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Rebecca Rider column: Show up and be part of the solution

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to hear from Rob Morris, founder of the anti-human trafficking organization Love 146.

While this column would likely be better served by just transcribing the entire lecture, there’s a particular point that I think has some bearing on everyday life. It was when Morris began talking about how a grassroots organization turns into a global force to be reckoned with. It starts, he said, by building relationships with local boards, lawmakers and authorities.

I raised my hand. How do you go about doing that? I asked him.

I’ll never forget his reply.

“Just show up,” he said.

Show up at any meeting — every meeting. Ask questions. Speak during public-comment periods, even if you don’t have much to say. Let people in power know that you’re there, wanting to be involved in the process.

Every journalist, and newspaper, worth their salt knows the importance of showing up. It’s the reason why one of the Post’s reporters is at the police station each morning just after the doors open. It’s the reason that same reporter makes the walk over to the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office — even though the information is sent out by email. It’s part of the reason we show up to council meetings, board meetings and town meetings

Just show up.

But too often, people don’t. I’ve covered meetings in towns where every seat is empty, or nearly so. The Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education is almost infamous in the county for having no one in the audience.

And while the national news is thick with discussions of rights and civil liberties, it might be high time to remind people that this is one: Just show up. Speak.

Just as a most recent example: For years, the Board of Education has been struggling with difficult topics — what to do about Woodleaf and Cleveland schools, and what to do about older school buildings, declining enrollment or $200 million in capital needs. These conversations have always, in my experience, begun in silence — with myself as the only nonstaffer in the room.

Of course, once it’s written about and in the paper, people come out in droves. The board room fills, and public comment stretches on for an hour — or more.

But this is not the way to create change within a community — showing up only at the end of a discussion, offering your opinion and then leaving. It doesn’t solve the underlying problem. It doesn’t create solutions.

The conversation has begun again; and, again, I see people rolling up their sleeves, ready to go to the mattresses.

“When’s the next board meeting?” they ask.

OK, so maybe you want to ensure that the school board doesn’t close schools — especially not your school. Maybe you don’t want the now infamous “Fame” statue removed. Maybe you object to something a county commissioner has said or done. That’s understandable. Maybe you succeed. That’s commendable.

But what it doesn’t do is solve the problem. It doesn’t address the very reason that entities like the school board are discussing these difficult topics in the first place. And it doesn’t answer the all important question: “And then what?”

The crowd leaves, and the problem remains — still pressing, still festering. The schools are still crumbling, the bills are still rising; people are still upset for one reason or another.

You have to offer solutions. And you need to stick around once the storm — whatever it might be — blows over.

So I urge you: Be the master of your own fate. Talk. Speak. Show up.

Contact reporter Rebecca Rider at 704-797-4264.

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