Saturday, November 15, 2008

Further Adventures in Citizen Activism

Some time ago, I posted about one of the buildings where I work, and how I finally managed to get them to remove their big, ugly, illegal ashtrays by submitting a complaint to the municipality.

The smoking problem there had also improved, but after the holidays it was worse. Much worse.

So I got out my film camera again—I still have to post the story of how I got it—and started taking pictures of the cigarette butts on the floor and in the planters. I downloaded the complaint form from the Hebrew-language website for anti-tobacco action, Avir Naki (Clean Air), filled it out, had the photos developed and headed back to the municipality.

Several days later, I got a call from the police. “We would like to set a date with you to tour the building,” they told me. “We’re about to fine the management.”

I told them, “I’m not willing to do that. Can you imagine what the people over there will think, to see me touring the building with two police officers in uniform? If you really want to know what’s going on over there, I’d suggest that you send over some plainclothes officers to hang out there for a while. They’ll see everything they need to see. You don’t need me to show you.” They agreed, saying that they’d get back to me later.

While I was at work later that same day, I felt hungry and decided to go to the cafeteria to buy a plate of vegetables. (I go to the building cafeteria, on average, once every several months.) When I approached the woman at the cash register to pay for my food, she looked at me with loathing and said, “We were fined five thousand shekels because of you.”

I was taken aback. So quickly? I thought. Aloud I asked her, a bit pointedly, “Because of me?”

“Yes,” she said, “because of you.” I kept looking her straight in the eye, and she amended, “Because you told on us and took pictures here.”

“It wasn’t because of me, but because of your own behavior,” I said. “I had spoken to you about it for more than a year, and you wouldn’t listen. What was I supposed to do?”

She didn’t answer that, choosing to say, instead, “You told on us, and you come here to buy food?”

“As I have every right to do,” I said.

“You’re an evil woman,” she said. “But you can be happy now, because we’ve been fined.”

“I don’t think I’m evil,” I said, “and I’m not rejoicing over your being fined. But you knew the law and you chose to break it. That’s your responsibility, not mine.”

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