Over the last six years, the Julian-Cuyamaca community has been debating whether or not the Julian Cuyamaca Fire Protection District (JCFPD) should remain an independent district or handed over the responsibility of structure fire protection and emergency medical assistance to the San Diego County Fire Authority (SDCFA) which would contract these services out to CalFire.
Currently, JCFPD is the last remaining independent volunteer fire district in San Diego County, and the individuals, including me, fighting to remain independent are fighting to keep local control. This issue arose shortly after I joined the Julian Cuyamaca Fire Explorers program run by JCFPD. Based on what people were saying about this complicated issue, it was so clear to me that many didn't understand many key components of this debate. For the first time, I understood the power, and importance, of education. Immediately, there was this heavy weight on my shoulders that compelled me to speak up.
There I was the shortest and youngest attendee (barely 13 years old), speaking to adults at community and board meetings. At the time, I felt like I was educated on this issue. Looking back, I certainly had a lot to learn and that I did. So, I'd like to take a few minutes (setting aside differences) to reflect on just a few of the things I've learned from this controversial issue.
1.Let your opposition speak and listen to them.
Contrary to what you may think, it's not always beneficial to be the first to speak at public meetings. If you go first, then you're not going get a chance to correct your opposition; therefore, silence becomes acceptance. Often, your opposition will provide the key elements needed to win the argument if you chose to listen to them. They will tell you what they want, don't want, and how to win them over. Use this to your advantage. Also, by letting your opposition speak, at some point they will dig their own grave, figuratively. This gives you the upper hand if you play your cards right.
2. Documentation and organization are necessary.
Document everything: the facts, events, your supporters, and both sides of the arguments. Your following is no good if your can't reach people and keep them engaged. One of the biggest mistakes we, who support remaining independent, made was not having our supporters and their contact information neatly compiled together in one form.
3. You need a plan and a brand for your message.
Create a plan from the very beginning. As events unfold, adjust it as needed. You need a well, thought-out plan and message. It needs to be simple and clear. You want to be proactive, not reactive. Ask the questions. Direct the dialog into areas you know you can win. Pick a few major points and direct everything back to those points. If we had stuck to three or four main points, we may have not lost as many supporters as we did in all the drama.
4. It's hard to keep a group focused.
I am so incredibly blessed to have the opportunity to work alongside such a passionate group of people. One of the biggest challenges was keeping everyone focused, on topic, and on the same path. We all shared a common goal but had slightly different versions of that goal. There's absolutely nothing wrong with this. If you can find a way to have everyone working on their strengths, this will help keep you moving forward. At the end of the day everyone played a major part in helping us get to where we are today.
5. People will switch their side.
One of the hardest things was watching a few of my biggest mentors switch to the "other side." At times, it made me question my own position. In the end, this caused me to step back, relook at the subject, and each time in the end it solidified my stance more than before. This was a good reminder to me that you can disagree with someone politically but that doesn't have to impact your personal interaction with them.
6. We are more like one another than we think.
This issue was technically "non-partisan." It has been wonderful to watch the young/old, rich/poor, and republicans/democrats come together for a common goal. Some people will work with you and others will work against you. That's just part of the deal. At the end of the day, both sides of the aisle are fighting for what they believe. How amazing is that?!
7. Stay true to who you are.
To help you stay true to yourself, I recommend writing down your core values. For example, a few of mine are; only spread truth, admit when I'm wrong, be kind to all, and always do what's right. It's very easy to get caught up in the drama. Do your best to stay out. If what you want to say (even if it's true) isn't going to do good, don't say or do it. Take the high road and hold your breath. You may lose the battle, but staying positive it could help you win the war. On the contrary, also understand that you can make your point without being rude, aggressive, negative, or making it a personal attack. It's all the the wording.
8. No good deed goes unpunished.
No matter what you do you will face criticism. Don't let these types of blows get to you. Contrastive criticism can help you know where to make needed improvements. Learn from it, make changes if needed, and push forward stronger than before.
9. It's very difficult to be fully educated on an issue.
Read a few articles, watch the news headlines on your preferred news channel, and read a few Facebook memes and you'll be well rounded on currents events...hold up. That's not how it works. Over the last six years I've spent thousands of hours learning the fire service, talking to people at all levels in the field, attending meetings, reading letters to the editor, reading/participating in Facebook conversations, and processing everything in my head. I still feel like I'm only treading water to stay informed on this topic. It's frequently very confusing to me. I'll be honest, I've spent so much time trying to stay educated on this one topic that I've fallen behind on other local and national issues. When it got too overwhelming to try to follow everything, I knew there wasn't much at this point in my life that I could do about national issues, and, therefore, I decided to focus my efforts where I had the best chance of making a difference.
10. Voting is not enough.
Our society has this destructive misconception that all you need to do is vote every two years and you've done all you can do. Our country's foundation requires involvement from the people. You need to stay up on current events, attend board meetings, and when that's not enough consider running for office. Involvement is vital to our survival. If we only voted, our fire board may have been dissolved years ago. Maybe this pertains only to small towns, but it also seems to be true with larger, elected positions as well. We all complain that elected officials don't really represent the population yet we still vote for them and don't find new candidates to replace them.
11. What you do matters.
The bystander effect surrounds us. Whether you decide to stand up or steer clear affects a situation's out come. Your actions (or lack of action) will cause a ripple effect. Whether it's a good or bad effect is up to you.
12. Don't give up. Give it your all.
You only have control of yourself. No matter what happens, at the end of the day, if you can say "I did everything I could," then that's success.
As the November 6th election (and the special election that would settle this issue once and for all that, hopefully, is to come) gets closer, I continue to pray to God that my community makes the right choice. Whatever choice it is, I will accept it because we, the community, made it for ourselves, not a few board members, not the county, not the politicians, not the out-of-town trolls, but we, the citizens of Julian and Cuyamaca. As we move forward to rebuild our community stronger than before, I thank God for the lessons I have learned on this journey. I thank God that I live in a place that cares so much about each other. At the end of the day, I know we're all trying to do what we think is best for Julian.
God Bless Team Julian!