Let’s get uncomfortable: A letter

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To the Editor:

I write in response to the actions as reported on Dec. 15 (“Selectmen unanimous for another engineering study of Island Theater”) of the Oak Bluffs selectmen, concerning town appointments to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission following the November 2016 election. I am not an Oak Bluffs resident, but the Island is my home, and decisions of the MVC affect us all. I would be more than pleased to know that Ms. Desmarais will be contributing her insight to MVC deliberations. Even if this were solely a town issue, however, I would still feel compelled to offer a perspective.

This letter is not intended to point a finger at any individual, but rather to invite reflection on what is not apparent. We all carry unconscious bias. In this case, it impacts who gets to sit at the MVC table.

We first learn in the Dec. 15 report that Mr. Breckenridge has withdrawn himself from consideration for MVC appointment. I offer sincere good wishes as he tends to his stated health concerns. Although he received fewer votes in Oak Bluffs or across the Island than did Ms. Desmarais, it seems he would have been the appointment choice. In the words of one selectman, which were supported by the comments of another, “I might have said differently if John had stayed a candidate, but now that he’s gone I’d like to see us advertise.”

Each town chooses its selectmen, who apparently have the power to disregard the preference of the voters when designating appointed MVC commissioners. Please note that we continue to use the title “selectMEN.” Eyes may roll and “yeah, buts” may follow, as some point out that people who do not identify as male also hold the position. True, and yet — language matters, and it tells us much about where power resides. Again, I let a selectman speak for himself: “This is our appointee, the person we feel represents us … John was a comfortable candidate. It’s never been about votes. It’s about who this board is comfortable with.”

I pause and take that in: Who is the “us”? Who gets to feel “comfortable”? This is a critical question that extends far beyond the situation at hand. Some are in the “us” category more often and in more ways, and some rarely experience it. In fact, we all are better off when “comfortable” is not a criterion for that seat at the table. Fresh ideas, new perspectives, hard questions, and creative solutions are not often germinated in the comfort of sameness. It’s time to shake it up, people — let’s step in with the richness of all that we bring. Oak Bluffs voters, I hope you show up at the next selectmen’s meeting and make your ballot voices heard.

Here’s to getting uncomfortable.

Jill De La Hunt
West Tisbury