EDGE WISE: The mourning after
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.
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.”
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?
Faced 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.
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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Jennifer 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 .