Twelve of us sit in a small room at the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association offices on East 12th and St. Clair. One of the twelve is a young woman of Afro-American background from Cleveland's east side. She has just passed the Ohio bar. A second is a young female attorney of a few years in immigration practice. Also present are ten of us OWG's (you know, "Old White Guys").
The room is like the jury deliberation room for suburban courts, tiny and sparse with an oblong wooden table and twelve chairs. We are not here to decide about some defendant, but actually about ourselves. Outside on a slight table leaning against the wall is our luncheon spread. There are small ham and cheese sandwiches on rye and then stuffed pita rolls. (I hate such pita rolls--the bread wrap all too soon becomes soggy and tastes like a paper towel after being used to wipe a wet table)
Small yellow bags of potato chips are beside the sandwiches. Next time they should have fruit, like a bunch bananas from Aldi's. We also have beverages including coke, diet coke, sprite, but no ginger ale that I crave.
So why are we all sitting around the table inside the room, attempting to quietly munch our potato chips? This is a vital organizational meeting of our Bar section. The basic agenda business is to conduct an election for offices of Treasurer and Secretary. We already have a live Chair and Vice-Chair. Two weeks ago when an email notified us of the meeting, I had volunteered to "stand" for an office.
Hardly anybody ever volunteers for such official duties and I had figured I would handily win my position by default. Here was something more for my resume-an "official" Bar Association position. Who knows, this might begin my ascension to the exalted position of Bar Association President.
"We have two offices open," declares the Chair as he launches our meeting. "We have four volunteer candidates. Three of whom are here and one could not make it but still wants to be considered,"
Oh, oh, I am thinking. I had not contemplated any opposition and active campaigning. Usually, it is hard to find candidates to fill such open slots, let alone having several seeking the prestige and honor of an office.
"Since we have four candidates, we need to have an election," pronounces the Chair. "I have prepared ballots." The chair has come equipped. The guillotine is here!
I spot my name on the ballot alongside the names of the other three with boxes
for us to check only two choices. All of us in the room barely recognize each other.
Now we are going to mark ballots, "x-ing" two boxes and leaving two blank. This entails
turning two of us into losers and pariahs while the two winners will celebrate their
"glorious entry into Rome."
What to do? Do I want to risk becoming a pariah, especially before I have completed my ham and cheese sandwich? Perhaps I should just retire from the battlefield. But that would be a public confession of spinelessness. The other bull elephants will not appreciate my sacrifice. I do not think Jack Kennedy would include me in his "Profiles in Courage" book.
Our Chair is ready to pass out the venomous ballots.
"I, I, I…have an idea," I stumble and mumble. "We have two empty offices, but each of those needs an assistant or Vice, like a Vice- Secretary and a Vice-Treasurer. Sometimes people cannot attend meeting and that would give us a back-up for each office, like the Chair and Vice-Chair."
The atmosphere becomes less oppressive. I can feel the dreadful burden being lifted. Yes, yes, they are all thinking. Here is a possible route to avoid an unpleasant outcome, that might mean two of us would have to desert our yellow potato chip bags and retreat from this room.
"Maybe we should contemplate that idea," says a white haired OWG. "'Vice' positions are one proposal, but maybe we could use a Program Chair and a Membership Chair." Chins and eyes are fixed as all weigh this solution.
"Yes," says another OWG office candidate who comes from a very large law firm, He may not want to return to his firm and have to explain how he has disgraced the firm name by losing a bar association election.
More discussion and all the OWG's like having four offices so nobody will be a total failure.
But how to get past the election itself? We have four positions for our four volunteers, but can we avoid the election process itself?
"You know," I interject again, "I really would like to work on getting more members for our section. I would be willing to volunteer for Membership Chair." I have thrown myself on the sacrificial sword. Nobody wants to be Membership Chair.
"Let's make that unanimous, " says another OWG. "All in favor of making the choice for Membership Chair unanimous, raise your hands." All hands go up, people laugh and congratulate me as the winner. I am victorious on the battlefield and Sun Tzu himself would applaud me in his Art of War. So one down, three more to go.
More discussion ensues as one candidate says he would like to be either Secretary or Treasurer. A third present candidate also wants a real office. The two of them achieve a truce and agreement. One accepts the Treasurer slot and the other takes Secretary. That leaves Program Chair as the generous prize for the absent candidate. I trust nobody will tell him the full story on how he accomplished his goal.
We then begin discussing future activities. None of us has been defeated. The status of pariahhood and a loss of somebody's manhood has been circumvented. We have all not only survived but even triumphed. The two ladies, meanwhile, never said anything. The male elephants are left to trumpet their success.
After the meeting is over, I will talk to our newest attorney. "Please return to our next section meeting," I urge her. "By the way. what is your name again?"
"My name is 'Tiara,' she explains, "like the crown for a princess."
"You should use that phrase when you introduce yourself publicly at such bar meetings," I advise her. "Remember these Old White Guys never remember anything. That phrase about a 'Princess's crown' will help them remember you. Also next time, bring of a stack of business cards for yourself and pass them out."
I must remember to send her a bill for my valuable legal advice.
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