If a Politician Gave a Speech in the Woods, What Would a Bear Do? | John Engen | TEDxUMontana


[whooshing sound] [dramatic fanfare] So it turns out that mayors
do TED talks. In particular, the one I’m most familiar with was done by the mayor of Oklahoma City, fellow named, Mick Cornett. He’s done a number of TED
talks, but the one, again, with which I am most familiar, um, was about his weight loss journey. [soft audience laughter] That will not be this
TED talk this evening. [loud audience laughter] Instead, we’re gonna endeavor
to answer the question, does what politicians have to say really matter at all anymore? [clears throat] When we look at what’s happening
in Washington D.C., or now, during the roughly 90 days of… [audience laughter] lawmaking, as it’s happening in Helena… [audience laughter] And we hear the programed
chatter from either side, and I happen to belong to
one of those sides, but I still recognize that the
chatter is programmed, and it goes back-and-forth,
and up-and-down, and we really all know what to expect. We really know what to
expect, and we really don’t have to even listen anymore to what some of the folks
we’ve elected to serve us in high positions in the nation’s capital,
and elsewhere have to say, because we already know; we know
what their answers are going to be, and so we tune it out,
and we don’t pay attention, and we really lose faith
in all of what’s happening there. I was trained as a journalist,
here at the University of Montana, um, 30 years ago. And things are much different
today, but one of the things
that I learned as a journalist, was to be careful with language, and one of the things that
I’ve learned through experience, and now, the glory of middle-age [clears throat] is that I don’t have to be as careful. [audience laughter] And I can be a little more thoughtful, and I don’t have to be as programmed, and none us of really
have to be programmed. Right here, in Missoula,
Montana, we have an opportunity to use our words to do
really remarkable things. So I happen to be in a line of work
where I apply for my job every four years. [audience laughter] It is a relatively rigorous process. In the end, some people just
say it’s a popularity contest. During the course of
those job applications, the first of which, I did in 2005, I developed
what I learned was called a stump speech. Folks in my line of work make
these over and over again, and basically it is our
attempt to tell folks in a fairly succinct manner, what it is we intend to do if you mark the oval next to
our name at the ballot box, on any given November day. So the stump speech is a way to sell. So I started my first stump
speech, telling folks that
if you were to elect me mayor, I would support a number of things. The first of which was
an open space bond. So this is 2005, there has been an open space
bond that happened before, and the open space bond
was about asking ourselves, asking everyone
in the city of Missoula, and everyone in Missoula county, to make a long-term investment
in the land that surrounds us, the land that we inhabit,
the land that we enjoy, and we would make
that investment forever. Or as close to forever as we can conceive. We wanted to do that because
we believe that Missoula was, and would only be, a place if we preserve some of what is
best about it, not only
for ourselves to enjoy, but for generation after generation,
after generation to enjoy. We talked about passing
an open space bond, which had a certain romance about it, and in Missoula,
was a very popular thing to talk about. The other thing I talked about
during my stump speech was, in effect, the polar opposite
of romantic, it was zoning. [audience laughter] There are planners who groove
on zoning, in a way that’s… [audience laughter] Zoning isn’t sexy, typically,
I will just say that. But without it, without it done right, which it had not been done in the city of Missoula, we were at odds with one another. We couldn’t figure out how
to build stuff, how to grow, how to expand, contract,
change, and we were fighting, because the code
that guided the way our community developed was developed 70 years ago,
in some cases, or 30 years ago. And nothing that was happening
in 2005 was the same, almost nothing that was
happening in 2005 was the same as it was 30 years ago or 70 years ago. We said, we’re gonna do something
about zoning, and my rule at that time
with the stump speech was: we were gonna have
three things to talk about, and as it turns out,
at that time, I was younger and could remember three things. I don’t remember what the third thing is. [audience laughter] But, I’m sure it was important. What I do remember however, is that, when I was elected, I worked with a whole bunch
of fabulous people who decided that the ideas
I talked about in the stump speech, which weren’t original to me, but those ideas had
some value, and those idea had… the kind of legs they needed to make change in the community, and what happened was I said we were gonna do ’em,
and we did ’em. Get out, right? [audience laughter] Then, we tried some of this
again, and as we marched down
the path, I started to realize that the things that I said, could become ideas that others believed in, and those ideas,
could be made manifest in our community in a way
that made it better. So, we started to look at what… issues were at play in the community, what was unresolved,
what sort of things should we fix? And so I stood in front of a group
of about 400 folks, at a chamber of commerce spaghetti luncheon. By the way, spaghetti should
never be served at a luncheon. [audience laughter] That’s an idea we’re sharing. [audience laughter] But, at this spaghetti luncheon, in the middle of
a really ugly recession where a mill that employed,
at that time, about 417 souls, turned off the lights
almost overnight, and an iconic
downtown department store shuttered its windows as well, and people were feeling as if
the Earth was moving underneath them in way that they couldn’t control
or change, or manage. I said, I think together
we can figure this out, and we can grow businesses
here in Missoula, and we can create an environment
where folks who have good ideas and interest
in taking care of one another, and doing good things, we can create an environment
where we can make a difference. From one speech, we created
a 3.5 million dollar fund to make economic development
work in our community. It was one speech. It was one idea. It wasn’t original to me, but when it was uttered,
it became real, and it became real enough
that other folks could buy it. So, we looked at other opportunities. We had a baseball stadium that was a wonderful community asset, but it… was facing foreclosure. We said, that’s not the way
we’re gonna roll, and despite the fact it was controversial, we said, we’re not gonna
let this community place go away. We’re gonna pay for it, and we figured out a way to do it. We solved that because
we said we’d solve it. It turns out, there’s more. So you can go from something as tangible as a baseball stadium, or as practical as saying, “we are going to make an investment in the economic well-being
of the women and men of the city of Missoula. Or it can be as hard and as complicated,
and as frightening, as solving the fundamental
problems of the day, which are not going to be
solved today in Washington D.C. or frankly, Helena, for our place. Our problems are going to
be solved right here because of the people in this hall, and the people who are working their shift
somewhere this evening, or taking care of their kids,
or their parents, or living their lives. Because we can believe. So this community decided we want to end homelessness. We were tired of hearing that souls in our community, our friends and neighbors, people we have a responsibility
to care about, were sleeping
on the street, or sleeping
on a couch, or in a car, or in a fleabag hotel room, or someplace they simply
shouldn’t be sleeping because they didn’t have
a safe and decent place to live. And so what we said to each other
is, we’re gonna end this. We’re done.
We, in Missoula, Montana, are gonna end homelessness
because we believe that everyone has a right to a safe,
decent, place to live. We created a 10-year
plan to end homelessness. Homelessness isn’t ended yet. It’s only about year three. But, I tell you, because
we thought it, because we believed it,
because we said it, the idea became a plan, and the plan became a series of actions. I firmly believe it may not be 10 years, it may not be 15 years,
may not be 20 years, but I guarantee you, that this community, because we can turn words into ideas, into action, into commitment, this community will end homelessness. Which tells me that this community, and communities just like it, all around this country, and all around this world, can commit to making indelible change. We can do all of this stuff because our words matter. So what a stump speech is,
really, it turns out, as a politician, making a promise, but here’s what can happen, we can keep our promises. What does a bear do in the woods? Any damn thing it wants to. [applause]

Author Since: Mar 11, 2019

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