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Town of Scotland
I Am Not a Cop
Of the seventeen people who died in Scotland in 1918 and 1919, only one died from the influenza pandemic that was at that time sweeping the planet. Her name was Minnie Chapman. She was 57 years old. She died on New Year's Day 1919. By the time the year was over, a third of the earth's population would become infected and fifty million people would die from the flu, most of them in its second and third waves.
As of today, there are no confirmed coronavirus cases in Scotland. There are probably many reasons for this: among them, inaccurate address reporting, thanks to our ZIP code situation; asymptomatic infection; lack of population density (the virus spreads much more easily in cities); and sheer luck. The lack of cases here (and throughout Windham County, which has recorded only 14 deaths so far) is just one of the mysteries of the virus, and hardly its most frightening. That would have to be its unpredictable nature, the way it attacks some people's respiratory systems, others' kidneys or nervous systems, and, lately children's inflammatory responses. The 1918 flu did that as well, although not quite so dramatically.
One thing that is not mysterious about coronavirus: there are ways to protect ourselves and each other from it. They are the methods everyone has already heard about, and that many people are growing weary of: social distance, hand and cough hygiene, and masks. Following these suggestions may be what has kept the disease from being significantly worse than it has been around the country, and these measures can continue to protect us if we continue to take them.
Which brings me to my point. In one of the 42 executive orders that Governor Lamont has announced since mid-March, the CEOs of Connecticut municipalities were given the responsibility to enforce the rules guiding the state's re-opening. In Scotland, that person is the first selectman. I am allowed to delegate the responsibility, but we have no police force, and I can't justify delegating this duty to our animal control officer, our building inspector, or our zoning officer. I have made it clear to the Department of Public Health, our state legislators, the office of the Governor, and anyone else who will listen, that we do not have the resources, and I do not have the knowledge to peform this duty. I am hopeful that the governor will soon reconsider this move and place enforcement, if it is going to be done at all, in the hands of those qualified to do it.
So if you have a business in town that is not already subject to regulation by the Eastern Highlands Health District (as restaurants and hairdressers are), or if you are engaging in any of the activities guided by the Sector Rules issued May 20, town officials will not be knocking on your door to make sure you are complying with the rules. I urge you to familiarize yourselves with them and would be glad to explain my understanding of them to you. But beyond that, law enforcement is a matter for the experts; they're called law enforcement officers. I didn't choose to run, and you didn't vote for me, to be a policeman, and I am not going to be.
But I want to be very clear about something. The reason that Scotland only lost one resident to the 1918 flu, and that we have lost no one to covid-19 so far, is not that there is a protective bubble around us. Scotland is a special place, but not that special. We are not immune to the coronavirus simply by virtue of living here. It's even possible that one of the reasons we've done so well so far is that so many people, both here and elsewhere, are complying with the rules. We have to continue to do this, and we won't need enforcement--by me or anyone else--if we do.
I know that some among us believe that the hazard posed by coronavirus has been exaggerated. I understand this, particularly since we have been so lightly affected. I can only tell you that I have never in my life wanted so badly to be wrong about something, but I disagree. I've spent my entire career spent in the health care field, including as an outspoken critic of exaggerated accounts of disease--a subject on which I have written two books and many articles. My training, experience, and research tells me that the coronavirus epidemic is not a false alarm; 100,000 people have already died in this country alone. Pandemics have happened before, and this one is unfolding in exactly the way they have in the past. And we're only at the beginning.
The humble face mask and the basic rules your mom taught you about washing your hands and staying home and out of trouble are our best hope for making it less bad than it might otherwise be. As you've already heard a million times, they are not so much about taking care of yourself as they are about taking care of other people--and not just your grandmothers, but the businesses that will have to close if outbreaks become severe, and the economy at large.
It is undeniable that face masks are uncomfortable, elbow bumps awkward, and social distance unpleasant. Who doesn't miss a hug or a handshake? But no one ever died from uncomfortable. Unpleasant never sent anyone to an emergency room in the middle of the night with a sudden inability to breathe, and awkward never shut down someone's kidneys. The coronavirus can do all of those things, and in a heartbeat.
