An ode to Federal Way's vocal minority | Andy Hobbs

On the heels of the recent change in government comes another simmering movement: Building a performing arts and civic center in downtown Federal Way.

A recurring theme in both cases is the so-called “vocal minority,” a seemingly small group of people who influence the public debate. Before dismissing the vocal minority as elite do-gooders or bored rabble-rousers, consider that the world is shaped by people who show up and speak up.

In 2009, a handful of residents led the controversial change in Federal Way’s government to include a strong mayor. Before the measure passed, it was difficult to gauge the leanings of average voters. The public discourse was a battle of two vocal minorities: The ones who yelled yes, and the ones who screamed no. Some yelled and screamed more than others, but if you made even one public peep, then you joined the vocal minority. After all, most people remain silent.

The label “vocal minority” is sometimes deployed as an insult, especially by one vocal minority against its opponent. Each side fights for the ears and minds of the silent en route to a winning majority.

Federal Way’s topic du jour is a proposed performing arts and civic center. Like the strong mayor issue, the arts center depends on a handful of residents and leaders who feel this idea will benefit Federal Way’s quality of life. There is opposition to an arts center by those who deem it unnecessary. However, an arts center does not need to engage voters to become a reality.

A vocal minority is rallied by a unifying emotion that nudges bystanders into action. The more nudges for one side of the debate, the more powerful that side becomes. Just because the silent majority subdues its opinions does not mean there is no opinion. Bystanders in public discourse leave little room for local drama. Like their vocal brethren, they work hard and play hard amid the routine of survival: Family, job, traffic, food, play, sleep. Unless given a compelling reason to speak up, the silent majority will listen from the sidelines, discuss at the dinner table, possibly vote, then move on. Should we fault those citizens who stay blissfully ignorant of Federal Way’s political or economic happenings? In many respects, they are the blessed ones, with one less monkey clinging to their conscience. Silence can indeed be golden.

However, humanity owes its progress to the individuals who shun silence and force the masses to pay attention. How does the vocal minority turn a small flame into a roaring fire? It begins with one person or group willing to walk against the grain, light the match, carry the torch and shine a light in the darkness — or burn down the status quo, if need be.

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