Fun Run

Tam and I followed one of our usual routes this morning: down Pine Hill, around the Nat’s Farm field (which Mermaid Farm just hayed about half of), to the bike path and home. It’s never exactly the same, but this morning was different: the West Tisbury School was having its end-of-school field day.

This included a fun run involving the younger classes, along the bike path, turn right, down the north side of the Nat’s Farm field, turn right again onto the path through the woods that leads back toward the school, then turn right again to return to the bike path, where their classmates were waiting. Older students stood at each turn to point the way.

Needless to say, Tam found this extremely exciting. We pulled off the path a little way, into the brush. I asked him to sit and kept the treats coming while we watched the runners pass, in ones, twos, threes, and bunches, interspersed with their teachers and aides. Most were wearing orange T-shirts. One kid asked if he was a wolf. Several thought he might be a husky. I kept saying “He’s a malamute.” More than one said he was beautiful.

I watched the kids running, some taking it more seriously than others but all apparently having a good time, and wondered: Are this kids in first grade, second grade, maybe third? Whatever, they’re clearly between the ages of the first-graders killed in Newtown in 2012 and the fourth-graders killed in Uvalde last month. Full of life, full of promise. Beautiful.

I got home to the news that the Supreme Court of the U.S. had indeed overturned Roe v. Wade. Their reasoning was about as ridiculous as that in the New York gun law decision that came down yesterday. And I wondered: Do those justices ever see, really see, the faces of the people whose lives their words affect so profoundly?

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Juneteenth, on the 20th?

On the one hand, I think it’s great that Juneteenth is now a state (at least in Massachusetts) and federal holiday. It celebrates a momentous event: the arrival in Texas of federal troops bearing the news that enslaved African Americans in the states of the defeated Confederacy were now free. (Slavery wasn’t abolished in the entire United States until the 13th Amendment was ratified on Dec. 6, 1865. That wasn’t a slam dunk either, because the U.S. House of Representatives dragged its feet in 1864 until President Lincoln got involved. More about that here.)

On the other hand, it’s now in danger of becoming yet another Monday holiday whose original purpose most people pay little attention to — just another welcome day off. Black Americans have been celebrating it since the 1860s, and nowhere more persistently than in Texas. Here’s hoping white Americans follow their example.

No matter where in the week they actually fall, holidays slide toward the nearest Monday, in order to create the “long weekend.” Juneteenth, June 19th, this year falls on a Sunday, which is already a day of rest in this supposedly secular country — you know, separation of church and state?

Aside: It dawned on me while out walking this morning that “secular” in this country is like “unisex” in clothing. Everyone knows that “unisex” sizes are closely based on men’s sizes but we call them unisex anyway. Likewise “secular” is suffused with Christian conventions and traditions. This is particularly obvious to anyone whose tradition’s day of rest is on Friday or Saturday.

Some jurisdictions are apparently trying to smoosh together Juneteenth and the Fourth of July — you know, use the same red, white & blue bunting for both? I’m afraid they’re trying to downplay or even erase the significance of Juneteenth. Why would I think that? you ask. Because plenty of municipalities and even whole states are working double-time to keep the truths about slavery out of public schools, and it’s pretty much impossible to acknowledge the power of Juneteenth and deny the horrors of slavery at the same time.

However, there is a strong connection to be made between Juneteenth and the Fourth of July, and this June 17 Washington Post op-ed makes it eloquently:

We can’t let Juneteenth become just another holiday or, worse, a holiday for only one segment of the country. We should see it for what it really is: the other half of the Fourth of July. These two holidays, which fall a mere two weeks apart, represent the best of America. One celebrates the Declaration of Independence, which contains what the great abolitionist Frederick Douglass called “saving principles.” The other celebrates America’s journey to live by those principles.