So please, do what you can to keep yourself and everyone around you safe. Think of the discomfort as a sacrifice we can make to avoid catastrophe. This pandemic will eventually be over--and with any luck, in the not-too-distant future. The more careful we are now, the more likely that when it is, we will re-emerge into a recognizable world.
As always, questions, concerns, etc., just email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call me at the office, 456 7797 x101
Previous Selectman's Corners
Regional School District 11 2020-21 Budget
Note: an earlier version of this post incorrectly linked to an earlier year budget. I have corrected this error. I have also corrected some enrollment figures and percentages based on input from RD11. I apologize for any confusion it caused.
We have a preliminary budget for Regional District 11, along with the proposed assessment for Scotland. The documents are available here and here. But let me provide some background and a brief summary.
By statute, regional school districts are funded by totaling the costs for the district and then allotting them among the member towns according to how many students are in each town. This assessment is figured by percentage. If there are three towns in a district of 300 students, and if Town A has 150 students attending, Town B has 100, and Town C has 50, then Town A pays 50%, Town B pays 33.33% and Town C pays 16.67% of the total.
But there are a couple of complications you should be aware of. First, some of the RD11 students attend technical schools, which are funded by the state and are thus tuition-free to the district. The only expense to RD11 for those students is transportation from a central location to the other schools. So to determine our assessment, RD11 takes its total student enrollment and deducts the students going to tech schools. The remaining number is the basis for the percentage assessed to each town.
Second, the assessment works like a grand list. The number of students that is the basis of the assessment for next year is the student body as of 10/1/2019.
So the numbers themselves: As of 10/1/2019, RD11 had 305 students in grades 7-12. Of those, 5 came from out of the district. Of the remaining 295, 53 were tech students. That leaves 247 students as the basis for the assessment. Scotland students comprise 90 of them, or 36.43% That means we are responsible for 36.43% of the entire RD11 budget. (For those keeping score, Chaplin's share is 99 students/40.08%, and Hampton's is 58/23.49%.)
This year, RD11 is proposing a budget of $6,443,695, an increase of less than one percent. At 36.43%, our share is $2,347,438. (Chaplin: 2,582,632, Hampton: 1,513,623) Last year, we had a 39% assessment, which cost 2,507,093. So our costs will go down by about one percent, which is small, but better than the alternative.
The per-student cost fo RD11, not including tech students, is $26,087. If you include the tech students, then then the per-student cost for all 300 students is $21,478. If you do the same on a per-town basis, then Scotland, which has 11 tech students, is paying 23,241 per pupil for its 101 students. Chaplin, which has 24 tech students, has an overall per-pupil cost of $20,997. Hampton's costs with its 18 tech students factored in are $19,916
Two other points: First, this analysis does not take into account out-of-district special education costs on a town-by-town basis. Next year, those costs will amount to just under $800,000, or more than 11 percent of the RD11 budget. Just as the savings for tech students is allocated equally among the towns, so also the cost of out=of-district SPED students is spread across all three towns, regardless of how many each one sends. So the per-town costs above do not reflect how many of those students each town has in the district, or what it would cost us were we to pay directly for the out-of-district SPED students who come from Scotland. In years that we have a larger percentage of those students than our assessment percentage, that means a "savings," and in years where the percentage is lower, it would mean a "cost." Either way, and in the case of both those students and the tech students, it is clear that a certain amount of arbitrariness is built into the statutory method of calculating costs, and that it can result in inequities.
Second, the RD11 budget does not break out the costs of attending Parish Hill separate from the overall costs of the district. So the above numbers are NOT an accurate account of how much it costs to send students to Parish Hill. That number requires a separate analysis, which I will try to provide in the coming days.
The RD11 budget hearing will be held via online meeting tomorrow night, The link and password info can be found here
Rte. 14 Closure Update
When I wrote about the bridge closure yesterday, I did not know that the DOT and the contractor replacing the Rt. 14 bridge over Merrick Brook were planning to meet later in the day to discuss the proposal I made at our meeting in March to reduce the closure by scheduling more hours per day and/or days per week of work. But they were, and yesterday afternoon, they determined that it would be possible to shorten the closure by fourteen days. This new plan has the closure beginning on 6/22 and ending on 8/6, and if it works out, we will get a few weeks of traffic peace this summer. In addition, the DOT has also agreed to try to work out signage that will reduce the hazards that some likely detours present. We also discussed the possibility of using apps like Waze and Google Maps to direct traffic in ways that minimize impact. Our DOT liaison agreed to look into that possibility.
