A Stifling of Public Confidence
I have been happy to read several letters to the editor bringing to attention Rockford's prevailing attitude renouncing change. An airline here. A pork plant there. Mainly, the comments have been regarding the obsessive stifling of any type of business which hasn't already gained acceptance in town. What I would like to address is the attitude behind this attitude - that is, a certain arrogance or begrudging of a large part of it's population. A certain tendency to pass judgment on anything which doesn't fit into the predilections of oneself and one's cohorts. A private prudishness that constantly works against the public good.
Perhaps this isn't the prime example, but it is another reminder which happened to me today:
As many patrons of the public library know, the use of its computers is limited to one hour per person, per day. Once that hour is finished, the user is signed off, and the computer is then available to the next patron. Also, when a user leaves the computer idle, then they are signed off as well. This is all because the library belongs to everyone - the public good.
As I was stepped into to use a computer today, I found no computers available. One computer was ready for use, but someone had left their personal belongings there. The librarian directed me to use this computer anyway, and so I did. About ten minutes later, an angry person confronted me about my using "his" computer. I told him to take the issue up with the librarian. He said, "This is unacceptable". He stated that he had only been using the computer, "For about an hour." After some slamming of chairs, and such, he came back, retrieved his things, and came back once more angrily retrieving his floppy disc, saying, "I was using THIS computer, Bozo!"
I told him that THAT COMMENT was unacceptable.
I was an innocent bystander, accosted by someone who thought he was better than the general public, forcing his own PRIVATE prejudices upon the privacy of a patron who was following, and entitled to, PUBLIC library policy. He had stupidly left his own belongings at his seat, as if he owned it, and somehow became enraged when his own ignorance, and when simple, fair CHANGE booted him away.
Well, I have experienced so many examples of this haughtiness in Rockford, I could write a book about it. But when I go to a cafe to write, immediately there is gossip that I am gay, that I am aloof, that I am stalking waitresses, that I am just another Rockford crazy person - simply because I am alone. Instead of actually talking to me, rumors and lies are created to feed the majority's own paranoia and fear of change. Being a writer, an observer, I have actively explored these mechanisms, and found that, for the most part, no one cares to either verify or disprove their fears, or their intrusions. They only accelerate their ignorance to "prove" they are right.
I have also found that there is a raging private desire to find freedom from the status quo, by entertaining - or patronizing - people who seem new, electric, full of ideas and promise. In all cases, and as is always known to be inevitable, some jealous person seeks to exploit popularity by warning of the dangers and "immorality" of such people, who are then easily transformed into "weirdoes" or "egotists".
Is this not reminiscent of Rockford's persistent, pathetic drive to propose grand schemes and downtown developments, only to allow them to be shot down by pathological nay-sayers? And this is not the only reason promising businesses leave Rockford - part of the reason is simply Rockford's personality, or lack thereof. Is there any wonder that newcomers often cite a strange need by many Rockfordians to marginalize or demonize outsiders?
And then there is the habitual capitulation to Byzantine authority, which feeds on suspicion, and sends all relevant matters to languish in committee. I know of many neighborhood associations which thrive on denouncing neighborhood crime, but show creativity and compassion only in projects which mainly involve the self-gratification of their own leaders.
I don't know - I suppose I am used to being lamb-basted by people with terminally low self-esteem who complain that, "If you don't like it here, then why don't you go back to Madison." Sure - why don't all outsiders and inventive businesses go out of town, out of state, out of country, as if they made no attempt to make things better here. I apologize that, in my naiveté, I attempted to improve Rockford by creating a non-profit organization, while ill in bed, which was only obviated by the creation of a similar group composed of Rockford's established "movers and shakers."
And I apologize that I don't find it easy to fit in when people drive 20 miles per hour in a 30 mile per hour zone, like a huge paranoid bloodclot, or tailgate like idiots when they have every opportunity to pass. Or when I show acts of kindness or generosity, and am immediately treated like a crime suspect.
I am not saying that everyone or everything in Rockford is perverted. I know there are many wonderful people here. I love many Rockford residents, and I mean no one any harm or discomfort. Yet I know there know there are many wise people in Rockford who see what goes wrong here, and who are as frustrated as me. I wish I could tell those people there is hope. At least that there is sufficient hope...
One such wise person, who is a gem in the Rockford community, is Webbs Norman, the President of the Rockford Park District. This kind, humble man works amazingly for the public good. He is advocating for transformation of unused Park District land for a new Public Library branch to serve the far east side of Rockford. This branch would provide ample opportunities for teens to explore new learning and audio-visual adventures, and become better citizens for the public good.
When items like this come up for referendum, or when new independent businesses come in for a go at investing in Rockford, I would urge you to show your Christmas Spirit, all year long, and support them. Or else contribute to a Rockford rigor-mortis of out-of-town chain stores, service jobs, and perpetual delinquency. Or else perpetuate a habit of making straw men and scape goats out of one's own sins.