Episode Three

Rebecca Changes Anytown Part 1

By the time she graduates, Rebecca has welded her college classmates into a solid body of student activists. The school eliminates house closing, increases wages for employees, including students on work scholarships, and changes the name of the humanities building, which had been named after Andrew Jackson, well known slave-owner and Indian killer. On graduation day, as she walks across the stage to receive her diploma, an enormous cheer goes up, and much of the crowd bursts into tears. In the yearbook, she is “most likely to succeed.” Everyone knows she’ll be impossible to replace, but she’s groomed several underclassmen and women to keep her college in motion.

   Encouraged by her college successes, she decides at 21 to run for mayor of Anytown. In fact, she decides to create her own political party and run on that “third party” ticket. So in January of 1988, she calls together a small group of friends and acquaintances to announce her plan to stand for the mayoral election of November 1990.

   “You might be wondering,” she starts, flashing that irresistible smile, “why I called you all together tonight.” The group of about 20 people settles down and gets quiet. “I want to start a new political party, and I want to be the next mayor of Anytown.”

“Alright!!”

    “Do it!!”

   “That’s what I’m sayin’!” The group is surprised, excited, and quickly quiet again.

   “I’m dead serious about this. Every one of you is here because I’ve heard you complaining about city politics. You’ve all said something to me or in my hearing about corruption or legalized bribery, the decisive power of the Chamber of Commerce and the companies in the industrial park, or the power of money from elsewhere in Anystate or even elsewhere in the United States coming in to tell our mayor what he has to do to avoid becoming a target. 

   “I’ve been watching this happen since I was in high school, actually, and I think I have figured out how we can put our city back into the hands of its citizens. I’ll tell you my plan in broad terms. You raise your questions, and if we can come to agreement here tonight, we will proceed to work out the details. OK?” Agreement.

   “OK, so here’s the plan. I’m going to start a new party known as the Anytown Resolutionary Party. I’m calling it resolutionary because our top priority is to resolve conflict. We do not have a platform. We do not have policies. We have process, only process, and our process is going to take money out of politics. What I envision is nothing less than a firm separation of money and state. 

   “Just being rich shouldn’t give anyone any advantage in our collective decision-making process. We need to make decisions in an open, transparent, fair way that involves all the stakeholders in a sincere effort to do the best thing for our city and everyone in it. Are you with me so far?”

   “Sounds good,” says Tashua, “but it also sounds easier to say than do.”

   “I know that’s right,” laughs Rebecca, “Just hear me out. I’ll get into how we can get there, but the first step is, we have to convince folks here in Anytown that there’s a new party on the block and this party is going to return power to the people by taking money out of the game. And we’ll do that by identifying all our major conflicts or problems and addressing them in full view of the public. 

   “So let’s take one example. The current mayor is talking about shutting down three of our public schools and turning them over to private companies to run for profit. Is that a good idea or a bad idea?”

   “It’s a bad idea!”

   “It’s better than the schools we got now!”

    “It might be a good idea, depending on the company.”

    “I didn’t even know they were talking about that.”

   “See?” Rebecca goes on, “we’re divided even in this room about that idea, and I’m sure Suzen isn’t the only one who doesn’t know anything about it. This is an extremely big, important decision for our city, and it’s going to be made by a few people in a back room exchanging money. We’re not going to hear what’s said, and the parents, students, teachers and even administrators at those schools won’t have a say. Nor will the young parents in the area whose kids will be affected. It’s just going to be announced one day and we’ll be expected to live with it. Whatever we might think about the issue itself, the way the decision is going to be made is all wrong. That’s what we have to change.

   “And the only way we can change it is to take power. We have to be in a position to force all parties to the table and make them talk openly and honestly about what they’re doing and why. We have to have the power to open those conversations to the public. We can televise them, podcast them, hold them in big halls so interested parties can come and watch, we can do all sorts of things, but our party’s position is that all decisions have to be made out in the broad daylight, not in the dark. 

   Once we have the power to facilitate the decisions, we have to have the mediation skills to turn the discussions into truly inclusive deliberations for the good of our city. I’ve already demonstrated my mediation skills. You already know I’m good at bringing people together, right? So that’s why I’m asking you to make me mayor. I need to be in a position where I can force decision making into the light.” 

