Kill Halloween, kill off hope

Patrick Newman is a witness to local political acts and longtime Chicoan.
Chico is a funny town. We talk about Halloween all year long. We talk about Halloween the way parents talk about a wayward child. Recently I was sitting in a big fat chair, channel surfing, when I came across the Chico City Council meeting. (Often the best dramatic programming on television.) There it was, a whole meeting devoted to Halloween.

The police chief was holding forth with report/recommendation-type material. I think he was on item No. 14. I don’t remember much about item 14, but I remember getting the idea, in short order, that the chief was no friend of Halloween. He asserted that people were “dancing on a match head,” that we should make Halloween a “non-event” and that people should be informed “the party is over.” I kept hearing that new and disturbing mantra of authoritarianism: “zero tolerance.”

Next the council listened, more or less politely, to input from the community. Two or three people spoke about Halloween as a menace to the community. One young man, a marketing major, wanted to tame the beast by charging admission. An older man gave a convincing, chronological analysis: We have created a monster through the use of Draconian control measures.

In this mix was a young woman, perhaps in her late teens. She came to the microphone somewhat hesitantly. She was soft-spoken and she said she was representing the “Shadow Council.” (This, I presume, is one of those mock institutions, sponsored by wise elders and staffed by young achievers, learning the ropes of democracy.) She read through a brief laundry list of suggestions: more lighting, more police on horses, more restrooms, etc. She was one of the heroes of that night. In her inspiring innocence, she proposed that we actually invest in making Halloween work. She represented the spirit of Chico. She was speaking for those who are still young enough or alive enough or optimistic enough to value an unscripted, spontaneous, public celebration.

The young woman sat down and eventually the audience was silent. One of our perennially unhappy and humorless councilmembers quickly asserted that it was time to “kill Halloween.” He made a motion to that effect. The other hero of that night, a lone councilmember, voted against it. She was not willing to give up her belief that people could assemble joyfully, peacefully and in large numbers. Amen to that.

I suppose we’re moving toward the use of attack dogs, tear gas and fire hoses. It seems that "zero tolerance" for every minor infraction is easier to sell than any program that might help us to really understand and reduce violence in our community. We might just be able to kill Halloween. And in the process, we might just kill any hope for learning to build a more peaceful world, one funny little town at a time.