So it's still going to be a huge inconvenience that will occur at what I hope is more or less the moment that we are all free to go outside and do normal things again. But it's better than nothing, and it's nice to have some recognition of the burden of this project on the town. In the end, the bridge has to be replaced, and closing it is the safest way to do it.
My thanks to Doug Dubitsky, our State Representative, and Mae Flexer, our State Senator, for advocating for us with DOT. It just goes to show that sometimes it pays to speak up.
Rt. 14 Closure
The storm-related closure of Rt. 14 earlier this week is a taste of things to come. At a public informational meeting last year, the state DOT informed us that they would be closing the Rt. 14 bridge over Merrick Brook (between Pinch St. and the Town Green) one lane at a time for the duration of the project, which began on April 1. They subsequently determined that the bridge cannot safely handle one-lane traffic and decided to close it entirely for sixty days starting June 22.The official detour, for which signs are already posted, would take eastbound traffic onto Rt. 203 north to Rt. 6 west, and from there to Rt. 97 south and back to Rt. 14, and vice-versa. As of my last contact with DOT, there was no additional plan for eastbound traffic bound for Rt. 97 south of Rt. 14.
I met with DOT engineers and managers in March. I explained to them that no one familiar with the area or using GPS was going to follow that detour, and that this meant that 4500 cars and trucks would be dumped onto town roads for the entire summer. I asked if they would impose this kind of plan on a town like Westport or Simsbury. I told them that two of the likely east/southbound alternates--Gager Hill and Jerusalem/Station/Waldo Roads had hairpin turns in them that made them unsuited to truck traffic. (The following week the DOT ordered the Bass Rd bridge closed, and I subsequently explained how this only made the problem worse.) I told them that the turn from Brook Road to Brooklyn Turnpike, the likely alternative for log trucks northbound to Rossi Sawmill, was difficult for large trucks to negotiate. And I pointed out that overall this would make for a very unpleasant summer for many of our residents.
I suggested some alternatives: placing a temporary bridge parallel to the existing roadway, working weekends and/or extra weekday hours to reduce the length of the closure, and reimbursing the town for the additional wear on its roads. Not surprisingly, despite repeated attempts at getting a response, including calls made by State Sen. Mae Flexer and State Rep. Doug Dubitsky, I have heard nothing. As far as I know, the plan remains in place, and there's no extra money coming our way.
I did hear from Sen. Flexer last week. She was disappointed to hear that the DOT had not responded to me, and they were also ignoring her. She is going to reach out to the DOT again, specifically about reducing the length of the closure. But I am not optimistic. Between the covid disruptions and the DOT's imperviousness to public opinion, it looks like our protests will be ignored. However, I am going to use some of the comments on facebook about the traffic on Gager Hill Road during the recent closure to restate our case. At the very least, we will use signs to discourage truckers from using Gager Hill Road. That will put them onto Bass Road, where they will find, at best, a one-lane bridge, which means drivers will be further inconvenienced.
I am sorry I don't have better news about this. If you want to bombard our state legislators with emails or texts or letters or whatever, feel free. But I'm afraid we're in for a long noisy summer.
Many Scotland residents have received invitations to respond to the census, but some of us have not. This includes people who receive their mail via post office box, one of whom is me. Because I had heard from other boxholders that they had not heard from the census bureau, I asked our liaison to give me an update. Here is her response.
Good afternoon First Selectman Greeenberg,
Households that use PO Boxes to receive their mail, would normally have the invitation to respond to the 2020 Census by now via our "Update Leave" operation. However, due to COVID-19 precautions, we have temporarily delayed field operations and extended the census from July 31 to August 14th. In the meantime, we are advising those households that would receive the invite via Update Leave thus:
In keeping with guidance from public health officials, we’ve delayed dropping off invitations at the front doors of homes in the area to do our part to slow the spread of COVID-19. However, we’ve mailed previously planned letters to some households in the interest of providing Census IDs to help people respond. If you received a letter, you can respond online now and use the Census ID it includes.
