I don't know if any of you have ever tired to get your elected representatives to actually listen to you, but I have.
Once, as I stood with my NO CASINO sign on the sidewalk, my State rep pulled up in his boat of a car, bellowed something mostly unintelligible out the window, then sped off into the distance waving his cigar as I called and motioned - to no avail - for him to return and have a conversation.
When I went to see him at his office at the State House, his contemptuous slimeball of aide left me in tears.
I have repeatedly, and with little success, requested that a selectman from my town attend meetings of the 17 Town Regional Task Force on Casino Impacts.
Last year, my ardently pro-slots state senator made a brazen attempt to stop a public meeting of this same task force in Carver.
This task force, which represents a quarter-million people in Southeast Mass., has yet to have been granted an audience with the Governor - though he frequently meets with the 1,500 member Cape Cod Indian tribe which wants to build the world's biggest casino there.
Back in 2007, after writing to my congressmen (members of the same governing body which made suburban tribal mega casinos a reality) about my concerns regarding the Middleboro casino project, I received a brief, and utterly clueless, letter from Ted Kennedy's office thanking me for my interest in immigration reform.
And I'm still waiting to hear from John Kerry.
Sad thing is, I've actually voted for these guys. Many times over the years.
And it's not just the big guys. I've also been gaveled to silence in my own town hall, and witnessed similar gaveling in Middleboro whenever concerns were raised about having the world's biggest casino as a neighbor.
A ballot vote by residents there opposing the casino project was unanimously deemed "irrelevant" by local selectmen and as a result not forwarded to the Secretary of the Interior.
And, thanks to a labyrinth of regulations seemingly modeled after the game of Battleship, the fact that my community is not a host community, even though it would potentially abut a newly created sovereign nation and the world's largest casino, the Federal government denies my town so much as a say-so in the matter.
But what does any of it matter anyway since I'm frequently reminded by the media that my representatives and I are completely powerless - because the only one who does matter in Massachusetts is whoever is currently filling the shoes of the Speaker of the House.
So I shouldn't even bother trying.
But I do try. I've held my sign, done lots of research, collected signatures, given testimony, written letters, blogged, made videos, built web sites, given interviews, attended myriads of meetings, participated in events across the state, arranged educational forums, written fact sheets, sent out mailings, maintained databases, and have put up with pro-casino abuse ranging from having F-bomb's hurled at my children to receiving a threat on my life.
And I'm just one member of the team.
Thankfully, in the second half of last year, we started seeing our efforts start to make a difference. We managed to get the facts out to the Mass. Democratic Party convention - which then adopted a resolution opposing slots.
The Attorney General's top staff, the Governor's top staff, and even the Governor himself let us make our case about the real costs of slots and casinos - after which both the Governor and Attorney General endorsed having the Commonwealth perform a fresh, independent cost-benefit analysis of expanded gambling.
But despite the compelling facts and recent inroads, it still amazes me how little understanding there is about our message among legislators and the general public.
Pigeon-holed as 'moralists', or painted as an axe-wielding, fun-stealing cadre of Carrie Nations whose mission is to deprive individuals of their private liberties and the State of much needed jobs and revenue - a characterization aided and abetted by the media and assorted anonymous comment section hoopla - our message is lost.
And so, in an attempt to more clearly define that message, to frame it in easy-to-understand, graphical, economic terms, we managed, last Thursday, to pack a room at the Statehouse with reps and their aides to present "A Mathbook for Beacon Hill".
More than a dozen people volunteered their time, expertise and resources to the project for over two months. Many of us took the day off from work and drove in from across the state to be available to answer questions at the presentation - which countered the inflated figures for jobs and revenue we keep hearing about, along with the invariably non-existent costs that accompany them.
But what do the efforts of a bunch of concerned taxpaying volunteers matter when a solitary, paid legislator and big-time slot cheerleader like State Rep. Kathi-Anne Reinstein (D - Suffolk Downs) can mosey down from her office, sit through the meeting like a fidgety 5th grader who'd sold her last Ritalin for a snickers bar, then proceed to hijack the Q & A as her own personal pro-slots soapbox?
After purposely having framed our presentation to specifically address economic impacts - partly in response to accusations by Kathi and others like her who've repeatedly tried to characterize the opposition's message as one of moral imperative over financial reality - Kathi proceeded to use our meeting to bend the message back to addiction and social costs.
