To the Editor:
If you wonder why there is not peace on earth, start with our small town. I grew up in an activist household, and was a civil rights worker from an early age. I marched from Selma to Montgomery at age 15, and could never forget the look of hate in young children’s eyes, yelling at the marchers. I believed through love, understanding, and acts of kindness the world could be a better place.
My friends chastised me when I moved to the Vineyard 45 years ago, that I was dropping out. Who knew this would be my testing grounds to understand why this dream of peace is so hard to achieve? All my guests tell me I live in paradise, but my years here of volunteering have been spent in political hell. Our town is picturesque, one-on-one the people are caring, and we address the elderly and homeless and addicted, and love our children and seniors, but what about all the diverse groups that call the Vineyard their home: rich, poor, middle class, year-round, summer, those born here, wash-ashores, tribal, non-tribal, Brazilians, people of color, nerds, hippies, fat, skinny, and let’s not forget all the religions?
The free town Camp Fun I started offered all the best programs for all the diverse groups and brought the community together. Families who never would have met got to know each other, forming lifetime bonds. When you know people’s stories, the prejudices often lose out to compassion. When you play hard together, you often forget the differences. How could such a good program that brought us together pull us apart? Politics?
Where money and power are concerned, it gets ugly. There is a group in power who thinks they are right and the ones who disagree are the enemy. We solve our problems by defeating the weaker side, and telling ourselves we have saved our town from these wretched troublemakers. We drive people who don’t have the same opinions out of being a respected, desired part of town government. People targeted leave town if they can, and sell their homes and drive up the valuation because they sell for more than they bought for, and they move to other places where they price other people out of their communities. We lose volunteers in our government, and we have the same like-minded people doing all the volunteer jobs, and a lot of nepotism and cronies, because they say there aren’t enough good like-minded volunteers.
My mom lived in a consensus community. If everyone didn’t agree, it wouldn’t happen. It was a slow process, but it taught people to work together on what they could agree on. Democracy is a painfully slow process that takes a lot of stick-with-it, but it is what we have. It is important to follow the fair process rules we agreed on for fair play. When you bend them to fit your personal agenda, democracy fails and the rules lose meaning. We as people in a small town are all connected, and when we start fighting, instead of coming together, it weakens us all, and fair play turns into privilege. Good leadership brings all together, and does not support backroom politricks.
The press is so important in covering all points of view equally, so people can make up their own minds. It is hard to understand issues by speaking to one side. The selectmen’s meetings are covered. The boards whose meetings are not televised or attended need to be heard equally, for democracy to not be one-sided. Term limits are important, so ownership of government does not occur. Outsourcing does not solve our problems, and throwing away our local resources does not save money. Good administration can bring us together or encourage backstabbing and blame. The more we play the blame game through our differences, the more we create a rift, and the harder it is to come together in fair play. We are all connected in affecting the success of this Island.
Wake up, Aquinnah! Set aside differences and see where we can come together. Peace starts at home. If you hate someone when you have won a battle, the battle is not won.