If you’re in a rural area and haven’t received a census letter or paper questionnaire yet, please wait to respond. We will deliver a census invitation and paper questionnaire as soon as it is safe to do so. By responding with your Census ID or on the paper questionnaire, we’ll be able to get the best count of your community.
The Census Bureau plans to drop off materials at your front door as soon as possible. This will help ensure the best count of your community.
Respond using your Census ID.
Include everyone who lives with you on April 1.
I'm also including the link below to our current Operational Adjustments information page. You can go onto this site periodically to view all Operational Adjustment updates required due to COVID-19.
So there is no date by which you should have received a census ID, along with a letter and questionnaire. I will stay in touch with the census bureau and as soon as I have information on when we can expect our invitations, etc., I will let you know.
As of 2 pm today (4/13), approximately 88 households are without electricity in Scotland. As the high winds are forecast to last the rest of the day, it is likely there will be more outages. I have been advised by Eversource that due to covid-19-related restrictions and personnel shortages, we can expect longer than usual outage durations, which, as we all know, can be long enough in normal times.
Here is the bulletin:
Eversource is preparing to respond to elevated wind gusts, heavy rain, and thunderstorms that could damage power lines and cause outages Monday in all areas of the company’s Connecticut service territory.
Based on the forecast across the state, multi-day outages are possible as a result of the storm. It is important to note that mutual assistance will be limited due to forecasted intense storm activity throughout New England and the Northeast.
Our mission is to deliver safe and reliable electric service to all of our customers. This commitment will not change in this unprecedented time. However, given the circumstances, it’s important to note customers may experience prolonged outages.
Eversource fully understands the concern this may cause customers, especially now that so many people are working or studying from home and, in many cases, have stocked up on frozen or refrigerated food. That is why we have planned for such events and adapted our response plans to ensure we provide our customers with the most reliable service and up to date information.
If you haven't already, please go to eversource.com and sign up for text/email alerts that will keep you notified of restoration times, etc. I will stay in touch with the town's liaison at Eversource and provide you with any information she gives me.
Please stay safe in these extraordinary times. And let me know if there is anything we can do to help.
These last few weeks have been trying for all of us. At Town Hall, we are struggling to keep up with the influx of executive orders, emergency declarations, and directives from all levels of government. We are trying to serve the public while keeping ourselves safe and the town operating. We have figured out how to conduct public meetings without the public in attendance and we are reconfiguring our budget process to adapt to the circumstances. Although the governor has declared that the Board of Selectmen can adopt a budget without a hearing or town meeting, I am committed to including the public to the extent possible. For now, we have delayed the hearing and meeting until June. If the pandemic eases enough by then to have public gatherings, we will. If it does not, we may go ahead and adopt a budget, but we may also adopt a resolution that will allow last year's budget (and tax rate) to continue into the new fiscal year, and delay passage of a new budget until we can gather as a town.
I am hopeful that this will happen soon. A return to something like normal will not happen, however, unless we continue to practice social distancing. As the rest of the state experiences widespread illness, our corner of Connecticut has very few reported cases of covid-19, and as I write this there are no confirmed cases in Scotland. It may seem like this means we need not take such severe precautions, but it actually means the opposite. This is the time when social distancing and good hygiene can make a real difference--before the virus can take hold in the population and sicken many of us while overwhelming our medical care providers. Without a vaccine or treatment, this is the only thing we can do. The earlier we adopt these measures and stick to them rigorously, the sooner the illnesses and deaths will begin to subside. Please continue to follow the advice of our public health professionals, which now includes wearing masks in public spaces such as grocery stores. That is our best hope of weathering this storm and emerging on the other side intact and healthy.
At some point, and I hope not too long from now, we will be able to shake hands and hug and laugh and argue with each other in person. I know I am looking forward to that, and I'll bet you are too. Meantime, please stay home and stay safe.
The Census Bureau wants Scotland residents to know that we will all be counted in the census as Scotland residents, even if your postal address is in another town, and even if you do not correct the address when you respond to a form you receive in the mail. Here's their statement:
Census geography is different from USPS geography. Zip codes are based on USPS delivery routes and can have various municipal names associated with them. The zip code geography is not equivalent to the municipal legal geography (legal town boundary). The Census Bureau relies on accurate mailing addresses to distribute the 2020 Census. In addition to mailing addresses, the Census Bureau Master Address File contains a geographic location for every known living quarters that corresponds to the location of the physical address structure. This geographic location is either a latitude/longitude coordinate or a Census Tract and Block. It is the geographic location of the housing unit that is used for data tabulation, not the mailing address. So if a housing unit is located within the legal boundary of Scotland, CT, the housing unit will be tabulated to Scotland, CT - even though their mailing address may have a different town name.
