Public Comment

Money vs. Democracy

By Steve Martinot
Friday March 30, 2012 - 05:53:00 PM

A neighborhood group in Oakland contacted us, the anti-Smartmeter movement, to invite us to debate PGE on Smartmeters. They wanted to learn about Smartmeters, and had already contacted PGE. But they on their own also decided that they should hear both sides. I volunteered to take it on, and contacted the group spokesperson, a man I'll call Jack. Jack then contacted PGE, and they assigned someone, who I'll call Stan, to hold up PGE's side of the debate. The group (I'll call ONA, for Oakland neighborhood association) then hired a room in a restaurant in which to hold the event. The rent was $300. Originally PGE said they would pay for it, but when ONA set up the debate, they properly took on the costs, with PGE's blessing. 


A conference call between Jack, Stan, and myself was set up. Preparatory to that call, I sent both a proposal, laying out a schema for equal time of participation, and suggesting that I speak first since Smartmeters were already an extant issue everyone had already heard about from the utilities. I included time for questions and issues raised by the audience. It was only a proposal, but its central principle was equal time, real debate. 


Stan showed the proposal to some colleagues at PGE, and based on that they nixed his participation in the event. Apparently, equal time, and real debate, scares the pants off them. They contacted ONA, and backed out of the event. I laughed when Jack told me of this, because it so aptly revealed the scam involved in these Smartmeters. 


But Jack then renegotiated with PGE, and phoned to inform me. The deal they came up with was that I would not be listed as a participant. It would be PGE's meeting, and I could attend, ask questions, make statements from the floor as permitted by the chair, but that was all. When I asked Jack why he went along with it, he gave me the bottom line. PGE was going to pay for the room and the event. In other words, for an evening's room rent, he was willing to forego some serious democratic discussion of an issue. 


Well, I blew up. I tend to do that when someone treats me with disrespect. And to renege on an agreement in order to accept a payoff is quite disrespectful. I'm not going to betray myself or accept second-class status because someone else is throwing a bunch of money around. So I accused Jack and ONA of cowardice and hypocrisy, and shot some choice phraseology about that from the hip. We hung up in cool simultaneity. Not only did PGE reveal the fact of a total scam underlying its technology project, but it demonstrated its unremitting hunger to acquire monopoly power over information and decision-making – not to mention electricity. On the other hand, for people like Jack to pretend they are interested in information, and then succomb to the corrupt demands of that monopoly, is truly contemptible. 


Apparently my phraseology wasn't strong enough. They called me the next day to talk. But I refused to have anything to do with a meeting that can throw out an agreement and reduce one party to second-class status because another party pays them money. That kind of corruption doesn't fly. 



All I can think of to say is, people get ready. This incident is only one of many that exemplify the loss of voice and the suppression of information by which we are already ruled. Get ready to first imagine, and then construct new forms of voice.