Sunday, September 9, 2007

My Vision for the Village: A Work in Progress

Conservative? Me? You? What?
In many ways I am "conservative." Ok, yes, I am different kind of conservative. What I mean by using this term is that, as a baseline for all my decisions, I will strive to conserve, nurture, and build on the resources that our village already has, here and now, including:
  • Our Human Resources: We must nurture the skills and abilities of all the individual members of our village. Obviously, this includes the work-related skills and talents that every village resident brings to our life together. Less obviously, these human resources include our local knowledge of the community as a specific place, our sense of our own history and traditions, and our knowledge of one another.
  1. It is in our best interests, as a village, to use our resources prudently, as we seek to discern and nurture these abilities, skills, and knowledges, in every one of us.
  2. It is in our best interests to facilitate the fullest expression of these abilities in all our residents--regardless of any "disability" that any one of us may have, and absolutely regardless of the stereotypes about race, gender, class, age, income or background, that too often distort our views of each other. These distortions keep us from noticing the skills that residents have, skills we may desperately need. As a teacher, I believe we must become aware of the distorting stereotypes and ideologies that often almost invisibly divide us, so we can be vigilant to their distortions, and learn to see around them. For our own good.
  • Our Social and Institutional Resources: We must do what we can to sustain the social organizations that have been developed over time, because they help develop the human resources of the community. These include the businesses located in Yellow Springs, both profit-based and non-profit businesses, as well as the educational, healing, spiritual, recreational, and other organizations that support our community's life.

    Over the years I have been active in the Community Choir, the Emporium, the Wednesday Morning Meditation/Writing Group at the Friends Meeting House, sent my children to Friends Music Camp and supported their annual concert, the drive to Save Whitehall Farm, and, most recently, the campaign to keep Antioch College alive. I am a supporting member of WYSO, the Tecumseh Land Trust, Home, Inc., and the Glen Helen Association. I value and believe my life benefits from the work of all these institutions, big and small.

  • Our Natural Resources: We must make thoughtful use of the land, energy sources, and natural beauty to which the Yellow Springs community and our social institutions are fortunate to have access, and over which we exercise some degree of control. Our continued existence depends upon our careful stewardship of these resources.

When I witness or, alas, participate in a process that unnecessarily wastes human, institutional, or natural resources,
it saddens me.
When institutions and infrastructure that we depend on in our daily lives make it nearly inevitable that any of these resources will be wasted or, worse yet, destroyed,
it frustrates me.
When such wastefulness happens consistently and avoidably--or, worst of all, deliberately--
it angers me.

This "conservativism," call it what you will, is what drives me.

Counting Our Blessings, Honoring Our Legacies
Yellow Springs faces serious concerns, problems, and even crises regarding our use and development of virtually all of these resources. Yet we must not lose sight of, or cease to honor and protect, the powerful resources that we do have. Only by regularly reminding ourselves of what we are blessed to have, will we be able to determine a responsible way forward.

We have a noble history of being a community that nurtures our landscape and faciliates the creative expression of local skills, talents, muscles, and different forms of knowledge. Our elders and ancestors--and all those who have worked in recent years to sustain the powerful visions that have shaped this place--have granted all of us rare gifts. Their work and vision and humor have made us heirs to a beautiful village, composed of diverse individuals drawn here from the furthest corners of the globe, all nestled in a lovely location.

We have been gifted excellent schools
(and the educators and young people who sustain them),
We have been gifted a vibrant artistic community
(and the artists and businesses who sustain that artistic life),
We have been gifted access to Glen Helen, with all its spiritual and environmental resources
(and the skilled staff that runs its educational outreach on a tight budget),
We have been gifted access to safe and healthful watershed, air that is not congested with visible smog, and land that is rich and fruitful
(and skilled people working to preserve these elements, and responsibly produce the food and other good things we need each day),
We have been gifted a wonderful public library
(and skilled librarians who keep it well-stocked and interesting),
We have been gifted to have in our presence a college founded by visionaries and dedicated to nurturing both practical skills and social justice
(and the energetic students, faculty, and staff who keep it running, even in hard times).
We have been gifted a thriving spiritual community
(and the leaders and deep wisdom that sustains them),
We have been gifted a lively downtown and business community with spaces for communal interactions and mutual growth
(and the creative entrepreneurs who sustain it)
We have been gifted a functioning democracy
(and those who direct their efforts to making it real by voting, attending meetings, protesting, petitioning, and running for office).
. . . and that's just the beginning.

We have the responsibility, and it can be a joyous one, to honor those gifts by carefully building on them.

We can only do this if we continually remind ourselves that these are gifts, they are vulnerable to being taken for granted and neglected. In such cases, it is easy for individuals motivated by greed and self-interest to steal them away from us.

Counting our blessings is not just patting ourselves on the back. It's a necessary practice for thoughtful growth and change.

