Thursday, January 21, 2010

A Different Type of Volunteer: Meet My Neighorhood Council Hero John

John is my hero. You don’t know John, most likely never really will. That’s not his real name by the way but in a lawsuit happy country, you never can be too safe. You see, to know John like I now know John, you have to sit through a three hour neighborhood council meeting in Westchester. A meeting full of Robert’s Rule of Order, various public comments that peak my curiosity but baffle my mind, and sometimes painstakingly boring presentations by certain speakers who make it obvious within the first 30 seconds they did not prepare for their moment of shinning glory in front of this auspicious crowd.

Back to John, he’s my hero, in a neighborhood council, I’m glad you’re doing this because I don’t think I’d ever care to sort of way. John has fought tirelessly against the expansion of LAX and had a fairly successful track record. Personal feelings you may have aside, expansion of LAX would be bad for a community right next to LAX, especially as Orange County and Long Beach refuse to accommodate their people thus exasperating the crisis in LA. And so John fights. And he fights against power lines with high unsafe levels of electricity running down residential streets they shouldn’t run down. And he does it with energy uncommon a man his age, and with a twinkle in his eye I am certain none of us could maintain after years of these battles for his neighborhood.

And so John has me thinking. I admire him greatly and yet if we sat down and spoke about politics, we would most certainly disagree, and disagree like water to hot oil. We probably wouldn’t see eye to eye on much, most likely on a local and national scale. But in the spirit of Dr. King, I have been thinking a lot about service and volunteerism. For a lefty like me, it’s easy to look at Americorps and the Peace Corps, and religious projects like the Working Boys Center or Jesuit Volunteers- groups where people literally give of themselves in the name of improving some aspect of society failing the poor and oppressed. As a nation, we are able to recognize the value of service in our men and women deployed overseas, regardless of whatever our feeling is about the conflict that has them stationed there.

But I wonder when we as a nation might wake up and do a better job of recognizing folks like John. People who spend hours a month at meetings that bring new meaning to the adage “more boring than watching paint peel” or people who comb through every dreary public announcement by agencies big and small and then cause a ruckus in the name of true public debate.

John fights a good fight for the neighborhood of Westchester. Whether you agree with him or not to me is beside the point. He does it for free, he does it out of convictions he holds dear, and he does it with a smile and with a dignity that is lost upon many of us. And so a big thanks to John, for the hours he spends on projects to improve my community, and for helping me to consider with a more wide angle lens the spirit that is service and volunteerism in America today.

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