On Saturday, Martha’s Vineyard will welcome President Barack Obama and his family back to the Island for what has become, save for one election year during his presidency, an annual summer vacation ritual. The Obamas could chose any number of vacation spots to visit, each with its own political calculus. Islanders may take pride that the first family has returned year after year, and see in their return visits an endorsement of the many qualities of Island living those who live here year-round, and seasonally, work so hard in a variety of different ways to preserve.
In that sense, the Obamas are no different from the thousands of other families Islanders welcome back in August. They return for the natural beauty of the shoreline and landscape and the sense of community that still prevails, whether it is a small gathering on an Oak Bluffs porch or taking in the Ag Fair and Illumination Night.
With Martha’s Vineyard once again the scenic backdrop for a presidential vacation we can expect that some members of the media will once again trot out all the well worn references to wealth, celebrity and power. It is so much more fun to sell the Vineyard to the rest of the world as an enclave of the elite.
Yes, there is no Motel 6, no Happy Meals. And it costs plenty to rent a house with a waterview in Chilmark for two weeks. Or buy a key to a private up-Island beach.
But if past visits provide any indication of how they will spend their time, Mr. Obama and his family will pretty much enjoy vacation on the Vineyard the same way other families do, although with much less fanfare and attention. There will be visits to the beach and golf courses, bike rides, and shopping, and dinners with friends at Island restaurants and in the intimate surroundings of Island homes.
And that Chilmark waterview of Vineyard Sound? It is accessible to anyone who wants to take a hike through the Menemsha Hills Reservation, owned and managed by The Trustees of Reservations. And the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank welcomes the public to swim, shellfish, hike, bike and horseback ride on many of its more than 70 properties comprising more than 3,000 acres. No key needed.
And if August visitors, including President Obama, members of his coterie, and the visiting media want to take a vacation detour, they could catch a glimpse of the other Martha’s Vineyard, the one more recognizable to the majority of Americans than the celebrity media tripe.
At the offices of the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority in Vineyard Haven, executive director David Vigneault could describe the plight of some of the more than 270 people currently on his waitlist for an affordable rental.
In the adjacent office of the Island Housing Trust, executive director Phillip Jordi can describe the challenge to provide homeownership opportunities on an Island where the average median income for homeowners is $64,000 and the median cost of a house is more than $500,000.
More than one waitress or waiter would likely be able to describe what it is like to work several jobs and shuffle between affordable winter and excessive summer rentals just to survive.
Sarah Kuh, director of the Vineyard Health Care Access Programs, could describe the effort to provide quality health care on an island where many people are self-employed.
On Circuit Avenue in Oak Bluffs or Main Street in Vineyard Haven, Island business owners are just as concerned about many of the things business owners on Main Streets across America worry about, and that includes the costs to provide health insurance to employees in Massachusetts, and subsidize those who do not provide it.
Martha’s Vineyard Community Services in Oak Bluffs, the Island’s umbrella social services agency, provides a glimpse of the other side of the summer postcard — the not-so-pretty picture of Islanders set against a backdrop of substance and domestic abuse. As a recent series of six reports by reporter Barry Stringfellow described, Martha’s Vineyard is not immune to the ravages of opiate abuse and addiction.
Six Islanders have died of opiate overdose since August 2013, according to Dr. Charles Silberstein, psychiatrist and addiction specialist at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital. Island-wide, there was one heroin arrest in 2012 and 10 heroin arrests in 2013; in 2012 there were 13 arrests for oxycodone and percocet pills, in 2013 there were 15 arrests.
The national political debate about drug policy and punishment has real meaning to Island families affected by this scourge. A day spent in Edgartown District Court speaking to those on the front lines of the battle would provide some perspective.
No need to travel to the border to confront the immigration debate. Brazilian workers, some legal — their actual number is a cause of speculation — fill a considerable number of jobs on Martha’s Vineyard. Their contribution is unmistakable, but it comes with a cost.
We welcome our August visitors to Martha’s Vineyard. It is a great place to live, not as elite as some make it out to be, and for those who call it home, not every day is a day at the beach.