I would like to take a moment to share some of my reflections over the past few weeks as I have watched COVID-19 rip through the world and begin to descend on our beloved Island.
I urge everyone — local, resident, non-resident, property owner, and visitor alike — to read through to the end. For this to work, it depends on each one of us to step up and come together.
Non-residents: please understand we are scared. The same fear instinct that led you to flee here is bearing down on us with every car that comes off the boat. You may be fleeing, but we have nowhere else to go. We are acutely aware of the lack of medical resources here. We may not act with an open heart right now, but please do not judge us. Your defensiveness also tells us your hearts are not fully open to hearing us either.
Islanders: please understand they are scared. The same fear you feel with every car that comes off the boat is the exact instinct that led them to flee here. They are largely unaware of the reality of our very few medical resources. They may not act with an open heart right now, but please do not judge them. Your defensiveness also tells them our hearts are not fully open to hear them either.
So here we all are. I am exhausted by the bickering of who “belongs” or “deserves” to be here and who doesn’t. On the MV Times article titled “Should we stay or should we go?” there are 44 comments, while on the article “CEO: Nine serious cases will overwhelm hospital” there are only two. We seem more concerned with fighting each other and laying claims to land here than we do in pulling together to save lives. The bottom line is: Like it or not, we are now all in this together. We must start working together instead of dividing ourselves further.
In light of this, I would like to discuss the future. Yes, it is an incredibly uncertain time to try to imagine a life after COVID-19. I still urge us all to begin contemplating, planning, and dare I say dreaming, of the day we are able to begin the rebuilding process.
Martha’s Vineyard is no longer merely a vacation destination. This pandemic has shown us that we are more than a “playground for the rich and famous.” We are a safe haven. With increasing uncertainty and instability in the world — climate change, economic devastation, spread of diseases — we are also a bunker.
In the midst of all this panic and arguing over who should and should not be here, I have been forced to admit to myself that I would do it too. I have loved ones in Connecticut, friends in New York City, and extended family in Kenya. I would bring all of them to any place where I felt I might be able to protect them in a heartbeat. This grab and pull reaction is, I believe, perfectly normal in times of scarcity and fear.
I want to be clear — I am not asking “Islanders” to create a safe haven for “summer people,” and I am not asking those “summer people” to help put us in a bubble where only we are protected. I am asking that once and for all we end this warfare and come together as one extended Island community. I am asking that we pool our resources, that we listen to each other, and that we create a resilient, sustainable Island that can expand to welcome the unsheltered in times like this.
What does this look like? Well, that we must collectively and compassionately decide together. However, to get the ball rolling, I will offer some suggestions from my own heart and brain.
The year is 2030:
- Martha’s Vineyard accelerated its goal of using 100% renewable energy and has accomplished it. All of the larger homes have been converted to passive solar design so they do not require HVAC of any kind. Most vehicles are electric, and free solar-powered charging stations scatter the Island.
- The number of farms on the Island has doubled. In the winter, a quarter of them are able to provide a complete diet to winter residents. There are plans in place for expansion if/when a large influx of residents need to come here in the middle of the off-season.
- Locally owned and operated co-ops have replaced corporate grocery stores. A few innovative growers have found ways to provide us with fruit and other crops typically not found in our bioregion. The Land Bank’s agricultural leases have been crucial in this expansion.
- We have ample affordable housing, as those who fled here during the pandemic realized how housing for healthcare workers and teachers deeply impacts their ability to live and thrive here — temporarily or long term. Teachers and nurses are revered as the backbones of society that they are.
- We have instituted minimum wages that reflect the cost of living locally. We put a cap both on the size of houses and on the price of real estate to stop driving up the cost of property. Many buildable lots and houses are restricted in ways that allow for them to always remain affordable and available for people who only own one home. In this way, we have beaten down the inflated costs of living.
- We have shed our fears and contempt of the age-old summer vs. local resentment. Similarly, the old trope of a rivalry between Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket has been long forgotten. The islands share resources and information, and support one another in unprecedented ways.
In this future, while the summer remains the busy season, life here thrives year round. Many families choose to make this their primary residence after recognizing the importance of a collaborative, sustainable, and safe community to raise their families.
We lead the world in resilient, sustainable, large-scale design for communities. Experts study our systems and policies, and are amazed by how quickly and collaboratively we were able to make these changes happen. We are a model for other communities, and they begin following suit. We do not lead our lives in fear because we have systems and procedures in place for a variety of disaster scenarios. We are able to quickly and efficiently expand our capacities to shelter those in need from innumerable threats. Our community and resources are so well and equitably designed and allocated that we all feel confident that we can keep ourselves and our loved ones safe and healthy during nearly any crisis.
The only way we will be able to accomplish any of this will be through immense compassion, connection, collaboration, cooperation, and innovation. Those with financial resources need to invest a tremendous amount of them into our systems. Class and residency warfare need to fall to the wayside as we work alongside one another as equals. We must all agree that we all belong to this precious, resilient, beautiful Island. We must all agree that stewardship of her land is our top priority, as we know it is her shores that give us life.
This is the world I am daring to dream of creating. I welcome all of you to join me.
Kat is a climate activist, community organizer, farmer, and dreamer. She resides on Chappy, the tiny island which raised her.