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How to Make it Through a Municipal Meeting
No matter where you live, you may find, from time to time, the need to attend a local government meeting of one kind or another. (Thank the Ancient Greeks for the chance.) From school board to city council to a plethora of committee meetings, you better come prepared to survive the grueling task of civic engagement.
Here is my survival guide for attending government meetings, based off of my personal experiences. I was prompted to make this list after my city's most recent council meeting lasted more than 5 hours and left many emotionally, mentally, and physically exhausted. I felt the hurt for days after. Here's how you can avoid similar hurt:
Before the meeting:
• Charge your phone. You need to be able to take pictures and post tweets and updates for everyone who could not make it. Find out if your locality has a hashtag used to discuss the meetings.
• Stay hydrated. Florescent lights have a way of sucking the moisture out of you.
• Eat a healthy meal. You will need those vitamins later!
• Check online for a meeting agenda. Not that the agenda matters much. They do seem to change the agenda at the last minute on a regular basis. But knowing the agenda, and maybe even printing it out is a good move. The local government does not always provide sufficient copies of agendas at the meeting.
• Make talking points. Your input is important, if nothing else, for educating the public, so get up an talk!
• Stretch or exercise before if you can. Sitting or standing still for who knows how long can be mighty uncomfortable.
• Wash your face and brush your teeth! You are going out in public and there will be news cameras. It's not about beauty standards but it is about you feeling confident and looking presentable. Whatever that means to you.
• Gather your quarters for the parking meter if you are driving. Plan ahead with transit, sometimes areas can take a while to find a cheap or free parking spot. I often ride a bike for this reason.
• Hug and kiss your loved ones good bye. You may not be seeing them for a while.
What to bring to the meeting:
• Your phone charger, so you can keep tweeting four hours in.
• A bottle of water! Municipal water fountains aren't so great, and you definitely want to stay hydrated to avoid headaches and the ensuing yelling at yuppies. Or maybe you don't want to avoid that, but drink water anyway.
• Snacks! These meetings often take place during traditional dinnertime. You want to keep your blood sugar up so you don't nod off while some city council member waxes eloquently about searching for curtains to match her wall paint or whatever. I suspect that many local government meeting places do not allow food. So sneak in your snacks! Bring small things you can eat discreetly, or things you can carry out into the hallway to eat quickly. If you bring enough for comrades, they will thank you.
• Ibuprofen is important. I have never made it through a government meeting that lasted longer than an hour without getting a major headache. It's the lighting and the canned air and the frustration, I think, combining in a particularly toxic way.
• Notebook and writing implement for notes. A sketchbook can also be a great tool. Having paper and crayons available for any kiddos in the audience can help support those parents, too.
• Signs or banners. This obviously depends on your local rules, but having a sign about your issue is a great visual way to represent. There is often media at these meetings, and they love to include shots of visuals in news reports. It helps make clear who is in the audience and why. Especially if you choose not to speak, or won't be given an opportunity to speak, a sign makes your presence still valuable for your cause.
• Your friends. If you can trick someone into coming with you, all the better. Having a person to whisper sarcastic things to has gotten me through more than one meeting. And the more people who attend these meetings to talk about or represent certain sides the better.
• Last but not least, comfortable shoes with inserts. Anyone who has spend more than five hours in a standing-room-only meeting will agree. Generally, plan your apparel in layers. It is hard to predict if government buildings will be hot or cold, so be prepared for anything.
After the meeting:
• If you can have a meal prepared at home for the post-meeting recovery, you will be very happy with yourself.
• Also, consider drinking a cup of chamomile tea for the calming effects that will allow you to drift to sleep instead of staying awake banging your head against the wall.
• If you have the energy to do a write up immediately after the meeting—while information is fresh in your head—do it. That can be extremely useful for your organization or cause, and to help inform everyone who couldn't attend.
• Hopefully plan to sleep; give yourself that time. Other good recovery activities would range from stretching to planning fun social things with friends. Have an idea of self-care methods that work for you, and be ready to implement them post-meeting. Maintaining your emotional, mental, and physical health is necessary so you do not burn out.
• Support your comrades! Whether that means sending them positive messages or inviting them to a potluck or organizing a strategy meeting for your cause, communicating with and supporting the health of your comrades is important. Maybe you see someone who looks especially worn down, perhaps on the verge of burn out. If you can find a way to reach out and support them, that can be a positive step to take.
Your locality may have different rules and regulations, and you may find you need different things to survive. Please post your suggestions in the comments below!
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