NBC’s Parks and Recreation was a standout comedy for many reasons, but it was the public comment periods depicted in the series’ city council meetings that rose to the level of genius.
In several episodes spread throughout the series, Parks and Rec brilliantly lampooned both the council members’ self-interested proposals and a bizarre streak of community-spread insanity among its citizenry, all witnessed by tenacious Pawnee, Indiana city councilmember Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler). In one episode that centered on taxes, the electorate was in full freakout.
“I think we should tax all bad things,” said one Pawnee citizen. “Like racism … and women’s vaginas.”
“We’re not taxing anyone’s genitals,” said Ann Perkins (Rashida Jones), public relations director for the city Health Department.
“Then why are we here?” said the citizen.
Opinion by George D. Lang
Parks and Rec went off the air in 2015, but its spirit lived on at Friday’s Oklahoma City Council meeting, where one public commenter actually argued against the proposed mask ordinance by saying that masks empowered criminals to commit crimes.
That particular citizen was Timothy Harper, a Second Amendment activist who was arrested in November 2019 for bringing an AR-15 into the Twin Peaks restaurant on Memorial Road.
So, you see, not all criminals wear masks.
Harper was not the only anti-masker speaking out against the proposed ordinance — they were lined up for the Zoom call as if President Donald Trump announced a surprise rally. Catherine Sweeney, health care reporter for State Impact Oklahoma, tweeted, “I knew going in the OKC mask hearing would be a Parks and Rec episode, but …”
Of course, there were plenty of reasonable and civic-minded people who joined the Zoom meeting to encourage the council’s adoption of the measure. These included one immunocompromised woman who confronted a non-masked and coughing fellow shopper who promptly turned and violently coughed in her face.
Granted, not everyone behaves like kindergarten students, but not everyone knows how to follow rules, either. There are people like Ward 1 Councilman James Greiner, who briefly spoke up between his numerous off-camera periods to wave the flag of personal liberty and free will over the common good.
Both he and Ward 3’s Larry McAtee announced early in the meeting that they would not be voting for the measure. McAtee will be retiring at the end of his term; thanks to his efforts to create a city government that does not govern, Greiner might find himself “retired” in the next election.
What appalls me about the anti-masker vigilantes and the personal freedom proselytizers is the utter hypocrisy of their arguments. In a real world, personal freedom has its limits. We have seatbelt laws to protect people from being launched through windshields. We have homicide laws to keep murderers from exercising what would otherwise be their “personal freedom” to kill people.
Ultimately, the ordinance passed 6-3 with an emergency measure to implement the ordinance immediately passing 7-2. Ward 4 Councilman Todd Stone voted against the ordinance but switched sides to back the emergency measure.
The ordinance brought to the council by my city councilman, Ward 8’s Mark Stonecipher, was passed by those who believe that the government is designed to take care of its citizens, even the ones who refuse such care.
I am thankful that, despite watering down penalties for not wearing masks, the council voted to enact the ordinance for the safety of our city, particularly the elderly and the immunocompromised. But I am especially thankful because, as was evident to anyone reading comments on the meeting’s YouTube feed, we are in an hour of chaos.
Many commenters decried the ordinance as an act of fascism, an abridgment of their inalienable rights. They screamed in all caps that the COVID-19 numbers are inflated, that herd immunity is the only way to fight the disease and they threatened a recall petition against Mayor David Holt.
This weekend, the sky over Oklahoma City will echo with the fervent wailing of those who want the government to stay out of their lives and, eventually, their hospital rooms.
In Parks and Rec, Leslie Knope frequently told other characters — or the fourth-wall-breaking camera — that she believed in government. On Friday, it was Ward 2 Councilman James Cooper who carried the standard for Knope.
“To me, this is about securing the blessings of liberty; you have to be alive to enjoy that liberty,” Cooper said in his closing statement.
As someone who must painstakingly avoid crowds these days, I look forward to both living and enjoying that liberty.