Technical Help Wanted
The governor has issued an executive order allowing towns to exclude the public from public meetings, and to allow commission and board members to meet from remote locations, so long as the meeting is available to the public via audio or video stream. In the interests of our residents and board/commission members, I'd like to take advantage of this opportunity. It may be the only way to keep the town moving along at a time when much needs to be done.
But I'm pretty busy right now and I don't have time to get up to speed on the various options and to implement them. I have a general idea of how to go about it and the equipment that is needed, but I need someone to help me who has experience in live streaming. I can offer pay in return for helping us set up video conferencing and streaming, and monitoring it as we work out the bugs. Please get in touch with me via email at email@example.com.
Tomorrow morning I will attend a meeting at the Eastern Highlands Health District. AT the same time, our Director of Emergency Management will participate in a conference call with the Connecticut Department of Emergency Management and Homeland Security. AT those meetings, we will receive the latest information on the progress of the COVID-19 virus, along with updates on measures we should take to contain the epidemic. I will pass this information along to you in this space as soon as I have it.
The information I have now makes it clear that this outbreak poses an immediate and severe threat. .Since the infection can be transmitted by people who are not themselves ill, it is possible to infect others even if you are not feeling any symptoms. So the greatest danger is not necessarily to your personal health, but rather to the populations most vulnerable to the complications of the illness, especially the elderly, people with compromised immune systems, and people with underlying pulmonary conditions. You could be feeling healthy and still infect your grandmother--or someone else's grandmother. And a sudden spike in severe illness among the at-risk populations could overburden the health care system and lead to shortages of staff and equipment, which in turn could result in rationing of services.
We are all used to forecasts for severe storms that result in school closures, work disruptions, and crowded supermarkets--and then fail to pan out. This epidemic is not like that. The danger is real. If it does not turn out to be as bad as forecast, it will not be because the health care experts overhyped it. It will be because we listened to them.
Please stay tuned to this space for further information.
The meeting today at Eastern Highlands Health District drove home the point that there is a very good chance of averting a catstrophe if we follow basic public health measures. That includes especially social distancing--i.e., avoiding crowds and keeping a six foot distance between yourself and others--and hygiene measures like handwashing and using your sleeve or tissue to cover any coughing/sneezing. This virus is NOT airborne. It can only be transmitted through droplets, which means that those measures have the potential to greatly slow the spread of the illness, and perhaps even to limit the number of people who will eventually get it.
Both of those outcomes will help to protect the health care system from overload, which is the current greatest risk. If our hospitals and clinics are unable to keep up with the influx of patients, then more people will die. According to the health district's medical director, there is no current treatment for COVID-19. In its milder manifestations, you can treat it as you would a cold. If you are sick, you should stay home unless you have a high fever (101 degrees or more)and/or you have difficulty breathing, at which point you should seek medical treatment.
The Scotland Public Library will be closed starting tonight at 7 pm until further notice. The community room at the firehouse is closed immediately. The Scotland BOard of Education will be meeting this evening to determine its course and I am sure they will be in touch as soon as a decision is made. We have not yet determined whether we can hold public meetings that exclude the public; we are awaiting guidance on this question from the state.
Remember, the people most at risk are the elderly and people with existing medical problems. Closures and directives about social distancing are designed to prevent the healthy from infecting the vulnerable. Following them is an inconvenience, and maybe even more than that, but it is the best way we have right now of taking care of each other. Please consider the seriousness of this outbreak, and your role in containing it, as you go about your daily business.
The best source of information about COVID-19 is the website of the Centers for Disease Control and Preventino (CDC). It is updated frequently, and it is avaialble at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html Eastern Highlands Health District is another good source. www.ehhd.org
Here is quick summary from EHHD about measures you should take:
1) Wash your hands often (2) Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth (3) Stay home when you’re sick (4) Avoid close contact with those that are sick (5) Cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze (5) Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces (7) Always be prepared with extra food and medication and finally (8) Stay informed - call 211, go to www.ct.gov/coronavirus or www.ehhd.org ”
And as always, feel free to email me or call me at Town Hall 860 456 7797 with questions or concerns.