Speaking of that “great abolitionist,” Frederick Douglass, on Saturday morning I again participated in the annual community reading of his great 1852 address “What, to the Slave, is the Fourth of July?” It was the first time since before Covid that we readers gathered in the same place at the same time, but as in the last two years, the whole thing was recorded to be broadcast on July 4. When Douglass gave his speech, the North was chafing under the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which gave slaveholders the right to pursue their escaped “property” into non-slave states, and the country was heading toward the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, which expanded slavery into the western territories and did much to galvanize abolitionist sentiment.

Historian Heather Cox Richardson in her June 18 Letter from an American compares our time, with the revelations and warnings of the January 6 committee, to 1854: “The passage of that law [the Kanas-Nebraska Act] woke up Americans who had not been paying attention, and convinced them to work across old political lines to stop oligarchs from destroying democracy.” May it be so again!

Meanwhile, Martha’s Vineyard has been celebrating Juneteenth with a long weekend’s worth of activities. The selectboard of Oak Bluffs, however, declined to honor the holiday by allowing the Juneteenth flag to fly on the town’s flag pole in Ocean Park Worse, they wouldn’t even put the local NAACP branch on the agenda so it could present its case. This short-sighted decision made the Boston Globe so you can read about it here.

The Juneteenth flag. The symbolism is discussed in many online sources, but briefly — the designer chose the red, white, and blue to emphasize that both before and after Emancipation, African Americans were Americans. The star represents the Lone Star State, and the burst around it suggests a nova, a coming into being of a new star.
The Pan-African flag designed by Marcus Garvey in 1920 has long been identified with Juneteenth.

And before I forget, here’s my favorite Juneteenth song: Laura Love’s “Saskatchewan”:

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Pride Flag Flying

The “Progress Pride” flag was raised on a Oak Bluffs town flag pole in Ocean Park last Wednesday, to kick off the island’s Pride Month celebrations. There is a hell of a lot to unpack in that sentence, starting with the many, sometimes contentious meetings that led to its happening and the between-the-lines truth that the effort was led (spearheaded?) by the Martha’s Vineyard branch of the NAACP and the Oak Bluffs Association, an organization of Oak Bluffs business owners, and the younger members of both. Maybe in another post?

The Martha’s Vineyard Times has a good story about the event. As far as I know, the Vineyard Gazette hasn’t covered it, although one of their photographer-writers was there.

I was asked to say a few words at the flag raising, partly because I’m a lesbian and a member of the NAACP but mostly because I’m familiar with some of the island’s lesbian and gay history going back to the mid-1980s, when I landed here as a year-round resident. I wrote out a speech then proceeded to ignore it when I spoke, though I think I made most of the main points. Here, slightly edited, is the written version. It covers some of the same ground as a post I made here almost exactly seven years ago: “Gay on MV“.

At this moment I’m seeing the Pride flag through the eyes of someone who just walked off the boat, or maybe through the eyes of someone passing by who’s thinking they might be, well, different, and is still working out “Now what do I do?”

They may not have seen this particular flag before, but the original rainbow flag as been around for a while and they’ll probably recognize it. It means “You are seen. You are welcome here.” If the flag is hanging on a church or a library, the people inside might have some ideas about where you might find sisters and brothers and allies.

In early 1977, I was living, not happily, in my hometown. It was not unlike the Vineyard in some ways: large enough that not everybody knew everybody else, but small enough that word spread fast to people whether you knew them or not. I did not want to come out there. I moved back to D.C., where I’d lived as a college student. Finding a women’s community was very much on my mind.

There were no lesbian flags flying in D.C., but I knew how to find the lesbians: through Lammas, the feminist bookstore, and the Washington Area Women’s Center. (I wasn’t then and never have been a bar person.) Before long I was a regular customer of the bookstore and a member of the women’s center collective, where I met my first girlfriend. I was writing for off our backs and the Blade (the gay newspaper, which eventually became the Washington Blade and which still exists). I was part of a network that had connections all over the country and even around the world.

