I had to get away from the Grand Rapids Palin Mania yesterday. Our local media was downright embarrassing in their coverage - this was a celebrity, selling a book, and you would have thought it was a visit from the Pope or something. If a woman who abandoned a position of responsibility to simply cash in on her 15 minutes garners second by second "team coverage" (the bus is pulling in! she's stepping off the bus now! she's walking to the podium! we think she's going to speak! no... wait... yes! yes, she is going to address the crowd! let's listen!), well, I don't ever want to hear another journalist complain about the public's ignorance when it comes to important issues. Ever.
So, fed up, disgusted, and ultimately bored, I split town. Headed on down to Lansing, where they had predicted up to 2000 Lansing area kids at the Capitol, protesting the K-12 cuts. I don't know how the LSJ came up with that figure in the first place, but they were mislead. There were 100 people there, tops - but it was very heartening to watch these high-schoolers get up and speak about the cuts to their schools. They slammed everyone - from the legislators, to the governor, to their own school administrators, no holds barred, they spoke out with a passion on this cold and dark day, and they kept on speaking even as night fell and you couldn't see a thing except the beautiful building behind them. They ran the gamut from left to right talking points of blame, sadly learning from their elders that little trick, but the overall message was, "fix it".
If only it were that simple.
House Republican Rick Jones got up and talked about how Lansing's priorities should be the schools and public safety, and then proceeded to babble about the State Police Building, as if getting rid of that would solve all our woes. Bzzzt, wrong, that wouldn't even come close to filling the hole, and he knows it. Rep. Mark Meadows talked about how the Senate Republicans are refusing to act on the legislation that would mitigate some of the school cuts. Bzzzt, wrong as well. While using the stimulus would alleviate some of the problem now, it doesn't solve the underlying issue of the inadequate tax structure. You can't fit the complex into convenient soundbites. Over-simplification, mixed with a lot of finger-pointing, may create the drama that everyone seems to crave, but it leads to the very mania that we saw in Grand Rapids yesterday; an empty person selling an empty product that only inflames and creates more division. Nothing gets solved.
I do give these legislators a lot of credit for facing the very people they just got done cutting to shreds (unlike Mike Bishop, who was wandering around the grounds of the Capitol, unnoticed by the crowd), even if they are being disingenuous about how deep the problem is. A little less blame, a little more explanation, and maybe the public would understand the issues better. You won't get the fawning media attention and make millions, but you will have made a real difference in this world.
Palin Mania will fade eventually, as all media phenoms do. An education will last a lifetime, and everyone agrees that it is the one thing that is crucial to our state's future.
I hope these kids learn the lesson that it is good to speak out about the things that matter, but I fear that as soon as they go back home and turn on the television, it will be lost. It will be up to the "adults" to find the solution to our problems.
Keep your fingers crossed that some show up in Lansing. Soon.