Back to Metroland's Home Page!
 Site Search
   Search Metroland.Net
   View Classified Ads
   Place a Classified Ad
   Online Personals
   Place A Print Ad
 Columns & Opinions
   Looking Up
   Rapp On This
 News & Features
   What a Week
   Loose Ends
   This Week's Review
   The Dining Guide
   Tech Life
 Cinema & Video
   Weekly Reviews
   The Movie Schedule
   Listen Here
   Art Murmur
   Night & Day
   Event Listings
 About Metroland
   Where We Are
   Who We Are
   What We Do
   Work For Us
   Place An Ad

The Spirit’s in the Details

‘These pages are for us. They’re just a formality.”

My local Democratic committeepeople came to my door a few days ago gathering the signatures needed to put various candidates on the ballot.

This is an important and moderately thankless job for which I commend them. I realize that when you’ve served for a long time in an elected capacity that few people pay attention to and for which there is little competition it’s easy to think of it as a formality. I certainly remember the temptation to roll my eyes a little when it came time to vote on the candidates for my church board, after the nominating committee had spent anxious hand-wringing weeks trying to find enough people willing to fill the positions at all.

That said, it irks me to hear any part of our democratic process, as flawed as it is, written off as a formality. The yes-or-no no-rival-candidates plebiscite “votes” that dictators hold so they can say they’ve been elected are formalities. The Democratic primaries in Michigan and Florida this year were formalities, and the voters there weren’t any too pleased about it. (Josh Eisenstein, in a column for the Huffington Post, made a convincing argument that if Hillary had taken the high road and called for revotes in those states she would have given herself a strong enough image as a leader committed to integrity and fairness to have won.)

Unless something is actually preventing anyone from running against you, however, gathering signatures to get on the ballot as a committeeperson, on the other hand, is not a formality. You can actually be left off the ballot if you don’t do it. It’s also a small reminder that even if no one has run against you in a while, you are, in the words of another local Albany committee person, “elected officials who are supposed to represent our neighborhoods to the party, not the other way around.”

Grumping this much about a throwaway comment may seem like I’m saying that lip service to principles matters. Maybe I am. There’s a great Marge Piercy line: “A ritual of unity makes some of what it pretends.” Sometimes you have to talk like something matters before you really find yourself acting that way.

Sure, there are plenty of people who can actively doublespeak forever, saying noble things and never meaning them. They have some of the most powerful positions in our government and business world. But for many of the rest of us, taking the little things seriously is like the gentle wind that makes seedlings grow stronger so they’ll have a better chance against the storm. It’s hard to fight the big fights when you’ve opted out of every little fight.

Take, for example, the pervasive assumption that no one reads the fine print and no one should, they should just trust the software maker/pharmaceutical company/cell phone company/mortgage broker. This has made it easy to make longer and longer contracts and more and more convoluted legalese that the average person actually can’t take the time to read and understand, even if they decide to try stand on the principle of “Always read the fine print.”

At this point there are software programs that will scan the license agreements we all click through for things like declaration of intent to mine your data or install spyware on your computer or disable competing apps.

I challenge you, if you ever buy a house, to try to read all the documents you sign at closing. You might want to bring bribes to keep everyone in the room from blowing their stacks with frustration.

And that’s biting our economy in the ass right about now. Because those subprime adjustable rate mortgages that are now resetting away from their low introductory rates to much higher ones their borrowers can’t afford did in fact have those terms spelled out in their contracts. Contracts that were treated like formalities but were not. In many, many cases their basic terms and the financial implications of those terms were never actually explained or even disclosed to the borrower. These cases may not fall under the scope of the FBI’s “Operation Malicious Mortgage” (oh, where were you three years ago, FBI?), but the results are arguably similar.

And so even when it seems like a formailty, I think it’s a good exercise to make a point of periodically sticking up for a principle when not a lot is at stake. Surely, you and I don’t have time to actually read all the fine print we encounter in our daily lives, nor to actually research the politics and positions of every member of, say, the proposed slate of New York state Democratic committee members. But we should never let ourselves believe, or say, or be told, that we’re not doing it because it’s not worth doing.

—Miriam Axel-Lute

Send A Letter to Our Editor
Back Home
Copyright © 2002 Lou Communications, Inc., 419 Madison Ave., Albany, NY 12210. All rights reserved.