   “But how can you be elected from a third party? The Democrats and Republicans’ll all work overtime to make sure you never even get on the ballot.” Sean objects, but only because he wants to do it.

   “How big is Anytown? A little more than 50,000. How many vote in mayoral elections? Usually less than 10,000. All we need is to get 6 or 7,000 people to vote for me and we win.  

   To get on the ballot, we just have to fill out the nomination papers. The mayor is an officially nonpartisan position, so the parties can’t keep me off the ballot. All I have to do is get known and get the most votes. And that’s where you come in. I can’t do this without you. I won’t have any money for TV ads. I need you all to be generals and help me build an army of supporters that will go through the whole city talking to people and getting them excited about taking money out of politics. We need to think of ways to get free publicity. We need to get me known. There are about 20 people here. If you each find ten people to help us, that’ll be 200. That right there would be more volunteers than the Democrats or Republicans have. It would make us the biggest campaign in town. Are you willing to try?” Instant, boisterous support and determination. 

 

Two weeks later, Rebecca convenes the first meeting of the Anytown Resolutionary Party or ARP. She plans to hold it in her parents’ house, but people tell her she’ll have more than a hundred people there. She gets permission to use the fellowship hall at her parents’ church. A grand total of 273 people show up, and the hall is almost full. Most are young, but with plenty of gray heads mixed in. Many are black or Latino, but, like in Anytown itself, most are white. Rebecca is thrilled by this turnout. She knows instantly that she’s going to win, and she’s going to win to put an end to winning. She just has to mobilize and direct this army. 

   “Ladies and gentlemen and friends, I can’t tell you how glad I am to see you. This is the greatest honor of my life, and I tell you right now that if we stay unified and all work together, I will be the next mayor of Anytown.” Laughing, cheering, general excitement.

   “First, let me introduce you to my campaign manager, Chandra Milbino.” Chandra joins Rebecca on the stage to friendly applause. 

    “She’s already pulled together an impressive team of coordinators. In fact, they’re the ones who got you here. Chandra’s team, stand up please.” Laughter and applause.

    “So this is our team of leaders at the moment, but first, is there anyone else who wants to be on this core management team? The core team is going to work harder than anyone else because they’ll be generating ideas, plans, campaign materials, organizing events, and they’ll be leading the rest of you from neighborhood to neighborhood. Do not volunteer for this team unless you’re willing and able to spend at least 20 hours a week working hard on this campaign, but if you are, please talk to Chandra. This is not a closed club. We want anyone willing to work.”

   “In a minute, I’m going to turn this meeting over to Chandra, and she’ll organize you into teams by geographical territory. We’ll develop campaign materials and key talking points, then send you into your territory to talk to everyone you can and explain to them why I should be mayor, but before we get into the logistics, let me just remind you what we’re trying to do here.

   “We are trying to take money out of politics. One step in that direction is for elected officials to refrain from having opinions of our own. As of right now, I have no opinions. Of course, I do, but I reject them all. My goal is not to run this town the way I think it should be run. My goal is to help the people of this city run their own city the way they all agree is best for all of us. I will not be a mayor of policy. I will be a mayor of process. I will bring people together to make decisions as a group and out in the open.

   “But I’ve been thinking about this, and there’s another step I have to take to convince you and the rest of the citizens of Anytown that I truly am taking money out of politics. I hereby declare that if I’m elected mayor, I will completely open my bankbook, my tax records, all my finances to the public, and I will not receive in any form whatsoever one penny more than the mayor’s salary, which is only $30,000 a year. Furthermore, I will keep my bankbook open to the public for five years after my last term as mayor so everyone can see that I’m not getting rich from politics. In effect, I’m taking a vow of poverty and a vow of openness. I take these vows to declare and prove that I cannot be bought by anyone for any amount of money. 

    “And this is what I want you to sell to the citizens of this city. I assure you that I will be the only mayoral candidate that makes these vows because none of the other candidates would dare open their books to us. With these vows, I’m taking money out of politics. I’ll give each of you a copy of my bankbook. All you have to do is show that bankbook to the people of this city, and I promise you, they’ll vote for me, and we’ll make this town work for all of us.” Wild cheering, applause, excitement. Rebecca Whyte is not just irresistibly beautiful and charming in every way. She’s a breath of pure, fresh air blowing like a cyclone through the stale politics of Anytown, USA.

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