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EDGE WISE: The mourning after

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By Thursday, Nov 6, 2014 Life In the Berkshires 7

On November 5thI woke up to a damp gray morning and the news that on the local, state and national levels, my vote was swept away by a rising tide of Republicans.

I doubt that the vote against accepting $23 million from the state for our high school renovation project was carried exclusively by Republicans, but certainly our Republican Town Committee played a role in the misinformation campaign leading up to Tuesday’s close vote.

Governor-elect Charlie Baker.

Governor-elect Charlie Baker.

I hear that our new Republican state governor in Massachusetts out-spent Democratic candidate Martha Coakley by millions of dollars, much of it provided by the Republican Governors Association.

On the national level, well, you got the picture if you looked at the red state/blue state map on the morning after Election Day. With both houses of Congress now in Republican control, anything the Democrats try to accomplish in the next two years will be sabotaged— not on the basis of sound reasoning or careful consideration, but simply because the Republican political creed is “We don’t negotiate with Democrats.”

So.

Sipping my coffee and considering the socio-political landscape around me, that familiar sinking feeling settled into the pit of my stomach.

Who are these people, my neighbors and co-citizens? Who elected a Republican governor of our supposedly blue state of Massachusetts? How could they believe that our town will be better if a crumbling old school is repaired piecemeal over the next decade, at far greater expense than it would cost to once and for all build a bright modern facility for our kids? How could the voters who are sending Republican representatives to the Senate believe that it’s in the best interest of our country to do away with affordable health care, loosen our already lax gun control laws, and keep burning more and more fossil fuels?

20141101_woc797Faced with this scenario, I have often felt the urge to run away, to find a place where these kinds of dangerous, short-sighted politics don’t have such sway. But realistically, is there anywhere to hide? Vaunted Canada, after all, is the home of the tar sands mining project, the one that will succeed in wrecking our climate if all that dirty oil comes out of the ground to be burned.

Running away would be a cop-out of the biggest kind, essentially conceding defeat and leaving our country to the bullies with the biggest sticks and the deepest bags of cash.

No, leaving is not an option, and giving up is not an option.

The lesson of this dispiriting election is that we have a lot more work to do, here in our home communities as well as on the state and local levels. We need to work harder to understand the people standing behind these Republican votes, and to effectively communicate our own perspectives.

On the local level, I was somewhat cheered to read a message — conciliatory in tone, at least — on Facebook and in a letter to The Edge from one of the high school renovation plan’s most vocal opponents, David Long, calling for more thoughtful discussion of the issues underpinning the vote.

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If the divisive school renovation project results in more community engagement in our schools, that would certainly be a good thing — as long as everyone is really prepared to listen and learn from each other, truly seeking common ground and consensus.

Our national politicians have not provided us with a good model for this kind of participatory democracy. We have a Congress stocked with Republicans who seem to enjoy being as obstructionist as possible, even if the result is a country teetering on the brink of collapse — anyone remember the partisan fights over the debt limit ceiling, which brought the country to the edge of fiscal default last year?

We need to do better. Maybe that means that more of us need to step up to the challenge of running for office. Or at least we need to get more involved in the campaigns — not just sending money, but actually rolling up our sleeves and getting down in the trenches. I haven’t made phone calls for a campaign since Obama’s 2008 run…so can I really complain when my candidate loses?

I want to live in a town that cares about teachers and students and values public education. I want to live in a state that supports nurses and doctors and provides a decent social safety net for every resident. I want to live in a country that takes a leadership role in dealing with the environmental challenges of the 21st century, using public policy to craft a smooth transition to renewable energy.

I want to be part of making this vision a reality, using the tools available and maybe creating some new strategies and frameworks outside of the existing boxes we’ve inherited from our forebears. I called my blog Transition Times for a reason — I truly believe we are living through remarkable times, transition times — an era where like it or not, change is accelerating and taking us forward in ways we cannot predict. We are going to need every ounce of community spirit, every fiber of resilience, courage and compassion in the months and years ahead. Let’s start now to build the fabric of a society that will work for all of us.

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Author-photoJennifer Browdy de Hernandez, Ph.D., teaches comparative literature and media studies with a focus on social and environmental justice at Bard College at Simon’s Rock, directs the annual Berkshire Festival of Women Writers and is co-publisher of Green Fire Press.  Find her on Facebook, at her personal website, and at her blog, Transition Times .


