Updated: Small Actions Make a Big Difference
Out of a sea of citizens wearing red shirts to signify opposition, Patti Anker stepped forward to address the 11 members of the Anchorage City Assembly. In just three short minutes of public testimony, Patti shared with her elected representatives why she believed they should oppose Ordinance 64.
Patti represented Concerned Women for America (CWA) of Alaska at the Anchorage City Assembly hearing on Ordinance 64, a proposed law that would amend the city's anti-discrimination law to include homosexuals. Patti joined numerous conservatives, religious groups, and churches who opposed the law, because they saw it as another effort to demand that the general public "approve" of homosexuality. The ordinance will do more than grant "dignity" to homosexuals - like everyone else, homosexuals already have that under Anchorage law. Rather, the law will give special rights to homosexuals and take away the civil rights of anyone who believes homosexuality is immoral.
"This ordinance is not about equality, it is about special rights," Patti told the Assembly. "Homosexuals have no immutable characteristics like skin color, no economic deprivation, no suffering from a long history of discrimination, and no political powerlessness." Patti pointed out the spurious comparison of the homosexual "rights" campaign to the civil rights movement. "African-Americans should be offended at the audacity of this special interest group to … equate the grievous sufferings of those who were forced to take their battle for equality to the streets."
On a practical note, Patti asked the Assemblymen if any impact studies had been done to determine the effect of this ordinance on the community at large. The Assembly doesn't have systematic "documented cases where someone has been denied access to education, housing, or employment," Patti said.
Lastly, and "most significantly and personally, this ordinance threatens my civil liberties," Patti argued. Patti is a kindergarten teacher at a private school and fears that teaching her students about God's design for marriage would constitute a hate crime under the new ordinance.
Even in large cities, city council meetings rarely attract much attention or controversy. The benefit to this is that when citizens do show up, councilmen listen. Here the ordinary citizen's voice is heard, perhaps more so than anywhere else in politics. And if that citizen brings a dozen friends, they are a force with which to be reckoned.
The Anchorage meetings were exceptions to this rule, with opponents and supporters turning out en masse to speak on the measure. More than 700 people signed up to testify at the five hearings that have already been held on the proposed ordinance between June 9 and July 21. Hundreds more showed up to observe the meetings. For easy recognition, supporters of the ordinance donned blue shirts and opponents wore red. The Assembly is expected to take up debate on the ordinance at its August 11 meeting.
Three different versions of Ordinance 64 have been introduced, and supporters differ over which one is best. Some supporters fear that all three versions would be vetoed by Republican Mayor Dan Sullivan. In case this happens, Assemblyman Matt Claman, Ordinance 64's sponsor, put forward a new motion to place the question on a citywide referendum. He still needs eight out of the 11 assemblymen to vote on the question in order for it to be placed on the ballot. The Assembly is not likely to consider this question until after the August 11 meeting.
Any citizen can testify in person or in writing at any public hearing before the Anchorage Assembly. Public hearing notices are posted at the Anchorage City Hall and in the Alaska Journal of Commerce, a weekly publication that can be purchased at any newsstand. Assembly meeting agendas are posted on the Assembly's website by the Thursday before the meeting at http://www.muni.org/clerk1/Assembly_agenda.cfm.Usually, anyone in the audience can speak when the Assembly Chairman opens the floor for public hearing. When the Assembly anticipates a large numbers of participants, as in the case of Ordinance 64, a sign-up sheet will be available at the meeting.
“I decided to testify because the only way my elected representatives are going to believe the issue at hand is a serious threat to our society is if they see and hear the truth from a grassroots constituency,” Patti says. “I have always wondered ‘where were the Christians when prayer was removed from school?’ ‘Where were the Christians when Roe v. Wade came before the Supreme Court?’ It is time we rise up and take back the land that belongs to God.”
Patti hopes that her experience will encourage other concerned citizens to take action at their city council meetings. Testifying at council meetings is an easy way to make a huge difference in your community. Since city councils deal with day-to-day issues in a city's operations, their actions often directly affect citizens to a greater extent than the actions of the state or national government. City council members represent significantly smaller districts than state or national representatives, so they have more time to listen to individual constituents. And because the whole process is less complex than state or national government, citizens can easily follow and influence it.
It doesn't take an experienced politician or a rich donor to make a difference, especially at this level. It takes only a concerned citizen.
To learn about ordinances being considered by your city council, visit your city council website or call your council member's office or city hall.
If you are interested in getting involved with CWA of Alaska, please e-mail the CWA National Field Development Coordinator, or call her at (800)458-8797, ext. 106. If you would like to get involved with one of our other fine state organizations, please visit the CWA in the States site.
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