When I moved to Martha’s Vineyard in 1985 — for a year, mind you, just for a year — it was a different story. Where were the lesbians? I read every poster on every bulletin board and telephone pole and skimmed every story in both newspapers, looking for signs of lesbian, gay, and/or feminist activity. Nothing. Most startling was that no one seemed to be talking about AIDS, which by 1985 was a huge issue in D.C.

I did find something else I was looking for: a 12-step program for adult children of alcoholics. This was easy: both newspapers carried an extensive list of 12-step programs, complete with meeting times and places. Imagine my surprise when my ACA 12-step group turned out to be my gateway into lesbian, gay, feminist, and pagan activities on Martha’s Vineyard. The connection was the late Mary Payne, who instantly recognized me as one of the sisterhood.

You know how the right wing likes to accuse us — gay men in particular — of “recruiting”? Mary was a recruiter, but what she was recruiting for wasn’t some nefarious gay or lesbian “lifestyle.” She was recruiting for island theater, specifically Island Theatre Workshop, of which she was the founder and director.

The island’s theater scene and Wintertide Coffeehouse became my island homes. On the Vineyard, as elsewhere, if you go where the creative and/or artistic people are, you’ll almost certainly find gay men, lesbians, other idiosyncratic types, and a high level of acceptance for all kinds of diversity.

Mary’s partner, Nancy Luedeman, made a Vineyard panel for the AIDS Quilt. It memorialized four Vineyard men who’d died of AIDS, two by first name and last initial, two by initials only. I saw it before it left the island, and again when it was displayed with over eight thousand others on the Ellipse in October of 1988.

In those days if you said the word “lesbian” in public everyone would turn to stare at you. Who would possibly say “lesbian” in public if they weren’t one?? So we often said “the L-word” instead — this was long before the TV show of that name — or, gods save us, “Lebanese.”

The silence in those days was, to coin a cliché, deafening. By the very late 1980s, the island had begun to discover AIDS. At the public “educational” events I attended — I was working for the Martha’s Vineyard Times at the time — I often got the impression that one could only contract HIV/AIDS through dirty needles or blood transfusions.

The silence sometimes had tragic consequences. The four men memorialized on Nancy’s AIDS Quilt panel had all died off-island. Their names weren’t included because they had family here. A Vineyard man who was dealing with both addiction and HIV struggled to get services within a health care system whose component parts didn’t speak to each other and sometimes seemed unaware of each other’s existence. He found his most dedicated supporters and advocates in the Vineyard’s 12-step community.

His struggle, followed by his accidental death in a house fire, led to the formation of the AIDS Alliance, which pulled together health-care providers, advocates, community activists, and others dedicated to both educating the public about HIV/AIDS and to making it easier for those with HIV/AIDS to access services. The AIDS Alliance was in turn a beneficiary of the Crossover Ball, a very popular gender-bending New Year’s Eve event that was held several times between the mid-1990s and the mid-2000s.

Photo is from June 2015, but this is the T-shirt I wore to the flag raising. It’s one of ILGA’s two T-shirts: “No man is an Island Lesbian (and Gay Association of Martha’s Vineyard),” which for a very long time I only wore off-island. Several people took pictures of it.

It also helped spur the organization of ILGA, the Island Lesbian & Gay Association, whose first meeting attracted about 26 people, about half of them men and half women, in the big room at the Wooden Tent. ILGA’s main activities were potlucks at members’ homes and a newsletter called, of course, Stone Walls, but it also led to the first-ever participation by Vineyard gay men and lesbians in the Pride parade in Boston, I think in 1994.

Robert Cropper and I were listed in the “island organizations” section of the island phone book as ILGA contacts. For the first time you could find the words “lesbian” and “gay” in the phone book, with phone numbers to call for more information.

The island’s gay and lesbian community, such as it was, was beginning to have a public presence. We grew more visible, and discovered we had allies, when in 1993 two Oak Bluffs town fathers tried to have two of the first kids’ books about gay and lesbian families — Heather Has Two Mommies and How Would You Feel If Your Dad Was Gay? — pulled from the Oak Bluffs School library. We showed up at meetings where the town fathers and their supporters told us that AIDS was God’s scourge of the homosexuals, and worse. But the school librarian stood firm, the student member of the school committee was eloquent in defense of the books, and the books stayed in the library.

