outside of my house. I suggested that there should be no parking around the curb and that people blocking the sidewalk to the school should be dealt with. I didn’t know that the other city departments complained about the issue. When I complained, he did what he had to do and he found out there were a lot of complaints and concerns. He was just the only person who cared enough to fix it.

They are planning to re-address this at a meeting in August. What do I think will happen then? I think they will make things worse for themselves. I predict that they think the street will become a one-way street and it will fix the problem, not acknowledging the fact that the fire department said they wanted that side to be “No Parking”. They will get permits for their cars, but then they have to worry about the legal repercussions of that. That’s assuming anything will change, which it probably won’t. As much as this inconveniences me, it’s the right call. I’m okay with the sacrifice for the greater good of the neighborhood. There are a lot of elderly people on this street and having access to emergency vehicles should be the top priority, not what’s convenient.

I don’t want to go in August, so I can have the evil stares and people actually attack me as if I’m the cause of their problems. But it’s all about making a change when you feel one is needed to make things better. And I can go to sleep very comfortably knowing that I did just that. My conscience is clear. I saw an issue, I took the steps to resolve the issue, and the issue was resolved. That really should have been the end of it. And that is the end of my experience with participating in the local government.

The Local Government and You

Growing up in school, we were told the biggest fairy tale of our lives: that the government works for the people. We are taught that the government cares about its citizens, making bills to protect us and listen to us. If they don’t, you go out and vote and make a difference. As an adult, you get hit with the crushing reality that the government doesn’t work for us: they work for whatever will get them the most money and re-elected. Yes, on a much grander scale this accurately describes the federal government but there is still the misconception at the local level that us citizens actually have a voice. Spoiler: we don’t. And the thing about voting? The citizens need to educate themselves and have actual choices to make the changes that are necessary. We don’t. The only politician that I follow in Chicopee that seems to genuinely be concerned with its citizens doesn’t even get a second glance from voters.

When you become a homeowner, you realize how terrible your local government can be. For instance, my mortgage went up as it seems my property taxes went up. What did I get in return for these taxes? Are my teachers getting anything that they are asking for so that they can better serve my children? Nope. In fact, they are still trying to negotiate terms of a contract that ended a year ago (Last I saw anyways, I could be wrong in which case feel free to correct me). Also in fact? They are shuffling around teachers/administration in a manner that may negatively impact the education of my children. They were even discussing getting rid of the Pre-AP program at my son’s high school, a move that actually upset my child. That tax money didn’t go to our schools.

Well, at least we kept our free trash pickup right? Except we really didn’t. We were given a trash barrel that fits 2 trash bags in it and then we have to pay $5-$10 for extra bags if we need to. I live in a house with 2 children and my recycling is so full that by the bi-weekly pickup, I have so much recycling accumulated that I can’t do anything with and it keeps building up. I’m certainly not the only family in the city with this issue. Does that matter? Nope. So where did our money go? Well, a conspiracy theorist may point out that the Mayor’s street is getting redone again…

My husband and I are reasonable people. We follow the rules. We donate more than our fair share of supplies to our elementary school because we can afford to and other parents may not be so lucky. We do it because it helps the teachers and by helping our teachers, we are giving our children the best chance to succeed. We don’t even complain about much to the city. Our only complaint has ever been: Can you fix the parking situation on our street?

A backstory. We live on a horseshoe type street. Our house is on one side of the curve, the Inkedparkingsituation_LIside where there is a sidewalk that leads up to the school and playground behind our house. A sidewalk that all the neighborhood kids need to access to get to school or their bus stops. A sidewalk that frequently gets blocked by cars. This curve has cars parked alongside it pretty much all the time, only allowing 1 car to make it around the curve, if they’re lucky (as you can see). Larger vehicles? Those aren’t so lucky. For instance, 3 times trucks have ended up on my property. They drive down the street, which they have no business being down anyways, and end up needing to back up. The problem is backing up with an 18 wheeler. This one incident is a truck that managed to come up several feet onto my property, nearly hitting my tree. In an incident that occurred yesterday, 3 pots and 2 lights were destroyed. Annoying, yes but they were close to the curb so I realize there’s nothing we can do. My neighbor? The tire tracks are further up his lawn than mine. 3 incidences where trucks ended up my property probably exceeds the reasonable limit. If I didn’t have a hill on my property, those trucks could have destroyed my home. There was also this really cool year when my son took a special needs bus to school. 3 times (at least) the bus couldn’t get him because they couldn’t get up the street. Reported it to the city, and got the response of: “Parking on this street is a known issue.” What is a known issue? Does it mean that it’s known and you don’t care to fix it? For the record, other times I just met the bus at a different stop to ensure he made it to school. One time the bus driver kept honking her horn at everyone until people started moving their cars so she could get by. I miss her.

See what also happens because of the parking situation on my street is that fire trucks and ambulances have some trouble getting around the street, sometimes even requiring one of them to get out to help the driver back up and move forward for 10 minutes while trying to get around this street. What happens in an emergency because of those 10 minutes? People could die. Does that matter? No, apparently not. What if my kid is having a medical emergency and the vehicles couldn’t get to him in time and he died? This is a valid concern that I have. There are other kids and elderly people on this street. This is a valid concern that they should have. (Side note: absolute props to the police and fire department. I don’t want to sound like I’ve insulted them because I have never had a negative experience with them. They were always kind, helpful, and they do a lot for our city.)

Now I know…. “instead of ranting on your blog that no one sees about this maybe you should contact the city”. After the first incident 2 years ago with the “Known issue response”, a second report about the sidewalk being blocked where we got a “Call dispatch next time.” (For the record, the car stayed there for another day without any recourse if memory serves me correctly.) I decided to email every official I could think to. Paper trails are a more effective approach I find. They can deny a phone call, but not electronic communications. It’s a safety concern and I worry for the day when something happens because of it. What if my kid was on the lawn when a truck did this? As of the writing of this a day later, I haven’t received any email back. Even a courtesy “we’ll look into this matter” would be less infuriating than no response.

The moral of this story: the government doesn’t care. And the only people that do seem to genuinely care never get the chance to help us. Chicopee needs a change in leadership, a shakeup. I hope it happens soon. Our schools deserve better. Our government employees deserve better. Our citizens deserve better. Most importantly, our children deserve better.