City County Observer Used Egyptian Comparison 16 Days Before New York Times


Joe Wallace

When Governments Defy the Will of the People Changes Come from the Streets

In our daily “IS IT TRUE” column on February 3rd we published the following paragraph on how there is a fine line between what was going on in Egypt that eventually toppled the regime of a dictator Hosni Mubarek and the discontentment in Evansville that has been rising as a result of basic infrastructure not working and services like park cleanliness not being tended to.

“IS IT TRUE that there is a fine line between what is going on in Egypt and what is going on in Evansville?…that the world seems to be in a period of discontentment?…that this discontentment with the status quo is valid and as plain as the nose on ones face to see?…that somewhere in Cairo, Egypt a few short years ago in private homes, the people that we now see in the streets were forming their own Tea Parties, Southern Indiana Democracy for America’s, and Tri-State Tomorrows?…that those groups attracted members, that politics and governance continued to fail them, and that a breaking point was reached?…that blood has been shed and changes will be made but that if the political leadership of Egypt would have listened and acted 10, 20, or 30 years ago and practiced good public policy all day everyday that this bloodshed could have been avoided?”

Some of our readers understood the parallels and were supportive of the column. Others were downright insulting sending emails to personal addresses and calling me everything from a half wit to a stooge for publishing that observation. I stood by that observation then and I stand by it today.

Let me be clear. I do not equate goon squads, baton wielding camel mounted police, and dictatorial government with needles in the park, disfunctional sewers, uncleanliness, and pot holes that would gobble up a SmartCar. I do equate the failure of American government both local and national to provide fundamental services to the failure of the Egyptian government to perform well enough to keep the outrage at bay.

Egypt is governmentally many years behind the United States from a democratic republic point of view. The Egyptian people went into the streets over human rights that we US citizens basically take for granted. The discontentment in Evansville and other American cities that is manifesting itself in splinter groups seeking to improve our democracy is rooted in not getting what we expect. A case in point is that we expect that our parks will be cleaned and safe, our roads will be maintained, and that our sewer can be counted on to work. These are not rights. They are however services for which we pay taxes to receive. When we do not get these things that we pay for and expect, for a while we tolerate it, then we become disgusted, then a child steps on a needle in a city park and it becomes an outrage. The needle in the park and that cavalier response of local government to the pleas of the father was the “straw that broke the camel’s back” for many people in Evansville.

From that perspective the outrage here is still a fine line away from the outrage in Egypt. This week the public employees of the State of Wisconsin have shut down the Madison school system and 14 Democratic members of their state legislature have crossed the money saving border into Illinois over their Governor’s proposal to ask them to pay more for health insurance, contribute to their own retirement plans, and to modify the collective bargaining agreement that they are working under.

The New York Times today published a column titled “Cairo in the Midwest?” to describe the scene and attitude of the 15,000+ public employees who took to the streets over the Governor’s plan. It is their right to do so and we shall see how it plays out. Personally, I think needles in the park and the general decay of Evansville’s infrastructure is more important and affects a higher percentage of our population than the public employees of Wisconsin’s insurance and retirement plight. Both of course disrupt someones life and both need to be resolved satisfactorily.

The Wisconsin protests are dominating the national news while Evansville’s infrastructure and maintenance deficiencies struggle to get the attention of other local media outlets. Our discontentment is valid and important. For those of you who sent messages calling me a half wit for connecting these dots 16 days ago please extend those comments to the learned journalists and writers from the coasts who are now connecting the same dots and writing about “Cairo in the Midwest”.

Link to “Cairo in the Midwest?”


  1. Thanks Joe.
    I think the citizens of Evansville need to decide what they are willing to give to improve this city. Are they willing to give sweat equity to clean up parks? Are they willing to pay a small increase in taxes? Are they willing to go to council meeting after council meeting to present intelligent, workable solutions to solve these many problems? Are they willing to not vote straight ticket but to vote for those people who have refreshing ideas and the will to move them forward? Are they willing to not do one thing and go home, but be willing to be involved long term? Are they willing to research and varify facts and positions before making statements to the government, their groups, and the news media? In short, are they willing to be a part of the solution?
    Yes we have seen recently more citizens becoming involved with speaking out, but not enough. No offense, but many of those who write responses to the CCO, the CourierPress, or who just complain to their spouse and friends do no good unless they move beyond talk to peaceful, logical action. We don’t need extreme, vengeful positions. We need good people doing good things
    We also need city officials who listen and take to heart what is being expressed to them and who are creative enough to work to find solutions.
    Lastly, I would call for minimizing the “far right” and “far left” philosophies. We need to work for compromises which benefit the most people possible not which simply forward a personal agenda.

    • I agree!

      Ran into John Blair last night. Place was too noisy to have a real conversation, but I left there thinking, hey, if you lean right, go ahead and Tea Party up. If you lean left, party up with Democracy for America.

      But let’s keep politics local, and explore the opportunity for expressing those sentiments and exercising those possibilities in we all share a common interest at the local level.

      Kind of like a bipartisan community garden on a cultural level.

  2. There is a good network of neighborhood organizations in Evansville. And there are umbrella organizations as UNOE and Westside Improvement Association that provide coordination, unity, and access to and between the individual neighborhood orgs., all of whom have adopt-a-spots, cleanup drives, and other activities targetting crappy conditions in need of sweat labor.

    What needs to happen now is the bitchers, moaners, armchair pontificators, prophets of doom, and wannabe politicians need to push up out of their lazy boys and away from their computer screens, join up, grab a rake and some trashbags, and head on down to their current object of consternation.

    • In our public policy forum on Wednesday there was a discussion about exactly this. There were a couple of people there who do what they refer to as “guerrilla style” clean ups. They do it that way on weekends because believe it or not it is not legal to do things of a cleaning nature in the parks of Evansville without a permit or an umbrella organization in charge. We are considering putting up a website that presents problems to people who want to formulate and implement solutions. One thing I am convinced of is that Evansville’s renaissance if there is to be one has to be a citizen driven effort.

  3. The Weinzapfel administration has failed this city and it will take elected officials from outside his inner circle to bring positive changes to Evansville. The negative direction that the Weinzapfel team has led the city of Evansville into, will only continue if Tornatta, Watts, Mosby, Friend, Robinson and of course Winnecke are elected or re-elected. Last year a clear message was sent to the local career politicians and that message was that the voters want new faces and ideas.

  4. You know Joe, those black-hole proportionate potholes that swallow up a small car could be the source of our declining population. There’s likely whole neighborhoods who have fallen through to the other side of those cosmic wormholes.

  5. The thing that gripes me about Evansville is that we hear too much “me” and not enough “we” or “you”

    You try putting together a group that involves people coming together to work on something that doesn’t benefit them monetarily in this town and you’ll have to fight tooth and nail to get anyone too it.

    But boy you put on a pro union or pro business rally and you’ll have the whole damn building full. You put on a meeting about a tax and you’ll even double that. People in this town don’t get active until it’s their own hind end on the line and I find that to be embarrassing.

    People think here that anything you do here should be a business where you turn a profit. You’ll never get anywhere if your just being an activist for money.

    That’s the problem of the past 50 years. The people who have money are only concerned about their money and not doing anything about the town, while the people who don’t have money can’t do anything about the town. Just mind boggling.

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