In response to all this, I helped organize a Banned Books reading at Wintertide Coffeehouse in January 1994. More than 20 Vineyarders picked a short passage to read from their favorite banned book. It was spectacularly successful, and I think it proved to all of us that we had supporters, we were not alone.

The person coming off the boat or walking by and seeing the Progress Pride flag flying in Ocean Park isn’t going to know any of this history. It all happened a whole generation ago. But it helps explain why that flag is flying here today, and why it matters.

The flag raising at Ocean Park, June 1, 2022. That’s me in mostly white in the middle distance. Photo by Dan Waters.
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May License Plate Report

Malvina Forester gets inspected in May and as usual I put it off till the last full week of the month. Procrastination paid off once again, because parked in front of the West Tisbury church was a car with Hawaii plates, then when I pulled into the back lot at Kenny Belain’s garage what should I see but Kansas.

Malvina didn’t get inspected after all because the mechanic on inspection duty said her tires probably weren’t going to pass and her right front definitely wouldn’t. I immediately headed down-island to Island Tire and ordered four new ones. They came in yesterday, I had them put on this morning, and I managed to drive to Oak Bluffs and back this evening without getting busted for having an expired inspection sticker. I’ll take care of that tomorrow.

The month finished off with Wisconsin. Four is actually a good tally for May. I’m still making up for a slow January. The year’s total stands at 34. In 2021 I was up to 39; in 2020, the Covid year when travel was way down, it was 36, and in 2019 it was 38. Need I say that any month that includes Hawaii is a good month?

The Southwest is unusually solid for this time of year. Last year Nevada and New Mexico were missing at the end of May; the year before that it was Utah and Oklahoma; and in 2019 it was Utah, Oklahoma, and Kansas.

East and West haven’t linked up yet either. By the end of May they usually have, with the connecting links being Missouri and/or Arkansas, neither of which I’ve seen in 2022. We’ll see what June brings to the island.

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Stupid Turkey, Crazy Dog

So it’s a glorious late spring morning and Tam and I are crossing Old County Road to Pine Hill Road, the last leg of our morning walk. He spots the turkey before I do, no surprise: it is well camouflaged in the thick scrub and undergrowth.

He wants to go after it, of course, but I am strong like cow and also smart enough to never go walking with an 80-pound malamute who isn’t wearing a walking harness as well as a collar.

Now, if I were the turkey and saw a large predator plunging and almost frothing to have me for lunch, I would skedaddle deeper into the woods. But I am not the turkey, and the turkey clearly doesn’t think like me, because instead of retreating into the woods it comes out into the open at the end of the dirt road. Tam is going nuts. I have both hands on the leash.

The turkey clearly understands the problem but doesn’t seem to get the solution. Instead of running into the woods, it runs back and forth across the end of Pine Hill Road. All I want to do is get Tam past the turkey, but the turkey won’t let us pass. I am afraid it will bolt into Old County Road and get hit by a car.

But the turkey doesn’t bolt in that direction and no cars are going by: hardly anyone’s on the road this bright holiday morning. Tam and I keep walking, or rather I keep walking and Tam keeps bucking and plunging and trying to run after the turkey. The turkey continues to zig and zag up Pine Hill, making no attempt to take cover.

Turkeys are a common sight around here. Over the years I’ve watched several turkey broods grow up. Solo turkeys are unusual; usually they roam in flocks, which may be as small as two or three or as large as almost twenty. (When there are that many, it’s easy to lose count.) Is this turkey perhaps playing decoy for a nest in the woods close by? When that’s the case, the turkey stops decoying when the threat moves out of range.

This turkey doesn’t stop. It keeps skittering back and forth across the road, just ahead of Tam and me. At the first of the two houses on this stretch of Pine Hill, there’s a break in the brush. Turkey starts to take advantage of it, I’m thinking we’ll finally have a chance to pass by — but no: turkey comes back into the road.

