Taking Part In An Amazing Process - And Response

Thursday, December 5, 2013

My husband and I gathered signatures on petitions over the Thanksgiving holiday. Given the future impact of the domestic benefits ordinance narrowly passed by the City Council, we felt it was important for all Chattanoogans to have an opportunity to be heard at the ballot box.   

We have lived here for decades; we are both recently retired (TVA management and real estate brokerage).

     I tell you this, because we are not ‘activists’ by any stretch. And, unlike many of those who’ve consistently commented on this in the paper, this is our home. 

What I’m about to share is precisely what we experienced.  We gathered hundreds of signatures over the four-day period; we were focused on the Northgate/Hixson area—council Districts 2 (Jerry Mitchell) and 3 (Ken Smith). 

One day was spent going door to door, asking if folks wanted to sign. With only one exception, we were treated with respect and often thanked for our involvement.  All the remaining days/hours were instances of holding signs and traffic driving to us. 

The preponderance of comments was that we should all have an opportunity to vote on this.  Without exception, there was not one single occasion where we heard any anti-homosexual comments from the public  (Contrary to the opinions of the newspaper editorial staff. Thank goodness we have the Chattanoogan)    

We were thrilled to see city policemen and firemen sign, expressing appreciation for our efforts.   They shared example after example where their pensions and benefits had been cut due to lack of funds.  The obvious question is…how is there money for this?  And why did five council members consider this group more important than dedicated police and firefighters?  Where they spend your money is a clear indication of their priorities. 

A large number of residents expressed concern that unmarried heterosexual couples—folks just not wanting the commitment of marriage – would quickly become an overwhelming financial burden on the city.  Additionally, a significant number of folks who wanted to sign were unable to do so, as they were either county residents or ineligible to vote for various reasons. Regardless, they drove up to encourage us and share their opinions.  We even had folks from other countries want to sign. 

We heard many voice their frustration, and some their anger, at Councilman Jerry Mitchell.   Councilman Mitchell had said his vote in favor of this ordinance was reflective of his constituency; that’s certainly not what we heard this past weekend. 

Given that the final tally was over 10,000 signatures collected … keep in mind, this is more than half of all who voted in the last election… and considering this was hastily done over a 14-day period which included a long holiday weekend, much of which was quite cold and raining….yet we still got this overwhelming response? 

I always want to give folks the benefit of the doubt, but it's clear to us that five members of the council haven’t correctly read the pulse of Chattanooga.   A few activists – some from outside our city – coupled with some biased media reporting, make this appear as if it’s a homosexual issue…to vote against it means that you’re bashing homosexual people. 

We found, first-hand, just the opposite was true.  We also witnessed many miracles in this process – nothing else can explain it.  We worked alongside some of the most incredibly compassionate, committed and talented folks we’ve ever met.  Participating in this effort were people from all races, all ranges of economic status, Protestants/Catholics/Jew, all ages (one man, prominent in our community and well in his 80’s, walked neighborhoods with a smile on his face and love in his heart.   Another - also in his 80’s - walked his hilly neighborhood gathering signatures to bring to us).  We met and made friends with others, unable to take an active role, yet doing what they could to help.   

As exhausting and challenging as the task was, we both were grateful to have been a very small part in this very large process. 

I was reminded all over again that it takes time and effort to become informed.   The next step takes courage to uncharacteristically leave your ‘comfort zone’ and get involved. 

At some point, we pray we will come together as a community.  My opinion, of course, but political correctness cannot override common sense.  If we are to survive the days ahead, there is no room for the divisive rhetoric of a few agitators, for ‘hyphenated Americans’, separated by economic class, race, creed or political affiliation… no place for hate and violence if we are to meet the challenges ahead. 

We’re all Americans.  We’re all Chattanoogans.  If our home becomes divided (as it seems is the agenda of a few), we will be in danger of losing this amazing city.

The rewards are worth the effort and fate of Chattanooga depends on it. 

Jo Peckinpaugh 

* * * 

Thank God for people like Jo Peckinpaugh.  As another TVA retiree of many years, I know a patriot, a true American, and a dedicated TVAer when I see one.  She has served us well with a good dose of the truth.  The only way to test the pulse of the masses is to go out among them and get it.   

Thank you, Jo.  Chattanooga needs more citizens like you.  I agree with everything you said. 

Although it would have been my customary "cup of tea" to be out there pounding the pavement and knocking on doors with the other 80-somethings for the benefit of the people, I could not this time.  I did, however, download the petition, vote, and send a check to help with the expenses.  I shall do it again.  Anytime.  For justice.  For freedoms guaranteed to us by our Constitution.  And to keep our city government and the newspaper apprised of what we expect from our elected officials. 

Charlotte Parton

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