Nick’s first impressions:
The City We Make Together reading for this week revolved around the idea of accessibility. Both Lippin and Richards came onto the scene and initially had a difficult time with the performance, and by changing it to accommodate them, allowed the creators of the piece to make this performance more accessible. In Lippin’s case it was to make the format more accessible and in Richards’ case was to make the topics of discussion more accessible. The local endings, in essence, are for precisely that reason: to make the audience care. As we transition to making our own show, I think that this reading in particular will come to mind as something we should be constantly thinking about, namely that we are getting other people, people who have not attended this class, to go up and talk about some boring stuff. Making this as accessible as possible should be a primary goal.
I found the gallery of meeting spaces raised a lot of questions. First and foremostly, about the website of which it was on. Maybe this is an issue that stems from my inability to find a solution that is obvious, but I wish I could see all of the populations of the towns in which these meetings were photographed. They seemed to all be of towns smaller than 1000 in population, but some of them have their populations obscured in a pretty infuriating way. I’d imagine that the more populous a town is, the more they’d invest into their meeting spaces. This would be not only because of the increased amount of funding, but also for managing a larger group of potentially interested people.
The article on Minneapolis’ defunding of its police force is an issue of which we have the benefit of hindsight on. This article was written in 2020, just a few days after George Floyd’s murder. As such, tensions were high and wounds were still bleeding. Such a systemic change was bound to fail, and the effort quickly dwindled over time. Eventually at the end of 2020, 4.5 percent of the police funding was reallocated towards violence prevention, which didn’t appease activists nor helped crime rates. I find this case interesting because we haven’t really covered ‘PR stunts’ in policy as a topic, something that I initially thought would be a slam dunk in this course. This is perhaps one of the first times we’ve really covered this type of event, which happens extremely commonly. Empty promises on policy are a tale as old as time.
Regarding The City We Make Together readings this week, I want to expand on some of the points on accessibility that Nick raised above. In making our own show, not only should we pay attention to our council meeting’s format and topics of discussion, we should also pay attention to the design of actors and the psychological effect the show has on different audience members. One reason why Lippin was such a success to the shows was because of his “avuncular manner” (38) and the resemblance of the average citizen. Audience members could envision themselves standing in his shoes, reading his words, while he struggled through the script, and they probably also felt less intimidated by the formal and official structure of the meeting. Further, something else I found interesting was the “cathartic experience” (39) the audience were anticipated to go through (which would make them less inclined to go to actual city council meetings) by professor Landsman and Mallory Catlett if they were given complete freedom of self-expression. I had never previously considered the psychology behind different choices made in a city council meeting show (or our show, for that matter), and now I think we do need to brainstorm more on how different audience members might feel emotionally and psychologically when put into different roles and given different choices (such as doing a specific action or interrupting another speaker).
Something I found interesting about the gallery of meeting spaces was the fact that literally no one was smiling or even seemed remotely happy in any of the pictures. I wonder if this is a conscious choice of the photographer when taking the photo, or just a reality that seems to exist in all of these city council meetings? Another thing I noticed was how the formality of the councilors’ clothing correlated directly with how private/public their space was. In a closed-door meeting (small room where councilors city around a table), most coucilors were dressed very casually, just like your everyday citizen. In official public meetings, councilors made an attempt to dress formal – although some more than others. Here, I also noticed that how formal the councilors dressed in a council meeting also corresponded with how official the council hall appeared. In spaces such as Indiana, there were only three councilors and the room appeared to be very tiny. The decorations of the room was what gave this away for most pictures, but I must say I am not certain of the context of every room (also the text was way too tiny to read ahh!!).
Finally, regarding the article on Minneapolis’ police defunding, I found it somewhat empowering to read about actual changes that city councils carried through, especially at the opposition of other governmental figures or parties (such as the mayor). I had previously always considered the mayor as one with the council – although the mayor may have occasionally disagreed with other councilors on certain issues, they are still one united whole. Like Plato suggested, there should not be factions within the democratic council. However, reading about the case of Minneapolis shocked me as it was evident that the mayor was on the side of the minority and was overruled – demonstrating in action how if and when necessary, the democratic property of the city council does in fact give the local community and citizens power to bring about important change, even at the expense of governmental opposition.
The democratic potential of a city council rests on whether and how many individuals are comfortable to become Arny Lippin. Lippin—by challenging the ostensible intuitiveness of stage directions—is also questioning the accessibility of terminology used in Landsman and Catlett’s project performances. Clearly, Lippin is able to exercise the premise of the “paradoxical form of action” summarized In The City We Make Together (38). He is able to “rule” and “be ruled” by indirectly increasing accessibility through his prior and potential knowledge. One question ties in Cathy and Nick’s comments regarding the forms of accessibility: “Do people get to speak about issues that are important to them, in their community?” (39). I would say that, yes, people do need more opportunities to articulate their needs and wants. However, at the same time, citizens should know how to navigate through the tensions of power.