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7 Comments   Add Comment

  1. Ed Abrahams says:

    I agree with nearly everything you said. But nothing about David Long’s letter sounded conciliatory. It was his plan, after all, that convinced many people that it would somehow be cheaper for us to do this by rejecting $23 million in state funding. And, he’s still pushing it, saying, among other things that we can do the reconstruction with local contractors despite state regulations that forbid it.

    I’m not on the school committee so I have no place to invite him, but nevertheless I challenge Dave to join the building committee and show them how his plan can work. (I don’t mean just show up and present your plan, I mean go to the countless meetings and watch the plan change as it bumps into building codes, regulations, funding restrictions, etc.) I’m not being combative or sarcastic. I really want him involved although I do think he will find out that when he has to produce an actual plan following actual state regulations, seeking actual funding from a real state agency mired in politics (which just changed against us), he will find out that there is no perfect plan.

    A lot of good suggestions were made by the people who opposed the renovation. Most of them had already been considered and rejected as too expensive or otherwise unworkable, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be considered again. But this time there will be people like Dave and Mickey in the room who can guide the professionals who couldn’t figure out how to do it last time.

    Again, this is NOT sarcasm. I sincerely wish them luck, since we will all pay for the outcome of their planning.

    1. Dave Long says:

      Ed- I convinced few people of anything… I was simply speaking for the folks in town that have been at this issue for years. Yes I believe that there are better ways of fixing the school, but I assure you that the vote would not have been very different if I had said nothing. Some folks happen to agree with me. The Republicans don’t think I was tough enough. In the end it doesn’t matter — as long as we each get out there and say our piece.

      Yes I am conciliatory.. I want us to all to work together. But at the same time, I want to articulate the things that towns folk — your constituency — have been insisting on throughout this process. The four big points came out of public meetings and should be included in conversations going forward.

      It is not my fault you have a def ear for the people who elected you. This is not a right/left issue. For some it is an existential issue. For others it is a quality issue. For nearly a super majority of your constancy it is a big issue. But you would have to hear the people to know the difference.

      1. Dave Long says:

        And I obviously meant deaf….

      2. Ed Abrahams says:

        It’s not a deaf ear. First, far more of my constituents voted for this project than voted for me. I’m not saying the majority didn’t vote no, but there were also many voters who voted yes and thought, like me, that we should take the $23 million since it will cost us more not to. I can’t agree with everyone.

        Also, it isn’t all clear that the voters agree with your four points or anything else. All that is clear is that a majority didn’t support this project. Your guess is that one of the reasons is that it didn’t include local contractors. My guess is that they were convinced, by someone, that voting no would cost less. I think that, because I did listen to the constituents who contacted me. Every one said some version of “we can’t afford this.” Every one.

        But that wasn’t my point. What I’m saying is that I hope you will be joining the committee and showing the people who spent 6 years researching every angle, including using local contractors, that there is a way to do that and the other things you think are possible and they do not. I’m not being combative or ignoring anyone. I do honestly believe that your plan is not workable in the real world of building codes and government regulations, but at this point, with the $23 million gone I hope I’m wrong and you’re right.

        I’m not on the school committee so the next step there isn’t my job. But because of your (at your insistence, limited) role in defeating this, it is your responsibility to step up. I assume we agree on that.

  2. Gary says:

    I think it is inaccurate to hint that only Republicans voted against the high school renovation. I am aware of Republicans who voted for and against. The same for Democrats. Furthermore, individuals from BOTH groups were guilty of misinformation campaigns. Finally, your statment that the “Republican political creed is ‘We don’t negotiate with Democrats'” made me chuckle. President Obama is equally guilty of refusing to compromise.

    1. Dave Long says:

      Yes Gary, most of the people I talked to who were against the project were un-enrolled or registered Democrats. I also talked to self-identified Republicans who supported the project. I, for one, am certainly not Republican, nor is Mickey Friedman, or many of the most vocal opponents of the project. There are many reasons why someone would reject the plan that was offered. I contend that the balance defies any political affiliation.

  3. Sheldon Hoxie says:

    Sounds to me like Ms. Browdy is saying she only wants to live where everyone agrees with her. What a boring existence that would be.

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