And before long, Kathi-Anne the pro-slots cheerleader becomes Kathi the slot-wielding human bullhorn, dripping with sarcasm, reeking of indignation, dismissive, bombastic and rude.
Attempts to reign her in, requests that she phrase her comments in the form of an actual question were utterly ignored. This was "a public meeting!" after all, she insisted! She had the right to be heard.
That's right, because just like those of us who worked hard to set up this meeting sans a staff, who don't get to vote on expanded gambling legislation, who've been repeatedly ignored by many of our own elected leaders in favor of track owners, lobbyists and others, who are outspent by gambling interests $2 million to one and are invariably regulated to the last quote on the second page of virtually every news article on the subject, Kathi-Anne appears to actually be afraid that someone won't hear her.
Which, from what I've seen of Kathi-Anne Reinstein, is downright impossible.
After pontificating for a good fifteen minutes (and at least a quarter of our allotted time) on just about everything from license plates to cigarettes to adopting thoroughbred horses, Kathi-Anne finally asks that all too familiar and predictable question:
"If not gambling, what other ideas do yoooooooooou have for coming up with new jobs and revenue."Okay, look. I've heard this same question from everyone from small town selectmen to Sen. Marc Pacheco, to that slimeball in Dave Flynn's office.
And really, I don't hold it against Kathi that between her horse-based life experiences and limited intellectual abilities, she can't wrap her head around better, creative solutions that won't end up helping the gambling industry more than citizens of Massachusetts.
Or that she, who at an October 2009 hearing referred to her constituents as "not exactly rocket scientists" with an existing array of gambling problems, is in favor of creating future generations of addicts in her district in order to save them all a bus ride to Connecticut.
Or that the woman who once championed making the fluffernutter the official sandwich of Massachusetts isn't perhaps incapable of comprehending the serious ramifications that legalizing slots could have for other communities and taxpayers outside the confines of her district.
Heck, after three years of observing a certain percentage of the people who make up the Massachusetts legislature, including Kathi-Anne, you won't catch me holding my breath waiting for them to come up with a better solution than expanded gambling.
No, the thing that really gets me is that State Rep. Kathi-Anne Reinstein had the unmitigated, sanctimonious gaul to face a group of unpaid citizen volunteers, including health educators and web designers and demand that they - they - provide her with alternative revenue sources.
Because heck, isn't that her job. Isn't that's what she's paid to do. Paid by us?
We all have jobs to do. So, are we free to call Kathi up and ask her how to do them?
Should medical doctors stop to confer with Kathi-Anne when stumped for a cure for their patient?
Perhaps demolitions experts should keep Kathi on speed dial in case they have to ask "should I cut the blue or the red wire."
Of course not. But this isn't the real world, it's the Commonwealth of Kathi-Anne - where she gets paid to try to make you look bad for not being able to do her job.
Which begs the question, aside from ignoring constituents, failing to perform due diligence, pretending not to fawn over special interests, supporting bad ideas, promoting unhealthy sandwiches to school children, talking too much, listening too little, collecting pensions for life and expecting other people to do their job, what is it, exactly, that today's legislators do?
I can tell you this - most of them haven't even taken the time to look at this website.
Why do you suppose that is? Perhaps we should add "being busy already knowing everything there is to know about slots" to that impressive legislative job description?
Because the more people know about this industry, the more they're likely to oppose it. Or, at least, more likely to demand a deeper look.
Which is why people like me wait patiently for the Q & A session at the end of another long meeting, if they allow one at all, and then carefully phrase our comments in the form of a question. We wait for a year to give 5 minutes testimony to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and two and a half years to testify for 3 minutes at the State House. We wait our turn, for 13 hours, folded up like a human lawn chair in an over-crowded auditorium, to speak for less than a minute.
We work, unpaid, and play - if you can call it that- by the rules.
And that's the real problem, isn't it. It's why lobbyists spread around big money behind the scenes, and why legislators make quiet deals with the devil behind closed doors. Why unions pay their members to pack halls in distant towns, and why policy analysis turned industry shills label us, without grasping a shred of irony, the 'chattering class'.
Kathi wasn't afraid that her peers at the State House wouldn't hear her - she was terrified that, for once, they might actually hear us.
UPDATE: January 2, 2014 - Kathi-Anne Reinstein resigned from the Massachusetts legislature to take a new job as