The County Voice

A Seat at the Table

There’s an old saying in politics that if you don’t have a seat at the table, you’ll end up on the menu. I think the meaning there is pretty clear: If you aren’t part of the process, the process will eat you up. And so today, when the California Capitol is already steeped in political theater with the Governor’s State of the State Address, I have to shake my head in wonder at the political theater that’s going on outside the Capitol Building too.

With the legislative session in full swing, this is also the beginning of the protest season at the Capitol. Today specifically there was a large and noisy group along L Street a stone’s throw from CSAC’s offices. Protests involve lots of different age groups and issues, the protestors wear different-colored shirts and wave signs. Usually there’s bullhorn involved and sometimes other props or visual aids. The right to protest is one of the pillars of democracy, but, is it effective? Is this really the best way to make a difference?

Most of the issues that spawn a protest are already being debated at the local, state or federal level of government—maybe all three. And that brings me to the real point of this posting. The protestors outside the Capitol today are loud and visual, and they may well attract some attention from the news media, especially today because of the State of the State Address. But, who are they really reaching?

And as loudly as they make their points, they are also making my point about either being at the table or on the menu. Even if their premise or position on their issue is correct, why are they outside on the sidewalk yelling about it when they need to be inside the Capitol with a seat at the table? Maybe some groups have the “inside game” covered too but my guess is that if they truly had that seat at the table, they wouldn’t need to worry about how to be “visually interesting” on the sidewalk on the day of the State of the State Address.

When your tactic is to enflame the people who support you, chances are you are causing the same reaction among those who do not. CSAC has found it far more effective to get to know people, to develop relationships with the Governor, Legislators and their staffs and with other organizations. We may not always agree, but we prefer to have calm rational discussions that are more steeped in facts than rhetoric. We don’t always win every point of every issue, but we do have a seat at the table. And that’s why you will typically find us using our “inside voices” instead of out on the sidewalk with a bullhorn.

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