Daytonians prefer dots to discourse

I wrote this this morning with the idea of sending it to the Dayton Daily News as an op-ed piece. However, I know that they’ll hack it to pieces- or run it on a Monday when nobody reads it. If you think it’s worthy- send a note to [email protected] and suggest they publish it.

I’m not feeling the love for them right now- and I’m strongly in favor of them moving to a registration system for comments on their site to at least prevent multiple identities online. I’m pretty sure most of you agree that the time has come to clean that mess up.

A friend commented to me the other day that Daytonians consider themselves an inferior race. Yet, when looking over comments on the Dayton Daily News article about ministers asking to extend public transit to the mall doors- it would seem that Dayton is full of racists who believe that owning a car gives you rights to shop at a mall. One person even signed their name “Archie Bunker” – which probably has zero meaning to people under the age of 40 (for the youngsters, it was a name of a racist character in a politically incorrect sitcom from the Seventies).

I doubt many of these people would spew such filth if they had to sign their name to what they say? The problem is, as a community, we seem to be terrified of those who openly hold strong opinions. Our idea of “leadership” almost always equals “consensus builder” and “moderate” or at least the appearance of it. We shy away from debate, instead, always forcing moderated panels and forums with strict rules of engagement.

In my many campaigns for political office, I’ve yet to have an opportunity to ask my opponent what they actually would do, instead, having to rely on questions from an oft naïve audience to challenge the banality of what passes for political discourse. When in the secretive confines of the Dayton Daily News editorial board screenings, it’s considered bad form when I asked how Ms. Whaley can explain a $5,500 donation to her campaign from a demolition contractor from Westerville. I get labeled “abrasive” she gets a hall-pass. These types of questions are standard practice in politics anywhere else but here- and if confounds me.

We’re also fond of holding “Summits” – where the public is invited to come write on big pieces of paper on the walls of a room, then go around with sticky little dots and place them next to ideas they like. Then the “best ideas” are “ranked” and our job is done- and yet another “plan” is championed as the will of the people.

This kind of circus is antithetic to how game changing works. Most “big ideas” are those that don’t garner wide support, or are simple to grasp. They usually involve, as Ross Perot once called the kind of people he liked to hire, “a monomaniac on a mission” or a champion. Great ideas often take time to develop, and require a good vetting- open debate, with pros and cons weighed out by true experts- not by whoever showed an interest and showed up that day.

Former City of Dayton Planning Director Paul Woodie once said to me “in Dayton you need a herd to be heard.” This kind of group-think, and the idea that only popular ideas are good ones have done our community no favors. We tend to push plain vanilla ideas as solutions, and only if tried and tested elsewhere.

We’ve hired in consultants from out of town to do our thinking for us on how to keep our young people here. We’re about to have another cattle-call for ideas on how to change our community for the better so people will stop leaving.

Here’s my idea: stop being boring. Stop demanding safe. Stop hiding behind sticky dots and anonymous postings and say what you really think.

Sure it will be messy, uncomfortable and feelings may get hurt, but if you want to make this a colorful community, we need to stop working with simple vocabularies and voices that continue to lead us with shades of gray, because we are afraid to speak in terms that are colorful.

For the last four years I’ve published my ideas online and given the world the ability to comment on them. My blog is well read by Dayton “leadership” – I know, because so many of them have told me so. What’s sad is that they’ve also said that they wish they had the freedom to say what I say, or use the kind of language I do.

Is that really the Dayton we want? Maybe it’s why we have the Dayton we have.

One still torn by the effects of racism, hurt by the resulting economic segregation and being subjugated by fear of the power of ad individual with a strong voice.

Our country was founded to protect the rights of the individual. Dayton is barely surviving because we fear to champion outspoken individuals.

It’s time to start over, without the anonymity of the sticky dot and to give up on the group-think.

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