Let’s Really Talk Of Tea
The language that emerged as part of last week’s nationwide
Tea Party Tax Revolt, echoing and echoed by similar protests
against the “socialist” tendencies of our local
governments in the Route 28 corridor, focused quite a bit on
the inherent problems with the idea of representation.
This got us thinking… about both current news regarding
such matters, as well as some lessons we had thought we’d
all learned from our not-so-distant history.
Since our democracy operates on the basis of Majority Rule,
votes tend to matter in our elections more than we often gripe
about. Just look to the close vote in Minnesota still being
decided, as well as the closer-to-home battle still in process,
as we went to press, in the neighboring 20th Congressional District
to our north. Or back eight years, if you care to stretch so
far, to Bush v. Gore. Or the many close calls here in our home
towns, or home county.
Some of us are intent on expanding the voting franchise to be
as inclusive of all that make up our sense of community as possible,
while some seem more concerned with limiting voters to reflect
the community they wish we had.
Look to these concerns to increase as we get closer to the 2010
census, which everyone agrees will go a long ways towards shaping
our nation, either closer to what we are, or nearer to what
we want to be.
Equally important, in terms of representation, are the enduring
concerns of those in the minority at any moment. They want their
voices heard, their issues taken seriously.
Last week’s protests included laundry lists of concerns,
so many that critics found it easy to scoff at the protesters’
lack of focus. But isn’t that always the case? Think back
over the previous eight years, and the various outrages wrapped
up in the marches against the Iraq War.
All fine and good, we say, as long as the various sides find
a means of discussing their concerns. And having an impartial
media in which they can be aired for all to see and ponder.
Too often these days, partisans work harder to protect their
partisanship, it seems, by only looking to those equally partisan,
be they media or otherwise. They bark at anyone who differs
from them, as if frightened of discourse, of moving beyond statements
to questions and real answers that may be outside their realm
of previous experience. Moreover, they work to change the playing
Up in the 20th these past weeks, there’s been an orchestrated
move to question every second home owners vote, no matter the
property owners’ choice of a primary home. This has serious
repercussions here in the Catskills, where the numbers of second
homers range between 30 and 70 percent, depending how one looks
at the phenomenon.
And it reminds us of both earlier battles fought in these hills,
13 to 15 years back, as well as some longstanding faults in
our regional forms of representation.
Much of the language we heard as part of last week’s Tea
Parties, as well as many of its leading voices (Gingrich and
Norquist, in particular), is the same we recall from the early
years of the Clinton presidency, when local property rights
fears resulted in the destruction of an all-but-assured application
to have the Catskills listed as one of the world’s leading
biospheres, the sort of honor that would have brought with it
funding as well as international tourism, as well as numerous
other projects tied to such now-accepted ideas as Smart Growth,
Sustainability, Eco- and Heritage Tourism, and a return to agriculture.
Which made the corresponding release of the DHS report on Right
Wing Extremist dangers, despite right wing protests, so apt.
Remember… all that anger, then, peaked with the Oklahoma
City bombing, the uncovering of various militias throughout
rural America, and the later eruptions at Columbine and other
high school campuses around the nation.
Locally, that period in local history ended with the floods
of 1996, after which FEMA’s strong response cooled local
tempers to the point where discussions could again be reasonable
enough to result in the Memorandum of Agreement between New
York City and our Upstate towns that resulted in so many of
our local towns’ revival. As well as the creation of the
Catskill Watershed Corporation, and Coalition of Watershed Towns,
which still hold so much promise towards bringing the region
Unfortunately, however, the history of these latter entities
bring us back to our original focus: representation. When they
were set up, there was a move to find ways of representing the
region’s second home population as well as its older concerns.
But the decision was made to stick with already-elected officials,
serving staggered terms. The result? Throughout its history,
CWC’s two Ulster County representatives have always included
one person out of office, whereas both of the Coalition’s
reps last ran for election almost four years ago. Moreover,
with both entities heavily weighted towards Delaware County
political power, based on geographic concerns trumping population,
we’ve ended up with a truly underwhelming sense of achievement
from each over the years.
Can this change, or be changed?
Only over time, we believe, and not so much via protests as
reasoned discussions of such matters in letters pages like these
in our local papers, and hopefully an increasing number of public
forums, within and between towns and counties.
Only through discourse, in the end, can we achieve true representation.
And a truer sense of actually hearing the questions we all need
to tackle, and hopefully one day start answering. There’s
more than one way to have a true tea party.