The Seductions of the Big Boxes

Too many communities in the United States have been seduced or intimidated into a false economy, based on an ill-conceived sense of "efficiency," and by a spurious notion that it is only "practical" to put (quarterly) profitability before the needs and longterm interests of their residents.

That movement is deadly to places like Yellow Springs.

The harm from this process happens both on a global scale and on very subtle, individual levels every single day.

In this country, for example, we readily slip into calling ourselves "consumers," rather than seeing ourselves as, say, citizens, workers, or simply as human beings. When I hear that word, "consumer," I feel myself being reduced to an open mouth, taking in whatever is on offer. The "consumer" label offers no room for me to see myself as a creator. Or as a visionary. Certainly not as a grower of my own food, a creator of my own art, or even, really, a negotiator of my own business decisions.

At best I can only hope to be a "smart consumer"--someone who occassionally shuts her mouth, when what's on offer seems to be toxic. That is a poor wealth.

This is a very convenient and profitable way to perceive a human being, or it wouldn't be so prevalent. But it only works in the short term, and it primarily serves those who want to profit from other people as their first and foremost priority. It benefits exploiters.

That consumerist ideology is deeply resisted by the Yellow Springs I know and love. We know that this "consumer" view of ourselves deeply harms all of us, as surely as racism and sexism and age-discrimination do. My life is dedicated to resisting this and all other forms of dehumanization.

The very act of entering a political race, of putting myself forth as a candidate, is an act that reminds myself and other people that we are all so much more than mere consumers: we are citizens in a democracy. Democracy. Another hard-won human resource that I hate to see squandered and subsumed, as it surely is being squandered in our public life today. Corporate powers, and top-down decision-making structures in many human structures, have increasing control over human lives today, at the expense of democratic institutions and processes.

Top-down, non-democratic structures inevitably squander human, social, and natural resources, and they do so remorselessly.

We must teach ourselves and our children to see ourselves, instead, as fully human: as creative individuals with valuable skills that are needed by the world. We are not just consumers. We are creators. We are teachers and students of each other. We are citizens.

This I know: Our best hope for maintaining and sustaining and nurturing our village's resources will come from carefully attending to our marvellously quirky, individual capacities. If we do this with joy and humor, intelligence and moral seriousness, I know that our efforts will not be in vain.

I know, too, that these efforts will inevitably result in a little funky town that will not look like every other place.

Because, make no mistake, other communities are buying, wholesale, into this consumer-based vision, the vision I believe is killing us. They are doing so because it feels good, short-term. And they feel they "have to" buy this vision, to compete; that they'd be "stupid not to." And because they see few, or no, viable alternatives.

We Can Be An Alternative.

Shabby, Charming, Funky Yellow Springs. We love it.

Yellow Springs, as it is--warts and cracked streets and all--attracts and interests people. Tourists are drawn to our funky shops, our festivals, and fairs. Our houses are relatively expensive, even when some of them have peeling paint, and our property values are high for this region (if quite affordable by comparison to many college/arts towns and metropolitan zones), because many people, like me, move into the region and want to live here, and are willing to pay a bit more for the privilege. This creates opportunities, and challenges, particularly in creating affordable housing options.

And, yes, we are, and probably always will be, the butt of local, regional, and even national jokes as "that hippie town."

We will never attract all people--or even, perhaps, the majority of people in this region, at least not to live or spend significant portions of their weekly lives here. We are all swimming in, trained by, and at least superficially content in the current consumerist environment. It's difficult even for the most ardent of Yellow Springers to resist the siren calls of Sam's Club or Target. We do not exist completely apart from that world. But...

FACT 1: There are plenty of places that are designed to cater to the lowest-common denominator needs of a consumerist population.

FACT 2: We cannot compete with those places, even if we wanted to.

SO THEREFORE: We must not lose sight of the fact that, unlike many places, we still attract artists and educators, healers and experimenters, skateboarders and tennis players, lovers of trees and haters of "sprawl" . . . and all kinds of people who want to live in (and complain about and propose new visions for and argue about the future of) a walkable community that operates on a human scale.

These people want to live, and if they can, to work, in and for Yellow Springs. We should do our best to craft public policies to make it possible for people of all incomes who are attracted to Yellow Springs to live and work here.

It's my sense that these people who are attracted to Yellow Springs are, by and large, the kind of folks who will, if forced, choose to nuture their loved ones and the needs of the human spirit over keeping up a perfectly tidy house or maintaining an impeccably manicured lawn at all times. They'll fingerpaint a picture with a four-year old while dust bunnies form in their closets. They'll teach a bunch of kids to play T-Ball (and write joyously about it in the paper each week during the summer) before they kill the dandelions growing in the cracks of their driveway. They sing in the local choir, attend village meetings, dance in the Antioch amphitheater . . . and notice later that their socks don't match.

This is a powerful, active, and engaged constituency, in this village. They should be viewed as a strength. Not as a problem. Not as an annoyance. Not as cranky foot-draggers. This group believes we must, when push comes to shove, prioritize actions in the village that are key to sustaining a healthy and creative, inclusive human community in a healthful setting, first and foremost.

