History of the Seattle Region An Anecdote

“In the Beginning There Was Lacey-----“

If history proves anything, and it proves much – history proves that great projects, great ideas, even great movements are birthed by accident or impulse as often as they are the result of planning and strategic thought.

Late in 1974, Richard Berkey from Lacey, Washington, a small town outside of the State capitol of Olympia, attended the Continental Council in Chicago. That year there was a great deal of discussion concerning the Town Meeting idea – what it would look like, how you would pull it off but rather little in the way of substantive program had been developed. Certainly no one had any concrete idea of how to put it together. But Berkey, a hard-nosed local minister was intrigued.

“We’re not ready, yet,” he thought. “But we’re never going to be ready until we do one,” his mind continued in an argument with itself. “Nobody had done one of these things,” he thought again. “But someone has got to be first, why not us?”

Now Richard Berkey was a pastor. And Richard Berkey was a man of energy. And, he had the tenacity of a bulldog.

“Whatever we do, we must find a way to make Lacey come alive again,” he ruminated as the DC10 flew him home from the Council in Chicago. As he sat there he began to make a list of names, the first list of its kind, remember, of all the movers and shakers in Lacey. There was Karen Fraser and a whole host of others. He sensed without knowing, that the City Council – those pillars of the community who had not moved anywhere in the past 20 years, had to be involved, and the business community and service organizations all had to be part of it, too. Back home his wife thought he was mad.

“Wha’ dya mean, a Town Meeting? You know we can’t even organize a church social with any hope of getting more than the usual stuffed shirts. Everyone is sick to death of deadly dull meetings. This town is all dried up.”

But Richard was hard-nosed and he had a vision that would not go away, despite his wife’s propensity for reminding him the ‘way it is.’

“If we can pull off a Town Meeting, where everyone participates and everyone builds the plan, then who knows, Lacey might enter a new era and one day there will be a Town Meeting in far away places, like Glasgow!”

And so undaunted he persevered. He talked to those he had carefully targeted. He avoided asking too much or telling them too much. He said afterwards that as soon as he got ‘a nod’, he shook hands and moved to the next name on the list. Little did they know, those first people who gave their ‘nod’ to Town Meeting, that one day, perhaps after the hundredth nod that suddenly people all over the world would be nodding in agreement to that famous ‘closing question,’

“Well, wha’ dya’ think? Do you want a Town Meeting, or not?” The momentum in Lacey built up. The nods became common place. Soon everyone was nodding, and Richard Berkey decided it was time to get on the phone to Chicago.

“We’re going to do a Town Meeting. We’ve got a lot of people here nodding and excited, and we’re going to do one,” he said, trying hard to hold down his excitement.

Chicago was worried. No one was ready. There was little in the way of instructions, less in the way of people who could do one, and the scheduling was abysmal. Berkey laughed.

“We’re going to have one anyway, whether you’re ready or not.”

Panic! Meetings! Phone calls! Strategy sessions! Chicago had no seen anything like it since the ’68 riots. And Dick Kroeger and Ted Pederson made many drives to Lacey from Seattle for Town Meeting Steering Committee meetings with Dick Berkey and his Lacey folks.

And so it came to pass. It was scheduled for the weekend of February 1, 1975, the same weekend that Sharon Robertson was teaching the children’s course at the Bremerton RSI with Jim Bell as the first teacher, and Amelia Kroeger was on Bainbridge Island for a Local Church Resurgence event with Bob Vance and Lynn Bell. And in the midst of what was a wild, wild whirlwind, (the one they later wrote a song about), Dick Kroeger, Bruce Robertson and Martha Dempster worked on the sets of procedures, the press packets, the charts, and boxes of supplies. Filled with excitement and apprehension, Dick, Bruce and Martha pulled onto I-5 in Seattle and headed south for Lacey.

One hour later, the team arrived. Like a disciplined platoon of marines, they went about their task of set-up with a will. Dick Berkey was there early with some helpers from his church. The mayor arrived and true to his assigned role to host the dignitaries, Dick Kroeger moved in. The stage was set. The time had arrived. The Lacey Town Meeting was on.

Bruce Robertson walked straight into vintage Americana with a manual three inches thick under his arms. What a glorious sight that plain old hall had become. With Martha shouting orders from a step ladder, the place had taken shape. Banners were splendid in red, white and blue. It looked like an Iowa patriotic holiday. The hall filled up, and Bruce was to lead the contradictions workshop. More people came and still more.

“Leave your personal neuroses at home,” Bruce repeated to himself over and over again.

Finally the hall was filled with more than 125 enthusiastic, serious people who had come to ‘revitalize Lacey.’ (And they did.) The heavies from Chicago arrived: Steve Allen, George Holcombe, Judy Weigel, Mary Bengel, and Joe Pierce. Richard Berkey smiled as he watched them enter, remembering the early battles.

The Lacey Town Meeting was underway with a song.

They visioned. They got at the contradictions. Bruce found he didn’t need the manual after all and that his personal neuroses were indeed somewhere far away, if not at home. They proposed; they strategized; they built tactics and timelines. They had their Town Meeting. It was the first of thousands that were to follow in 29 nations around the world. By the summer of 1978, every county in the U.S. and Canada had held one. Lacey had indeed set the world on fire.

And so it was. In the annals of the journey of human consciousness something had happened in Lacey that day. A turning point, perhaps – a herald of a new day for local people. It was the birth of a program that mushroomed to envelop the earth. It ingrained the faces and place of local community around this world in the hearts and minds of thousands. And perhaps not least, the town meeting campaign created a library of songs and stories who’s singing and telling continues to this day, and who knows, those songs and those stories may fire a new generation to care enough to build the earth.

from documentation for Panchyat Visit to the Seattle House November 4-6, 1983

-- SharonFisher - 06 Jun 2006
Topic revision: r1 - 09 Jun 2006, GordonHarper
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