Friday, December 02, 2011

“Geauga: Unoccupied”

c. 2011 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

It was a beautiful day on the Chardon Square. Unseasonably warm and satisfying, despite the approach of winter. Quietly, I walked by myself, fiddling with a notebook and digital camera. My mission was clear – to find some local news wrinkle of note for my next column. Yet no inspiration appeared during my stroll. Instead, the cackle of school children echoed from Park Elementary. A lone musician plucked out notes on her guitar, while sitting on a park bench. And a city crew busied themselves with the chore of erecting seasonal decorations.

I paused at the gazebo, and opened a cup of coffee from Get Go. But before I could take a sip, a familiar voice called out from beyond the trees.

“Rodneyyy!” it sang with excitement.

I spun around to find my long-time friend Carrie Hamglaze, brimming with satisfaction. She was dressed in an overcoat and hat, colored Irish green.

“It is so good to see you!” she exclaimed.

I nodded respectfully. “We haven’t crossed paths in a long time…”

“A long, long time!” she said. “How are things in Thompson?”

My voice was dry. “Going well, thank you. Lots of school pride with the Ledgemont football team. And fall colors everywhere…”

She smiled to herself. “I was busy with the election. Helping to offer advice and attend local meetings. Trying to stay involved as someone not running for office.”

“Of course,” I replied.

“So, what do you have coming up in the Leaf?” she asked with curiosity.

I took a long breath. “Perhaps another installment of ‘Geauga in Print.’ Readers seem to enjoy getting a glimpse of our county in yonder days.”

“Ah,” she whispered. “Stories from the newspaper archives. There must be thousands of those available online.”

“More than you might think,” I confessed. “Even from the venerable New York Times. It seems that Geauga has always been a point of interest for journalists, throughout history.”

“Okay, what else?” she said quizzically.

“Not much,” I answered. “Today was so warm that it seemed like a perfect opportunity to walk around the square and ponder a bit. So here I am… looking for a story.”

Carrie held her breath. “Everyone seems to have an angle on the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ protests at the moment. What about you?”

Her interjection brought surprise. I gestured around the square, for emphasis. “Is that relevant here?”

“A point to ponder,” she reflected.

I thought carefully before speaking. “One friend has been sending messages about OWS for several weeks now. Everything references being part of the 99 percent.”

She laughed out loud. “Yes, that’s their mantra.”

“At first, it sounded like familiar political rhetoric,” I said. “But then, I noticed a fellow appeared in one of the photographs with a sign that said ‘End the Fed.’ And I wondered… hadn’t Ron Paul been saying that for many years?”

Carrie snorted. “Michael Moore, Keith Olbermann, labor leaders from around the country… they’ve all been attracted to sit in with the ‘occupiers.’ Even Pete Seeger and Arlo Guthrie. Not exactly a conservative crowd.”

“No,” I admitted. “But consider the message itself. Unhappiness about the bank bailouts. Loud dissent over foreign wars draining our treasury. A feeling that we are ruled not by elected leaders, but a privileged class of lobbyists. Where have you heard those sentiments before?”

She hesitated to answer.

“Journalists have been taking sides on this phenomenon,” I said. “But maybe they should look more closely. Isn’t this the other side of the same coin?”

My esteemed friend was speechless.

“We’ve said it for many years,” I declared. “Voters have developed a natural distrust for the system. We may express that rowdiness in unique ways. But the feeling is no different.”

Carrie sighed forcefully. “I don’t know what to say!”

“Public debate is healthy,” I continued. “Whether it is Tea Party activism or union protests to maintain the right of collective bargaining. People need to be involved in democracy for it to survive. Honest disagreement doesn’t make me afraid. What I fear is silence.”

“Silence doesn’t make a good story,” she said with a grin.

“Not at all,” I agreed.

She rubbed her eyes. “Okay… so back to your original point. Is OWS relevant in Geauga?”

My coffee had gone cold. “As a journalist, I can only ask that question. The answer will come not from pundits and professors… but from our readers.”

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