They are not mere "consumers."

This constituency will resist calls for repairs and ordinances that they perceive are being done more out of an effort to "market" Yellow Springs to fit the needs and interests of the wider consumerist culture, at the expense of the human beings who live here.

Bottom line, as they say: Yellow Springs will not be or look like Beavercreek, ever. And most of us don't want to.

That does NOT mean, however, that we are "anti-growth," or "stuck in the 60s."

Growth, Technology, Modernity: Not The Enemy.

Indeed, we insist on growth. We insist on staying alive--that's the whole point of all this nurturing and sustaining of resources! To be alive!

To be alive is to grow.

But, as I have argued, to be alive is not simply to be a "consumer," even simply a "smart consumer" of anything that comes along.

We have to be creators. We have to be, literally, creative.

We want intelligent, socially and environmentally just growth that fits our community. It's a tall order, but we should aim to meet that high standard. I believe we have or can access the resources to make it happen. We must attempt to develop a practical and attractive vision to make it so.

We understand that the kinds of businesses who are going to insist upon a Beavercreek-style location are never going to move their operations here--and we should not waste our precious resources by trying to lure them.

We must be more creative--not less--in attracting and supporting the viable businesses and organizations that will most help to sustain our community.

We must work harder and more creatively. If our labors are done with joy and humor and good will, it's a good thing.

Because of the dominance of the consumerist ideology in the broader world, there are fewer, perhaps no, pre-fabricated blue prints for a town that is truly putting the growth and sustenance of wholly-human beings first, in all our quirkiness, through generations.

We can and we must examine creative solutions developed by other municipalities in the U.S., particularly by other small college towns, in the face of dilemmas similar to those that we face.

We can and we must find ways of best utilizing our limited resources to achieve those goals.

Conflicts Can Generate Light as Well as Heat

OK. Let me be clear. This is not to say that there are not real and genuine conflicts that occasionally arise as our values collide. For instance, at a recent village council meeting it became quite clear that most of us love trees, and we do, truly, love our community members who confront limitations on their mobility in a world designed for those of us who are currently not disabled.

Those of us who use wheelchairs (and some of us do so dazzlingly) or who regularly need to push small children in strollers need really good, functional sidewalks.

Yet many of our lovely trees are cracking and deforming the sidewalks that our fellow citizens depend on in order to access the resources our village has to offer them, and to offer their own human resources back to us.

Many of us who understandably love our bikes and skateboards, thoughtlessly block wheelchair users from our downtown sidewalks.

We cannot afford NOT to address these problems. We are wasting needed human resources by delaying any effective response. We must keep our sidewalks in good repair so that those community members who most depend upon them feel welcome here. We must be thoughtful of the needs of everyone to move through the village, and keep the ways clear for them, even as we enjoy hanging out down town. Even as we preserve as much as we can of our "tree wealth," the green and growing legacy of generations of Yellow Springs tree planters. Likewise, if our cracked streets are in such bad repair that they become dangerous, particularly for emergency vehicles, then we need to attend to them--in ways that are fiscally responsible, cost-effective over the long-term.

We need to work to see these problems clearly--not to exaggerate the problems nor to minimize them--so that we can make frugal use of our funds, with an eye toward the long-term, whenever possible.

I believe we can make these hard decisions. I know we must make them in a spirit of mutual care and compromise--and with the patience to genuinely listen to citizens and to explain to citizens the challenges we are addressing. To make sure they have the opportunity to understand the value systems we are using to set our priorities.

Our other problems--e.g., the problems at Antioch, our rising energy costs and the dangers of global warming at a time when we must find alternative sources of electrical power to the village, the lack of really affordable housing for younger and older singles, couples, and families--are even more complex. They are already generating conflicts, and they will require even more of our sustained attention and consideration. We will not all think alike on these issues. We will need to listen to one another, and seek to learn even from those ideas and perspectives that make us angry--no matter what side of the various fences we are on.

We need leaders who will remain grounded in the "conservative" values I have here outlined, and who will use those values to wrestle with competing solutions to the challenging questions that we are facing now, and that we will continue to face in the years ahead. We need leaders who will explore these problems and implement "conservative" solutions with grace, generosity of spirit, fiscal sobreity, attentive research, ethical seriousness, joy, and good humor. Only by doing so, will we have a hope of preserving, sustaining, and growing all the miraculous human and natural resources that Yellow Springs has to offer.


Anonymous said...

Word! I am much that same kind of conservative, and sometimes feel frustrated that the word is so loaded in our culture. (Real conservatives conserve!)

I like the vision that you articulate here.


Anonymous said...

She's got my vote.


Jay said...

Why can't all persons running for public office explain themselves this well? How refreshing!

Sarvenaz said...

What a delight to see such clarity and compassion in local politics. Raising the level of public discourse can only benefit everyone.