These words were a significant part of the public discussion on the subject of the Confederate monument in Munn Park. As with all words, the meaning attaches to the speaker, and meets the listener accordingly.
The mayor declared that a “majority of Lakeland residents” wanted to keep the statue in its place, and many speakers echoed that sentiment. The results of an opinion poll were offered to back up the claim. A commissioner held up a thick stack of pages purporting to be correspondence from constituents who did not want to see the statue moved.
A small pall of gloom hung over some people in attendance who began to think this issue would decided by a show of hands attached to people they couldn’t see.
It seemed they would be the minority, but as more than 60 speakers took their turns at he podium and as the commission and audience listened, a sense of purpose - if not actual hope - began to ripple through the contingent of those who asked to have the statue relocated.
Passion. insistence. Authenticity. Stories. Heartfelt and heartbreaking stories. Moving stories intended to move the listeners and the statue.
It worked. Or rather, our particular version of democratic and representative government worked. Our city commissioners, charged with the responsibility to officially and formally adapt the city’s relationship with a piece of marble, a piece of history, and a segment of its citizens, did what it was designed and deigned to do. Listen. Learn. Lead.
Majorities do not need representation. They rule. But if we simply adopt that paradigm as paramount, we will have no need of government or governance or representatives. A show of hands will do. A show of force.
It is minorities that are the focus of a representative democracy. But here’s where it gets sticky. And tricky. The American culture, searching for a neutral term to refer to citizens of color - and to avoid the “N” word and commonly used disparagements of Hispanic and Asian residents - settled on “minority”, assuming that they would always be just that - a minority of the population, and more importantly “never be the majority” (so we whites need never worry about their influence). As a result, when white people say “minority” other white people see black and brown people, not simply a smaller-than-half collection of citizens.
But in that formal chamber, populated by a cross-section of the Lakeland community, we were witness to a near-perfect rendition of citizenship and leadership. As it turned out, those who came to ask that the statute to be relocated clearly formed the majority of the roughly 100 people in attendance. And they came in all colors. And ages. And eras.
And when it came time for our representatives to show their hands, the majority of them agreed.
And the issue was resolved. This is exactly how it is supposed to work. Citizens of Lakeland have demonstrated a most straightforward way to manage contention. And while there was a fair amount of anxiety and some actual fear of “outside” agitation, it proved to be unnecessary.
The assembly sat mostly quiet, polite, and respectful earning only minor admonitions from the mayor. No antics. No chants. No bad behavior. The rule of law, and the rules of etiquette ruled the day. As did the “majority” in the way it was intended to.
Lakeland can take satisfaction in its demonstration of citizenship, leadership, and resolution.
Well done, all.