Paul Shambroom quotes Tocqueville: “But the township, at the center of ordinary relations of life, serves as a field for the desire of public esteem, the want of exciting interest, and the taste for authority and popularity…” In his seminal piece Democracy in America, Tocqueville places great trust in the liberal and democratic nature of American civil society. According to Tocqueville, American society is derived from the “equality of conditions.” Nonetheless, he notes, ascriptive hierarchies exist within American egalitarianism. Political structures inevitably reflect societal and cultural inequalities. Thus, does this mean, according to Tocqueville, a liberal democracy can be built on the foundations of systematized discrimination? I can sense the ascriptive elements through Shambroom’s pictures. Most of the council people in the same picture that is the same meeting belong to similar demographics. Do we explain this trend through one of the worst forms of bureaucratized discrimination (i.e. redlining and gerrymandering)?
I found Nick’s comment on having the benefit of “hindsight” in viewing the efficacy of police dismantlement to be rather interesting. Most reasonable policies have retrospective value. However, even with this privilege, we remain in the backwaters of reform and revision. The 1968 Kerner Commission report dutifully notes the decade’s race riots hinged on poverty, discriminatory policing, and other forms of systematic racism. More than half a century later, the US still struggles to spend more on prevention and less on punishment. I would like to delve deeper into Cathy’s usage of “opposition” in this issue. There is more nuance to this black-and-white area that is disbanding versus maintaining the police force. For some, “defunding the police” means reallocation of resources; for our relative radicals, it signals complete disbandment of an institution. I personally have serious doubts regarding America’s bureaucratic capacity to effectively and properly shifting money to different entities and causes. For example, the city of Los Angeles lost its sexual assault and animal cruelty units due to a slash in their police budget ($150 million to be exact). Before we defund any municipal institutions, we need to discuss our municipal budgets.
In Sam Levin’s piece on the motion to defund the police department in Minneapolis, Minnesota, we see clearly the extent to which local governments can directly influence social change. What is important to note is that it was the protests in cities around the country that ultimately pushed the Minneapolis city council, make this move. This is the value of organizing. The people of Minneapolis aptly diagnosed a problem, recognized that the city council could address this problem, and then applied pressure on the council to reflect the will of the people. This to me is a beautiful display of democracy, because it doesn’t matter whether or not the councilmembers actually agreed or disagreed with the motion to defund, either way, they felt the pressure from around the country to act, and they did. We might never know whether or not certain councilmembers supported the motion solely out of fear of losing voter support, but that pressure should be enough to influence the actions of a politician, and if the will of citizens was always feared to that extent than perhaps we would see social change at a much faster pace.
In The City we Make Together readings for this week, we saw Catlett and Landsman wrestle with questions of accessibility. Arny Lippin, in his adorable confusion, forced the team of producers to make instructions more intuitive for participants. Similarly, Lippin’s clumsy performance as Mayor showed the team that there is much value in presenting a leader who an audience can relate to, they write, “Viewers were on the edge of their seats as Lippin struggled through “Item 396–398, relating to trunk and sewer repair. Is anyone wishing to appear . . .”? They saw themselves in him” (Catlett & Landman, 60). My peers have discussed above what this should mean for our performance, but to me it presents some concerns. With a production crew of all Princeton students, and an audience of Princeton faculty and elected officials, the space in which we give our performance, will feel perpetually inauthentic. To combat this, I think we should really lean in to the differences we share as a class, and try to center issues that effect one or many of us so that we might optimize relatibility and produce a genuine performance.
What I found particularly interesting about Paul Shambroom’s photo gallery was the high percentage of elderly people serving on the various councils pictured. I think back to my conversation with councilmen Carabelli, who made it abundantly clear to me that his political aspirations extended far beyond the city council chambers. Similarly, the Princeton city council, with the exception of perhaps Leighton Newlin, consists of younger politicians, who might also have more ambitious career goals. In Shambroom’s photos, particularly in the less formal settings, we see folks who more likely than not are retired and are generously lending their time to the municipality. What should we make of this? Is it better to have city council members who aren’t building towards more? Or would we rather have younger, perhaps more in-touch councilmembers who are? How will these two populations interact differently with voters? Will they feel the pressure of their constituents differently? These are some questions we should consider.