The Complexities of Freedom
In addition to our coverage of all things Shandaken, we have
been recently engulfed in reporting the burgeoning racial strife
surrounding a spate of violence at Kingston High School. After
scores of interviews with victims and victims’ moms, with
city and school officials, with bystanders and local religious
leaders, and with leaders of militant White Supremacy and Anti-Hate
groups from outside the region calling for an incendiary class
of ideologies on Broadway, outside city hall and the high school,
one thing has become clear. The rhetoric has outreached the
impact of the original incidents, threatening local equilibrium
through a force all its own.
We’ve seen the same on a local basis, as best evidenced
by a series of e-mail exchanges over the appropriateness of
information utilized in an election, over the failure of certain
parties to not answer all charges against them, over the very
legality and “Americanism” of partisanship. It’s
been messy, as all of us who can’t wait for the elections
to be over have surely noticed.
This is being written a day before the votes get counted, so
it will not take into account who’s won or lost. The idea
is to look at where we are as a changing community, where we
wish we could be, and where we can go if we’re to stick
with the precepts of the Democratic traditions our nation purports
“Aid the efficiency of government or get out of the way”
is a sentiment we’ve heard on several occasions. This
is a nice sentiment, but unfortunately not in keeping with our
form of governance, which is messy and includes as many rights
and protections for those in the minority as those who’ve
gained the majority… no matter the attempts of a majority
to change the equation. Government is not a business, unfortunately,
but a tenuous agreement between governed and governors similar
to a marriage where both partners have equal standing. The sign
of a good leader, in a democracy, is one who listens and does
not anger, not simply one who pushes through their will, no
matter the unpopularity. Especially when it comes to small communities
that change over time, with new people moving in to replace
In America, like it or not, everybody’s vote, and legal
opinion, is supposed to be equal to everyone else’s. Renters
are equal to property owners. Women to men. Minorities to majorities.
Newcomers to old-timers. It matters not how long you’ve
lived in a place, your vote is still of equal importance. Which
is a system born out of our national pride of movement, and
also supportive of that ability we all have, as Americans, to
up and move, town to town, county to county, state to state,
without fear of sanctioned discrimination. And a means of fighting
all discrimination that is unsanctioned.
“In the old days, we would have ridden them out of town
on a rail,” has also come up of late. Nice one, and American
after a fashion. But also anti-Democratic, and insulting to
our national ideals. Communities shift. We are now more like
Woodstock than we once were… as is the entire Route 28
corridor. It is not a good idea for a community to turn its
official back to all newcomers… and frankly illegal. We
may not agree with all the values being brought in by “city
people,” but we have to learn to incorporate them. And
grow with them. Anything otherwise, be it shutting down the
public’s right to speak at public meetings, to question
the decisions made by those governing them, or simply insulting
them behind their backs, is morally reprehensible.
But so is the demonizing of all things Republican by Democrats,
as happened in modern-day Woodstock this past election season.
Face it… our elections are messy. In the past, they’ve
led to a bloody civil war, to the creation of a rabidly polarized
two party system, to such aberrations as our own home-grown
terrorism (Oklahoma City, SLA, Toledo, but hopefully not Kingston
High). But they’ve also been progressive enough, over
time, to allow a constant flow of new immigrant blood, and idealism,
into our great nation.
“What about home rule? Doesn’t the city and state
have enough already? Can’t we decide our own future?”
Yes and no… the point is that, like it or not, our system
works because of the interconnectedness of its parts. We wouldn’t
have such local freedoms, or restraints, if it weren’t
for our national (and hence state) freedoms and constraints.
We have in this nation a support-system for moving one place
to another, transporting our freedoms (and money) with us. We
are the apotheosis of anti-feudal, with a wide array of choices
always before us. Get too expensive here? Move there. Or vice-versa.
Need to change the options there? Find the rights that are best
protectable, at a certain point in our legislative, judicial
and economic histories, and utilize them.
Our point, in the final rounds? We’ve gotten through it.
We’re all still here, ike the political outcome or not.
The holiday season is almost upon us. We have our towns to ourselves
for a few weeks, at least. And at least we can all recognize
each other and realize we all share the same things.
“You just don’t get it!” Heard that one? We
have… but we’re not worried by it. Life is complex
and we can’t always get what one another is saying. The
same is true in our marriages, in all matters of life. The trick
is to keep trying to communicate, no matter the difficulties.
To respect our differences because our differences make us American.
As does the brittle but always hopeful knowledge that another
election season will be rolling around sooner than later.