Finally, at the second and last house on the road, just before the dirt road turns into a path, the turkey zigs far enough off the road for Tam and me to pass and go into the woods in peace.Tam’s mind slips out of high prey drive and into a lower gear that remembers I’ve got string cheese in my bait bag.

I’m still wondering about that turkey. Why was it alone? It didn’t seem injured in any way. Was it protecting a nest? It’s at least a quarter mile from the beginning of Pine Hill to the second house on the road, and that seems an awfully big territory for one turkey to be protecting. Did the rest of the flock move on and leave it behind?

Any ideas?

Turkeys will helicopter upward to escape danger on the ground, but today’s turkey wasn’t interested. Since restraining Tam required both hands, I did not get a picture of today’s turkey. Photo is from April 2016.

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My New Project

If you follow my Write Through It blog or listen to me blather on Facebook, you already know about this, but just in case . . .

I’ve finally got access to a (wonderful) space to do writers’ workshops in, it’s almost all set up, and my first offerings are coming up soon, like next week and the week following. The first one, offered on May 12 or May 15, is Microsoft Word for Writers. It’ll focus on Word’s Track Changes feature, which really is indispensable for writers and which too many writers are intimidated by. The second, offered on May 19 or May 22, is Effective Letters to the Editor.

Each workshop will last about two hours, and for this trial run there’ll be no charge.

Here’s the announcement, with sign-up info:

I have ideas for other stand-alone workshops, and welcome your suggestions, but part of my plan is to offer two ongoing groups. One will be aimed at writers who want feedback on their works in progress (and want to offer feedback to other writers), both fiction and nonfiction. The other will focus more on getting the words flowing, with freewriting in class, reading aloud, and short weekly assignments. If you’re interested in either one, let me know!

Here’s what this very cool space looks like:

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April License Plate Report

Seen for the first time in April: Tennessee, D.C., Illinois, North Carolina, Ohio, Georgia, New Mexico, and Texas.

I very possibly spotted Texas earlier in the month, and maybe earlier in the year, but Texas is one of those plates I see often enough that I might have thought I had it already when I saw it for the first time.

2022 was off to a slow start, with ZERO sightings in February, but it’s starting to catch up. Last year I’d seen 36 plates by the end of April, and in 2020 it was 35. This year it’s 30, but 8 is a very good haul for April. In 2021 it was 4 and in 2020 only 2, but in those years February sightings were 10 and 6, respectively, so I’m not holding it against April.

What’s unusual about this map is how solid the Southwest is this early in the year. Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, and Oklahoma tend to be late arrivals, and in 2020 Utah and Oklahoma didn’t show up at all. In 2021 the eastern half of the country was almost all present and accounted for — only Tennessee, West Virginia (surprise, surprise), and Delaware were missing. This year? All four states south of Minnesota are still blank, and there are plenty of other holes in the eastern Midwest and South.

The map at the end of April 2021
The map at the end of April 2020
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Found in an Unfiled Pile

Lately I have been doing some serious rearranging of stuff. Redecorating it isn’t, because I never decorated in the first place. I rarely rearrange either, because in my studio apartment there’s pretty much only one arrangement that accommodates all my stuff. I did some rearranging three years ago in preparation for Tam Lin’s arrival, so I could set up again the crate that Trav hadn’t used in years.

My multimedia gizmo

More recently, like a little over a year ago, I acquired a handsome gizmo that played not only CDs and cassettes but records. After setting it up — an adventure recounted in “Recovering Musical Treasure” — I had to drag my formidable LP collection out of the closet. It hasn’t really got a new home yet, so it continues to take up a fair amount of floor space.

The latest rearranging has been prompted by a development that I’ll describe in detail in my Write Through It blog, but in brief — I’m now leasing the first-floor space that my second-floor studio apartment sits on top off, and before long I’m going to be offering writing workshops in it.

