To the Editor:
I understand your frustration. I know it is hard to see a place you love and call home change — particularly in ways you don’t support. But listen to the language that’s being used in this debate — look at the power it takes to be able to speak the way you do. The amount of blind privilege it takes to refer to the potential expansion of a nonprofit film festival as “profoundly disturbing” or as a “hostile takeover” makes my stomach churn.
I know the world can become small when you’re living on the Island. I know many of you live here because you cherish this community and the peacefulness that comes with it. It is an incredibly special place. On Martha’s Vineyard, time seems to slow down. You can feel as though you’ve been transported back to the days of Andy Griffith and Barney Fife. I know this is a special place — I know you don’t want to lose that.
But the way some of the opposition talks — it makes my heart drop; this is not homophobia, racism, xenophobia, or war. This is not famine, hatred, or violence. This is not Walmart. This is not slave labor or the dark side of capitalism. This is not wage inequality, the glass ceiling, or the revolving door.
I know what makes this place so beautiful is that at times we can feel separate from those hardships. I see your fear. I know many of you have been here for generations. I know many of you have worked to create this little utopia off the coast. I know this place is not inherently free of the dark nature of humanity. I know it has been built that way — built by you. I understand being cautious not to lose that. But please, look at the way you speak. Do not forget the amount of privilege we have to be here. Do not forget that others use the language you have to describe extreme poverty, violent attacks, genocide.
This is why we need the film festival — because it is not enough to create a safe space for ourselves, and lose perspective on the rest of humanity’s suffering and hardship. It is not enough, in this complex and tough world, to relish privilege. The MVFF is not a movie theater. It is an opportunity for those with power to see the faces of those without. The MVFF brings rape survivors, victims of police brutality, those who are living in poverty, those who are living in war. The MVFF gives a voice to people and communities who are facing bigger dilemmas than a new building. It allows these people to be seen and heard by the rich, famous, powerful, and privileged. It allows us to use our status in society for something outside of this Island. It allows us to engage our privilege in a powerful way without having to abandon safety.
The perspective we’ve lost in this debate is the same reason we need the MVFF. Please take a step back and see this is not a hostile takeover, this is not profoundly disturbing. This is a nonprofit organization run by members of our community. This is an organization that provides reliable employment for our neighbors. This is an organization that gives children growing up all over the Island an opportunity to find their voice in the most prevalent medium of the modern era. This is an attempt at outdoor screenings, free community classes, sustainable agriculture, and affordable nutrition.
Talk and debate. Look for a middle ground — a compromise. Remember that while the scale may frustrate or scare you, the ability to stand here and debate, the comfort it must take, is privilege. Realize that to have the energy for this discussion is a result of privilege. Many in this world don’t have the power to engage with issues like this, because of formal structures, but more notably because they are too busy trying to think of what to eat, trying to find a safe route to walk home from school, trying to afford clothes, books, food.
I’m not saying your concerns aren’t valid. I’m not saying because you have power in this world, you can’t be upset. I am not asking you to lose your passion for this place, because I know Martha’s Vineyard is special and sacred — and know you have worked to make it that way. All I’m asking is that you reframe this debate. This is not worth the level of hate it is provoking. This is not war. This is not violence. This is not an attack. This is not a hostile takeover, and this is certainly not profoundly disturbing.
Cassie Dana (former MVFF employee)