A couple of months ago, I asked 600 people to join me in forming the New Energy Caucus within Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights, the tenants advocacy organization turned political party that controls Santa Monica’s City Council, Rent Control Board, the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, and Santa Monica College. I would have been happy if two or three people had agreed to come along, so getting as many people together as we did was both exciting and motivational. But for me, the fact that the address where I dropped off my application and $25 membership fee (the same address listed on SMRR’s website) turned out to be a UPS store did not inspire confidence in the organization and previewed what was to come over the next six weeks.
A few days later, the cash was taken out of my checking account. I took that to mean that my application had been approved and that I was now a card-carrying member of SMRR, the most powerful (and only) political party in town. So I started checking my mailbox for my official SMRR membership card, or my official SMRR membership packet, or my official SMRR welcome letter accompanying my invitation to the SMRR platform meeting on April 25. After a while, I had adjusted my expectations downward to the point where I would have been happy if they had just sent me a receipt for the 25 bucks (I was never invited to the platform meeting). As of the time this column went to print, neither I nor anyone else in the New Energy Caucus has had any contact at all from anyone connected to Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights. This leads me to believe that the organization has no orientation process for new members or it doesn’t want (or doesn’t welcome) new energy. Either way, it’s all bad for our city’s future.
The thing to remember about Santa Monica is our demographic eccentricity. Some 70 percent of us live in one-bedroom or two-bedroom apartments, 70 percent of us rent instead of own, over 70 percent of us aren’t moving (or aren’t moving very far if we do), about 70 percent of us don’t have families, some 70 percent of us have college degrees, and over 70 percent of us make at least $50k per year. We’re mostly childless apartment dwellers, so it’s understandable that a tenants’ rights group would be the most powerful (and only) political organization in town. But the fact that we’re also educated, and affluent means we’re likely to recognize a long-term problem — that our city’s power structure is controlled by one political party — and organize to solve it.
On a personal level, I was surprised that my application was approved. Back when I thought SMRR actually used the U.S. Postal Service, I thought for sure I would be getting a rejection letter. And I was OK with that. To paraphrase the great Groucho Marx, I wasn’t convinced that I wanted to be part of a club that would accept me as a member (especially after I called the organization Machiavellian). At the same time, I promised my readers I’d be there at the platform meeting. So I kept checking my mailbox, and I kept coming up empty. Numerous calls placed in order to confirm my membership in advance of the April 25 meeting went unanswered and unreturned and I was reluctant to discover the hard way that my check had been cashed by accident and that my membership application was not accepted. Because I didn’t know for sure that I would be welcomed, I didn’t attend. But make no mistake, I wasn’t happy about it.
For SMRR, my membership is a perfect test case. My experience is the experience of the person moving into Santa Monica. If this is what it’s going to be like for all new arrivals, then SMRR should get ready for a local revolution once the newcomers realize they’re not being represented and they have to have a path to representation other than SMRR membership. If a newly minted Santa Monican decides there is no way to effect local politics, he or she might just tune out. I have to think it’s a better idea to have more people engaged and invested inside the SMRR tent.
With this being an election year, I want my fellow SMRR members to know they can count on seeing me at the Aug. 1 convention. In the two months between now and that meeting, SMRR Steering Committee members can look forward to answering direct questions about the organization’s policies, procedures, and the general perception that it is neither open nor transparent. In the three months between the convention and the election, SMRR candidates can count on being contacted directly to get their positions on the issues on the record. And once your Santa Monica Daily Press holds our usual “Squirm Night” candidates forum, readers and voters can look forward to getting all the information they’ll need to choose the best future for Santa Monica.
Kenny Mack is a multi-platform content provider with four-quadrant crossover appeal who thinks it shouldn’t be necessary to point out the obvious fact that membership-based organizations that fail to reach out to new members don’t last very long. His past columns are archived at www.ifyoumissedit.com and he can be reached at email@example.com.