I’m having more fun than I expected setting it up. Partly this involves buying stuff — so far a rug from Overstock, an easy chair and ottoman from MV Stuff 4 Sale, and the chair I brought home this afternoon from Chicken Alley (the local thrift shop) — but it also involves moving stuff from my apartment down to the new space.

Which brings me around, believe it or not, to the subject of this blog post. Among the stuff I moved downstairs were two of my three venerable file cabinets. Wrangling file cabinets, even two-drawer file cabinets, down stairs is a hassle. They’re heavy and they’re bulky, but I managed to do it solo without either denting the wall or breaking an ankle. The really big challenge has been going through the great pile of paper that had accumulated on top of them. My computer files are very well organized. My paper files? I never get around to filing anything. I just throw stuff on the pile. So far I’ve found Comcast bills going back to 2014 (all marked “paid”), style sheets from editing and proofreading jobs whose titles ring no bells whatsoever, and correspondence from my father, who died in August 2008.

I’ve also found clips of op-eds I wrote, a Vineyard Gazette article about when I ran for the Martha’s Vineyard Commission in 2012 (I lost, but I came very close), condolence cards from when Rhodry died in 2008 and when Travvy died in 2019, and several half-used-up yellow pads with my handwriting on them.

Including this one, which is the real subject of this blog post. (Honest!) The first line tells me that I wrote it on February 28, 1997. Here goes:

My mother died a year ago today, at around 8 pm. My sister and I were hoping she’d hang in till the 29th, because Feb. 29 is definitely more cool than Feb. 28 or March 1, and besides you don’t have to think about it much except every 4 years. She was born on Oct. 31 and I hate to say it but that was probably the most interesting thing about her.* Anyway I got down to working on a rewrite of what is currently Chapter 3 of the novel,** then Nancy Luedeman*** dropped by. She’s been going through Mary’s papers — Mary died on Oct. 28 — and found a folder with copies of poems and some letters I’d sent Mary before our relationship went the way of most of Mary’s mentor-protégée relationships — she trashed me in public then wondered why I had a problem dealing w/ her. Nancy’s been going through papers — not only Mary’s but those of Mary’s late husband Edd (who)**** died maybe a year ago and those of Mary’s parents, who died in the mid-60s. Nancy said there were sometimes when a bonfire seemed the only solution and I had to say I completely agreed.

Editorial comments (because you knew I couldn’t leave well enough alone):

* Not fair and not true. My mother was baptized Joan but was known her whole life as Chiquita because she was born in Mexico City (her father was in the Consular Service) and weighed 10 pounds at birth, whereupon the attending nurse reportedly exclaimed “¡Ay, que chiquita!” The name stuck. That’s at least as interesting as being born on Halloween.

** This eventually became The Mud of the Place.

*** I was living in the guest house at the Wooden Tent at the time, where people were always stopping by, usually to see Kathy in her adjacent photography studio, but I knew most of them so they’d often visit me too. Mary is Mary Payne, Nancy’s longtime partner and the founder of Island Theatre Workshop. Loooong story . . . Nancy died in 2010. Her Gazette obituary was also in The Pile. The bit about the bonfire cracked me up. It also reminded me of “The Lapsed Archivist Attends a Housecleaning,” a poem I wrote ca. 1988 after Mary hired me to help clean and paint a room she was getting ready to rent out. Some themes keep coming back because they never go away.

**** I have no idea why I put those parentheses around “who,” but there they are.

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Vineyarders Sing, Loud and Clear

If this heading doesn’t make sense, see my most recent post, “Do You Hear the People Sing?” Or just read on.

On Monday, advocates for the Martha’s Vineyard Housing Bank were staring down a make-or-break week, though no one was calling it that. The Housing Bank needs the support of at least four island towns to be created. “Support” means both at annual town meeting (ATM) and at the ballot box. The Housing Bank was on the warrant in all six towns, four of which — Edgartown, Oak Bluffs, Tisbury, and West Tisbury — were holding their ATMs on Tuesday and three of them — all except Tisbury — were going to the polls on Thursday.

