I live in a community that buses its students to a regional high school twenty miles away. During the recent tax shortfall, our Town Commission eliminated the bus service for those who lived within five miles of the campus. Suddenly without transportation to a school four miles away, I became a vocal enthusiast against the arbitrary 5-mile limit.
I vocalized my initial displeasure in an after-school “informational” meeting held at our Town Hall. Six dozen parents attended, but no one wanted to rock the boat by speaking up. Only my naive 16-year-old nerves gave me the courage to do it. I complained about the decision, citing the hazards it created for 400 kids. We were forced to walk to school a long distance on a busy road with no sidewalk. On rainy and snowy days, we were nearly invisible to passing drivers, who hit pedestrians at a rate of two per year. In addition, we often arrived at school feeling and looking like drowned rats after our 4-mile obstacle course/endurance walk. I appreciate the community’s need to save money, but not at the expense of my own safety.
I’d love to say that I was so persuasive at that meeting that the Town Commissioners immediately restored the bus service. Unfortunately, it wasn’t that easy. Yet I was motivated and not about to abandon my goal. I became the unofficial spokesperson for the cause, giving interviews to our local newspaper and to a reporter from the local television station. After the Associated Press picked up the story, I was famous, appearing on two nationally syndicated news shows. Soon, our town was famous not for dairy products and excellent cheese, but for failing to transport those “fine children” safely to school. Not surprisingly, our bus service was restored just two weeks after my national televison debut.
I learned several lessons from this experience. First, shame works. The committee already knew the drawbacks of the plan and the danger to the community children, but they eliminated the bus service anyway. Sadly, money came before our safety. The committee honored our needs only when publically shamed into doing so. Knowing this, I am now convinced that it is the public’s job (meaning every one of us) to direct the actions of our elected officials. We must be vocal and proactive to defend and assert our rights. Third, I learned that I’m an effective advocate and an articulate spokesperson for change. I don’t mind taking the spotlight to represent those who are afraid to speak. Prior to losing my bus ride, I wasn’t inclined to “rock the boat” to initiate change. I discovered a hidden strength and a strong resolve, which I plan to use throughout my personal and professional future.
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