There, I did it again.
And once more, I couldn’t help myself.
I put on my community activist hat and went about correcting a wrong that needed to be righted.
Maybe I got involved because I’m a journalist. Then again, it might be because I’m nosy (something, by the way, that all great reporters are). In every instance, it’s also because the issue at hand is one that has just rubbed me the wrong way. So, probably, it’s all of these reasons that make me want to act.
My latest personal crusade involved our town’s largest supermarket, a place where nearly everyone who lives here
I used to love the genteel mustached man who managed the store, but ever since he retired a couple of years ago, I began to question the decisions of its new manager.
This came to a head about six months ago, when I saw that the market was allowing a young teenager—one from at least 100 miles away—to stand right next to the entrance from early morning to nighttime.
This girl was collecting cold, hard cash for a group, she said, that helps wayward kids in trouble. But, I’m familiar with this particular organization, and know that instead, it’s run by an extremely fundamentalist church which also practices gay conversion therapy.
When I complained to the manager, she told me, “My hands are tied. There’s nothing I can do. They filled out an application and it was approved by the district office.”
Over several weeks, I continued to press her about allowing this organization to collect money. After a while, she grudgingly told me I might contact the store’s corporate office. So, I sent an email, but after two months, still hadn’t received a response (I’m nothing if not patient). I was finally able to ferret out a complaint line number—it was well hidden within the company’s very large website, but this wily girl clown found it.
By this time, I hadn’t seen the “we help teenagers” girl for a while, but now there was a new person, also from out of the area and also right at the entrance, soliciting funds to supposedly help hungry children in Africa. (Nope, I’d never heard of this organization, and had also never seen this person in our small town.)
Thankfully, the customer representative I finally spoke with (somewhere in Ohio, I think) was on my side.
In fact, right then and there while I was put on hold, she called the store manager, and told her that no soliciting was allowed, period. I hadn’t known this, and now realized that the manager had lied to me from the get-go. There had been no forms that had been filled out and there had been no district go-ahead.
A day later, the hungry children guy was still out front, so I decided to nicely ask the manager why she wasn’t adhering to her employer’s policy. (I also asked friends on Facebook what they thought about these solicitors. They were unanimous in saying they hated them. Many added that seeing someone standing next to a grocery store door with the sole purpose of collecting money crossed a personal boundary.)
I tried to be civil, but the manager was combative. “I chose to break the rules,” she said, trying to stare me down. “He seemed like a nice person, so I’m letting him stay.”
As I continued to press her, she continued to say she had made the conscious choice to go against her employer’s corporate guidelines. After a few minutes—perhaps she realized that I wasn’t going away—she then said that I had
now given her no other option. Now, I was “forcing her to choose,” so, thanks to me, there would be no more solicitors out front.
The man currently outside, she added, would be gone the next day.
I went on to explain I was more than fine with local non-profits out front. Girl Scouts could still sell cookies, or a nearby high school music booster club might promote raffle tickets. In my book, service clubs like Rotary, Kiwanis and Lions are also A-Okay. In fact, groups like this help to bond communities. (Additionally, these folks have never gotten in anyone’s face. They’ve always set up a table near, but never at, the front door.)
No deal, said the manager.
Thanks to my incessant complaining, she continued, there would now never be anyone out front again, ever. I thanked her for following her store’s policy, but she had to get the last word in. As she walked away, she turned around and snarled, “And, that is unfortunate.”
I can take it, because it has now been more than a month since that encounter, and I haven’t noticed anyone from any shady organizations at the market doors. Also, whenever I’ve run into the manager—both of us knowing that someone from the corporate office had a very firm conversation with her—she is polite.
Hello, small victory.
I’ve had a handful of other forays into neighborhood activism.
None were planned.
In fact, the first issue was tackled only because it was a business right down the street from the yoga studio I attend.
Housed in a strip mall, this enterprise advertised massages for insanely low prices. The blinking neon sign beckoning customers also flashed well after nine o’clock, which is essentially when our sweet little beach town rolls up
its sidewalks. Something seemed off, but when I next heard a few people saying they knew customers who had
received “happy endings” there (www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Happy%20ending), I decided
it was time to dust off my hat.
The dry cleaner next door more or less admitted that she knew what was going on, but said her parents owned the property and couldn’t speak English well enough to understand what to do. I knew that was utter poppycock, so took a next, bigger step: contacting our sheriff.
Detectives there had also heard the rumors. At the same time, I was able to get about three dozen neighbors to write letters about their concerns. It took a while, but in less than a year, the massage parlor moved to a different part of town, in a lightly trafficked area rather than the main corridor where it had been located.
Then, a couple of years after this, I spearheaded the move to get a nearby abandoned house condemned.
A fire department captain understood my concerns, and helped me bring this sorry house—uninhabited except by rats and other vermin for close to two decades—to the attention of county officials. Consequently, the absentee owner was ordered to pay all sorts of government fines. At about the same time, I went on a local TV news broadcast to complain about the piles of nasty trash the owner was now leaving in the driveway in his attempt to get all of his things out. But shortly afterwards, he sold the place to some flippers, who redid it quickly in order to make a quick sale.
This “project” took well over a year, but it was well worth it: the house always had good bones, and it’s now completely renovated. It’s a pleasure to stroll by and see lights on; hear music playing, and know a family has brought it back to life.
I’m not wearing my neighborhood activist hat at the moment. But because I’m always ready to do so, and because I also always feel compelled to try and make the world a better place, I’m pretty sure that there will always be a bit of Don Quixote in me.
I certainly can’t undo every wrong, and I certainly can’t bring justice to the entire world.
But, I can do my best to change a corner of a corner of a corner.
Especially in these unsettling times, that’s good enough for me.
Have you ever tried to right a wrong? I look forward to your stories and comments!