Last week, a barn in the village burned down. The barn, located just eight feet from one of our oldest homes, was fully involved by the time the alarm came in at 2:30 a.m., but firefighters from Scotland and surrounding towns were able to prevent the house from catching fire. As anyone who has leapt out of bed in the middle of the night, put on many pounds of protective gear, and hauled hoses and other equipment at a fire scene knows, this is very hard and dangerous work. And every person doing it the other night was a volunteer.
Volunteer firefighters are the most visible example of a very important truth about small towns: we are dependent on volunteers for basic services. We do have paid employees, of course--our two-man road crew, for instance, and our part-time Town Hall staff, some of whom perform multiple functions. But our schools, library, recreation programs, fire department, and town boards and commissions cannot function without volunteers.
There was a time when there were sufficient volunteers for all the jobs that needed to be done. But that's not the case anymore. Town boards and commissions have longstanding vacancies. Because of the lack of volunteers at the fire department, we recently had to switch to a paid ambulance service, at the cost of more than $150,000 a year. I'm sure there are many causes for this, including the fact that we're all working as hard as we can to support our families. But if we are to remain viable as a town, we need your help.
Some volunteer roles are very time consuming. The training course for an EMT is more than 200 hours long. But some are much less so. The Board of Assessment Appeals meets only a few times a year. The Recreation Committee has small projects that might require just part of a single day. The library has gardens that need to be tended for a few hours every couple of weeks in the growing season. Our historic and beautiful Town Hall needs some loving attention that could be provided by volunteers.
So please consider stepping up. You might get to meet people you don't already know. You might learn to do something new. You might get the satisfaction of knowing you helped out. For information about volunteer opportunities, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call Town Hall at 456 7797
The controversies about Regional District 11 have been festering for far too long. They've pitted neighbor against neighbor and town against town, and they don't reflect well on Scotland. Just the other night, at a meeting in another town held to discuss possible consolidation of services, an official told me he was reluctant to deal with our town because "Scotland can't get along with anyone."
But the arguments are also inevitable, as Parish Hill, for all its virtues, is very expensive, and the taxpayers of Scotland, the smallest town in the district and the one with the smallest grand list, pay more toward its $6.4 million budget than either of the other towns in the district. That's because we happen to have more students in the district than the other towns, and regional schools are funded on a per-student basis, rather than having their costs distributed equally among taxpayers, as is the case with local schools.
We can try harder to be kind to and understanding of each other. I personally would like that a lot. But so long as our only alternatives are the status quo or dissolution of the district, the kinds of argument we've suffered through are bound to occur again and again. We are not going to solve this problem ourselves, at least not without further discord. We need the help of the state officials and legislators in charge of the system that determines how school districts are funded.
There are many ways to make this situation better, and the legislature is likely to consider only one of them this term: a proposal that makes it possible for districts to dissolve even if all the towns in them do not vote for dissolution. It's a proposal that will likely lead to another dissolution battle.
Other possibilities hold the prospect of keeping the district alive while making it significantly less costly for the town. One of them is a proposal to use a five-year average of the school population from each town to calculate the town's contribution. The recent steep increases in our RD11 costs have been directly the result of sharp changes in that population. These spikes would be smoothed out under this proposal.
Another proposal is to fund the district on per capita basis, so that the larger towns pay a larger share of the costs, regardless of how many students attend the school. That would also reduce the spikes in cost, and it has the added benefit of making common sense. If RD11 were funded this way, our costs would be reduced by $500,000 in this fiscal year--a nearly 5 mill difference in our tax rate. (Here's the math: Divide the total budget by the number of people in the district, and multiply by the number in each town. $6.4 million/5700 people = $1122/person. $1122 x 1700 Scotland residents = $1.9 million. We are currently paying over $2.4 million.)
Only the state legislature can make this change. They will only make it if our legislators propose it. And they will only propose it if their constituents demand it. To that end, I've written up a petition. It's available in Town Hall and online at http://chng.it/8N8kFjvg . Please consider signing it. It's the only way we will be heard.