A Smashing Triumph of Healthy Civic Engagement!
written by Mason Wolf and Andrew Crockett
Recently, an interesting question was asked at True Fellowship #52: “Can an Odd Fellows lodge host a political forum, while avoiding political, sectarian, or other improper debate?” The answer was a resounding yes!
On January 24th, the candidates for the San José District 6 open seat race to replace outgoing council member Dev Davis met together at True Fellowship 52, along with several dozen uncommitted voters, to discuss their policy ideas and qualifications addressing the most pressing issues for district and city residents. The evening began with light refreshments and animated conversation in the dining room, where candidates and voters engaged one another face-to-face at what was surely the wonkiest party most people could imagine.
At 7PM the Pledge of Allegiance ushered in the action in the main hall, where Dev Davis herself proceeded to introduce each of the candidates and explained the purpose of the evening’s Civic Forum. From there our Brother, Chair of the Lodge Civics Committee Andrew Crockett took the reins as moderator, and laid down the rules – each candidate would give an opening statement, then answer a series of questions touching on the concerns of ordinary voters we had gathered through our website, and wrap up with a closing statement. There was to be no attacking the other candidates, and no uttering falsehoods. To maintain this order, at a nearby table there was a timekeeper (Brother Mason Wolf), a fact checker (Brother Scott Spence), and a friendliness checker (Brother John Jensen). While no one would be interrupted during their speech, the two checkers would take notes to prepare a report to be released at a later date, shared online and with any attendees or members of the media who wished to read it.
The result of this format was the friendliest candidate forum you could ask for, and every voter we spoke with left with excitement for whichever candidate they may have chosen to support, rather than that all-too-familiar distaste and resignation to support the least odious one.
The questions themselves touched on affordable housing, public safety, budgets, small businesses, what to do about Google, building sustainably, housing the unhoused, and (very dear to our hearts) how to support non-profit community centers. The candidates were so good at staying within their time limits that they even reached a bonus question – how should we celebrate America’s and San José’s upcoming 250th anniversaries? I highly recommend watching their answer, as incredibly, none of them seemed to have prepared for that question before!
The opening and closing statements, along with all but one of the questions, are available to watch on our lodge website – true52.org/d6-forum. Unfortunately, there was a network outage during the public safety question and the zoom recording was interrupted.
Personally, I think this was an event that deserves to be replicated at other lodges. While I know there is an understandable fear about getting involved in partisan politics in any way, it may help to remember that our lodges were once tightly intertwined with the local civic fabric of their communities, and it benefited the community as well as the lodge. If anything, it reveals just how important it is to stick to sensible rules that ensure that Friendship, Love, and Truth maintain their mild dominion over everything we do.