All around the world, corrupt regimes are being challenged by citizens who want to see fair, effective governance of their countries. In Tunisia, Yemen and now Egypt, people are taking to the streets to show their displeasure with leaders more concerned about staying in power than the well-being of their own people.
But the clarion call for better government is also taking place here at home. Just yesterday afternoon, in fact, the head of the Charlotte Avenue YMCA in Rock Hill, S.C., saw a protest calling not for a less authoritarian rule of law, but for better enforcement of legislation already on record at the exercise facility.
Executive Director Moe Bell was the target of a noontime rally held in the central lobby by a member dissatisfied with his administration’s strategy of hanging paper signs throughout the building, and ignoring blatant violations of the policies spelled out in those signs.
“What’s the point of asking people to wipe down machines after they’re done if there’s going to be no enforcement?” asked the protester, who wanted to be identified only as “me” or “I” to protect himself against possible retribution. “Elsewhere, people are demanding an end to police states. Here on Charlotte Avenue, we have a spineless regime afraid to stand up for order.”
Carrying a “Moe Must Go!” sign, I demanded a meeting with the man responsible for the daily descent into chaos that characterizes the busiest periods right after people get off work. And I got what I demanded, as you might expect from a leader eager to please everyone and offend no one, not even the kids who bounce basketballs in the hallway in clear violation of a sign that tells them not to.
“I appreciate that you’ve made these regulations clearly stated, but there’s just nothing to back them up,” I told Moe at the start of our ten-minute session.
“Can you give me some examples?” asked the man who has ruled with a reasonable, cautious fist at the facility for close to 30 years.
I pointed out that the letter-sized sheet of paper hung outside the steam room calling for “No Shaving” is routinely disregarded, especially by the older guys who have been coming here for years. I noted that the sign telling exercisers to limit their time on treadmills during peak hours to 30 minutes was being interpreted to mean 30 minutes of running, followed by a five-minute cool-down. I reported that, just last weekend, a father brought his school-age son into the adult men’s locker room, in direct violation of the sign that prohibits everyone under age 18.
“Look at this,” I asked Moe, showing him a picture on my cell phone. “Right there next to the sign that reads ‘No BARE bottoms on benches’ sits a completely naked man, soiling the seat with his sweaty butt.”
“You know, we also have a sign in there that says ‘NO cell phones in locker room’,” he countered.
“And that one’s routinely violated as well,” I shouted. “Where is the enforcement of these rules? Why even bother coming up with them?”
Moe gave a brief overview of how the legislative, executive and judicial branches operate at the Y. First, a member will complain about something. Then, Moe will go to his computer and call up the folder named ‘RULES’, opening a Word file into which he types the new rule. He asks whoever’s on duty at the front desk to proofread it for him.
“I always ask them to read it on the screen, so we don’t waste any paper,” Moe said. “I think it’s good to have checks and balances like proofreading.”
He’ll print out several copies of the rule, grab a tape dispenser, and hang the signs where he thinks they’ll be most noticed. If somebody objects to the new rule, he’ll take down the offending sign and possibly put up another one.
“So people may see the sign, but that doesn’t mean they do what it says,” I interjected. “Why don’t you have a police force to patrol the building and make sure these things happen?”
Moe said his budget didn’t allow much for security costs, and added that “sometimes I’ll put a piece of clip-art with the new rule, and that seems to draw a more positive response.”
I demanded that Moe and his henchmen at least make it a rule to always print the signs in portrait format, rather than in landscape.
“I think the vertical lines of the portrait mode tell people you’re serious. Makes it look like the top part of an exclamation point,” I said. “Landscaped printouts remind people of pleasant outdoor scenes. It makes them think you’re weak.”
Moe agreed to my demand, and began typing the new rule into his computer. He printed out a single copy — in landscape! — and hung it on the wall next to his printer.
“Now, I ask for your immediate resignation, and that your government agree to free and open elections to replace you,” I said.
Moe said the Y’s board of directors would have to be the ones to hear such a request, and there was a meeting scheduled for next Wednesday that I could attend if I wanted to.
“I will be there, you can be assured of that,” I said, rising to leave. “No, wait, I’m meeting a friend for Scrabble that night. Never mind.”