Last Thursday I was asked to present a message about homeless programs. I spent a few hours looking into data, reviewing the intent of the gathering to be sure the message I took was relevant, and writing and re-writing the content to honor the 3-minute time allotment each speaker would be given.
I flew out early Friday morning, caught a taxi to the Capitol, and waited just over an hour for the joint session to begin. The convener's opening remarks echoed the intent from his written announcement posted just a day earlier, and acknowledged that there were 19 people scheduled to speak over the next hour and 45 minutes. Ten delegates representing both the House and the Senate were seated at the table.
I felt hopeful.
The first speaker was called. I noticed he did not carry any notes as he walked toward the table and took a seat. He spoke for much longer than 3 minutes. I kept glancing at the clock because - follow the rules, be fair, and think about everyone else around you - are values that I have grown up with.
And then I heard it - the mis-information. For the next few minutes I tried to make sense of what I had just heard. How did he get that percentage? Maybe he meant within the context of this certain word. I did the math - no, it was still way off. I thought, maybe he meant this certain timeframe - no, that didn't make sense either.
I started feeling sick at the bad math when I noticed the folks at the table behind the fancy name placards smiling and nodding and REPEATING in a congratulatory way all the bad math mis-information.
"No", I thought. "You can't make big decisions with bad math mis-information".
Some of the thoughts going through my mind at that moment:
They need to know the truth. They are making big decisions - they really need to know the truth.
If I tell the truth, will I get into trouble?
Will important people get mad at me?
Will I embarrass the man with bad math?
If he does get embarrassed, will it somehow come back and bite me in the butt?
Was this whole morning staged? *Gasp* Rigged? *Gasp with bulging eyes* Is this politics?
I looked at what I had written to present and texted my co-workers - please - look through all the data and find how his math makes sense because what I have is the complete opposite.
No matter how we tried to slice it, the numbers told the truth.
A few others from the audience were called up to speak - some folks from a hospital, a police lieutenant, and community supporters of the bill - each taking much, much longer than 3-minutes.
And then there was no time left. The convener apologized to all the social services in the room and called up 2 of the remaining 13 speakers to the table.
He did not call me.
I debated within myself for about half a second about what to do - then I stood up, walked to the front of the room and sat at the table. Another provider who had not been called followed me and took a seat. Now there was four of us at the table.
The convener looked as if he wasn't sure what to do. He stressed to the audience and the table sitters his apologies, relayed that the people behind the fancy name placards were all due to attend a floor session in a few minutes, and almost with exasperation said, "I guess we will start from the right. You each have only a minute and a half."
I looked to my side and once realizing that I was the right, I awkwardly leaned over to speak into the mic that was in front of the woman next to me - definitely invading her personal bubble - and began to read, leaving out the fluffy formalities because, you know, I only had a minute and 30 seconds and I wanted to be sure he heard the part with the math.
When I was done, my eyes met those of the convener and he said, in a nutshell, don't worry about the funding for your program, we're not taking it away.
"Oh no", I thought, "he didn't even hear the part with the truth".
Within a few minutes the joint session closed and the convener and I met at the elevator. We stepped in and were followed by several others. Through the huddled elevator bodies he said to me again, "don't worry about the program money".
The elevator slowed to a stop and the doors opened.
"That wasn't the point", I said, "the information you were given in the beginning is wrong."
I wasn't sure if I was allowed to say that to someone in his position. I stepped past a couple women blocking the elevator door, looked back at him and said, "I will email you what I presented today."
Then I walked away.
I want to cry thinking about what happened on Friday.
I might be PMS-ing so maybe I will.
I want to cry for folks who carry the real truth - AKA the lived homeless experience - and who are never invited to the table when big decisions are being made for them.
I want to cry because people in power have so many meetings and so many big decisions to make and so little time to really listen.
I want to cry because big decisions are made with bad math.
I want to cry because when I step back from this experience, I see children holding signs with messages that need to be read and videos on Facebook that need to be watched by people with so many meetings and so many big decisions to make and so little time to listen.
I want to cry because children are practicing drills in their classroom to avoid being shot.
And children are going home and telling their mamas how they will help their teacher move a heavy desk to block the door and if they have to they will use their body as a shield to protect their friends.
And I want to cry because I have to speak to people in power using math and numbers and bottom line cost and really, really, we're talking about people, not integers.
Crying here in my living room will not change anything. I realize that.
And I also realize that everything in life is a blessing or a lesson. Cheesy, but true.
Friday definitely fell in the lesson category.
Here are mine.
1- You can easily find a lot of other things to do and a lot of reasons why this might not be a good time to speak truth. That was me on Thursday - I read the announcement about 5 times looking for a reason why I shouldn't go. Our name wasn't specifically listed, do they really, really need me to go? Will it make a difference? I have "stuff" already planned....Then the flights. The flights! The flights were expensive, the flights were too early, think about the carbon footprint for just 3 minutes..... I could go on.
2 - When you carry the truth, you very well may find yourself sitting all alone. I don't know where all my other truth telling peeps were that morning. Looking for parking maybe - I don't know - but even as I walked into the room and got seated I was still alone.
3 - You do not need a title or an important position. I have neither. You only need your message of truth.
4 - When carrying the truth, a lot of scary thoughts will pop into your mind. Sometimes, no matter what you say to yourself the fear will not subside. At that point, you will just have to resolve to be scared and tell the truth.
5 - You most likely will not be invited to the table. Inhale, stand up, and walk to the table anyway. It's not about you - it's about the message of truth. However, you do need a place to sit so try to get to the table quickly and if possible, grab a seat in front of the mic to avoid having to encroach upon a stranger's personal bubble.
6 - Honor the truth by speaking slow and clear enough for everyone to hear. Looking back, I know I rushed because I was trying to be a rule follower which is a silly thing to do in a room full of non-rule followers. Like the saying goes, when in Rome, eat pasta and fish.
7 - Accept that you may need to repeat your truth more than once. And follow up with an email.
Last, but not least, always check your work and do good math.
With honor and love and admiration for the truth tellers in whose footsteps I walk - LaDonna Harris, Laura Harris, Kate Cherrington, Nāmaka Rawlins, Kauanoe Kamanā, Noe Kalipi, and Maenette Benham.