To steal a line from one of my favorite Dylan songs, I was feeling “the stillness in the wind before the hurricane begins.”

I was working the check-in table at West Tisbury’s ATM. For the first time since the advent of Covid-19, the “annual” was back in its usual place, the West Tisbury School gym. Announced start time was 6 p.m., an hour earlier than usual, but, very much as usual, voters didn’t start showing up in earnest till about 5:55. At one point, the line snaked through the school lobby, out the door, and down the walkway almost to the parking lot, even though there were two check-in stations, one toward the back of the gym and one at the front.

Moderator Dan Waters wasn’t able to call the meeting to order till after 6:30. Voters were still finding their seats as the town’s poet laureate recited a poem composed for the occasion and the moderator read the roster of townsfolk who’d died in the last year. There weren’t enough chairs for everybody; quite a few citizens either sat on the floor or leaned against the walls. If it wasn’t the best-attended ATM in town history, it must have been close.

West Tisbury annual town meeting, April 12, 2022. The photo cuts off quite a few people on the left, and you can’t see the people who were sitting on the floor in the aisle or around the perimeter of the gym.

The Housing Bank article was #12 on the warrant. Discussion went on for almost an hour. I was a little bit afraid that a few people would nitpick it to death and more than a little bit exasperated with people who’ve done nothing to shape the proposal over the last year and a half and now wanted to change this or that or, worse, kick the housing can down the road one more time. But it passed overwhelmingly, 324–27, to much applause, some cheering, and even a couple of whistles.

My Facebook post

I immediately posted the news to Facebook (cellphones are seductive). Edgartown checked in a few minutes later; the Housing Bank article passed unanimously on a voice vote (social media are seductive).

Oak Bluffs (where the Housing Bank article was last on the warrant) and Tisbury didn’t come through till I was home and monitoring my Facebook feed and that of other activists. Four for four!

Edgartown, Oak Bluffs, and my town of West Tisbury all went to the polls yesterday. (Tisbury, aka Vineyard Haven, doesn’t vote till late May, for reasons I can’t remember.) I was working the 4 to 8 shift, and when I turned in at the Public Services Building, I guessed at once that turnout had been good: the front part of the parking lot was full, so I parked at the back.

The line to feed one’s ballot into the machine wasn’t long, but it was a line.

My guess was confirmed by other election workers when I got inside. We were in the conference room again, another sign of pre-Covid normality returning: for the last few elections, including the 2020 presidential election, we voted in the building’s garage, which — once a couple of fire trucks were moved outside — was capacious enough to allow for social distancing.

There were a couple of lulls on my shift, but most of the time voters were arriving at a brisk pace, being checked in, going to the booths, marking their ballots, and feeding their ballots into the machine. A few times there was even a short line at the machine.

Fears that opponents of the Housing Bank would materialize in force at the polls — expressing your position in a secret ballot can be easier than standing up in a public meeting — turned out to be groundless. Support for the Housing Bank on election day was as decisive as it had been at town meeting.

Monday’s “stillness in the wind” has given way, not to a hurricane, but to a huge sigh of relief, and a renewed commitment to get this done. Chilmark holds its ATM and election on April 25 and 27, respectively; Aquinnah follows with its ATM on May 10 and election two days later; and Tisbury votes on May 24. We’re all aware that though this stage is crucial, it’s only the first step. The Housing Bank then has to get through the state legislature, and about that — well, there’s plenty of truth in the quote attributed to Otto von Bismarck, to the effect that it’s best not to watch laws or sausages being made.

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Do You Hear the People Sing

Housing bank votes start next week, when four island towns — Edgartown, Oak Bluffs, Tisbury, and West Tisbury — hold their annual town meetings (ATMs), and three of the four (all except Tisbury) hold their elections two days later.

