The needler in the haystack.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Latinos bring issues to Council tonight

This flyer on Plainfield Latino's Facebook page
urges attendance at tonight's Council meeting.
(Click to enlarge or print.)

If leaders of the recently-formed Tri-County Latino Coalition of NJ (TLCNJ) have done their homework, Plainfield's City Council may see a large representation of Latinos this evening to discuss issues as they see them.

The flyer above was posted to Plainfield Latino's Facebook page on April 3 and has generated a lively discussion thread, although my most recent check shows the conversation has only been viewed by 53 people. But even if that many show up, there will be a crowded meeting.

This interest in the Latino community in Plainfield City Council meetings and business is a welcome sign that participation in the political process may be on the rise.

It's been a long time coming and may not be exactly greeted with open arms  by Assemblyman Jerry Green and his crew, as it's likely to be unmanageable in the way Green has traditionally sought.

However, greater participation is a hallmark of true democracy, so who can be against it?

The flyer illustrates issues of concern, but also a shows a lack of familiarity with Plainfield's local government process (a Council meeting is not a "community" meeting as that term is normally used).

The issues the flyer notes are: Municipal ID cards, the North Avenue demolition, and the Earned Sick Days ordinance that is up for consideration. I pointed out to the FB thread that some of these would not have a chance to be heard until the end of the meeting, according to the way the agenda is set up (although Council President Bridget Rivers has flexibility to change it).

If you take a good look at the Facebook discussion thread (see here), you will see that some of the language comes across as accusatory. This is understandable perhaps for some folks who feel their concerns have been slighted, but it can also reveal an unfamiliarity with the political process.

Efective advocacy involves patient, focused, long-term commitment to a well-articulated set of issues with clear, meaningful and persuasive arguments to convince those in the seats of power (Council and Mayor) to take the desired course(s) of action.

Overstating or mis-stating the issues at hand won't help, nor will an immediate assumption that the relationship has to be antagonistic. The Latino community will learn quickly enough that is important to separate real issues and grievances from the demagoguery of those with hidden agendas. It is just as true in the Latino community as elsewhere that not everyone who says they are your friend really has your best interests at heart.

For example, if you parse the conversation carefully, you will see that Councilor Williams tries -- not very successfully -- to get participants to be specific: about whether they are, in fact, her constituents; exactly when and how they tried to contact her; and what, precisely, are their concerns.

It comes to light that some of her interlocutors are not residents of Plainfield. How is that to be dealt with?

The flyer says TCLNJ "will be present to support all the Latinos", but I wonder how well it can do so if Latinos themselves have different objectives that may be in conflict.

For instance, the ID card issue affects a wide range of folks in the Latino community, but my guess is that it is not much -- if at all -- of an issue among Latino business owners.

However, opposition to the Earned Sick Days ordinance by Latino business owners directly affects their workers, who are presumably (mostly) Latino. How can one group say it supports both sides of such an issue at the same time?

All this being said, I think we should all mark the record for 2015 being the year that the Latino community begins to assume its place at the table.

That also puts a couple of topics on the Council's agenda, especially concerning language.

What is to be done about those for whom English may present difficulties? How is the Council -- whose members are not fluent in Spanish -- to know they are getting the true gist of issues if there is a language problem? Should the Council have a bilingual translator on hand at all meetings to make sure its meanings are made clear and not misrepresented? And to get an unbiased translation of Spanish-speakers' comments? Should agendas -- or at least a summary -- also be provided in Spanish?

There is a lot to think about as Plainfield moves ahead.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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