ATMs are always important, but this town meeting season feels almost apocalyptic to me. On the warrant of all six ATMs and on the ballot for all six town elections is the proposal to create the Martha’s Vineyard Housing Bank. The Housing Bank would create a blueprint and a democratic structure to increase the stock of year-round housing, rental and for sale, within the reach of year-round working people: teachers, health-care workers, carpenters, mechanics, etc., etc., etc. You can read the warrant article itself here.

I could go into how desperate the need is, but if you live here you already know it and if you don’t — well, housing is a critical issue in many places, and if you look at a map, you’ll notice that it’s harder to commute to Martha’s Vineyard than to Boston or Worcester or Springfield. Ever-increasing numbers of workers do commute, however, because, you guessed it, they can’t afford housing. I could go on at some length about that. Some other time maybe.

Here I want to do a jump shift. This past Saturday I went to the student production of Les Misérables at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School. I’ve never seen Les Mis live, only the movie, but “Do You Hear the People Sing” is one of my favorite songs of all time and any story about people coming together to resist oppression is my story too. So Les Mis and the imminent votes on the Housing Bank are all tangled together in my head.

No barricades have been stormed (yet), but the Coalition to Create the Martha’s Vineyard Housing Bank has worked a miracle. I’ve said for years that Martha’s Vineyard couldn’t organize itself out of a paper bag — our six contentious towns have led many a state official and local organizer to despair — but this isn’t true. We’re good at organizing to help individual neighbors in need, and we’re good at organizing to keep things from happening. These efforts may not achieve their objectives, but they do get people fired up and doing all the things that can create change: going to meetings, speaking in public, writing letters to the editor, contacting officials . . .

The Housing Bank Coalition has profited from these examples. It’s big, well-organized, multi-generational and multi-occupational. It involves people from all six towns. It even involves many real estate brokers. (This is noteworthy because the statewide real estate lobby has been a major force over the years in blocking efforts to deal with the worsening housing crisis.)

Over the last year and a half the Housing Bank Coalition has organized down to the grassroots and up to the highest levels of state politics. It has connected with organizations across the commonwealth working on housing-related issues. It has worked with the six town governments to ensure that the wording of the ATM warrant is the same in all six towns. (Someone should write a book or make a movie about how they managed to do this.) They have managed to impress upon our fractious populace and our turfy town officials the importance of going to the state legislature (which has to approve whatever proposal we come up with) unified.

It learned from the failed effort three years ago, which came together too fast and too shallow, in response to a possible funding source — an add-on to the room tax — that was controversial in itself, because quite a few Vineyarders do short-term rentals to help pay their long-term mortgages. This time around, the proposed funding mechanism is a transfer fee on high-end real estate transactions — comparable to how the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank has been successfully funded since 1986. Several bills to enable such a fee are currently before the state legislature.

Back to Les Mis and a particular line from my favorite song: “Beyond the barricade is there a world you want to see?” Look forward, it says. Dare to imagine. “Mourn the dead,” as labor organizer Mother Jones reportedly said; “fight like hell for the living.”

No, we can’t go back before subdivisions, before “the season” sprawled from Labor Day to Columbus Day to Christmas and beyond. The six towns may retain some of their old character, but no way can they ever be as autonomous and insular as they were in “the old days.” The grassroots theater and music scene of the 1970s through mid-’90s isn’t coming back. Neither are cheap winter rentals. We can mourn their passing, but we can’t go back.

In the world I want to see, people live and work within reach of each other. We range in age from just-born to over a hundred. No one has to work three jobs and/or pay 50% of their income for housing. We all have free time to invest in activities that don’t pay anything (or not much): raising families, making art, volunteering for non-profits, coaching kids’ sports or playing sports ourselves, getting involved in town and regional government, and so on and on. We have thriving public spaces where community can happen: libraries, schools, houses of worship, public land.

We can make it happen. Creating the Martha’s Vineyard Housing Bank is the crucial first step. Here’s the M.V. League of Women Voters schedule for 2022 town meetings and town elections, and also the dates and/or links to candidate forums for contested elections. Be there!

And if you hear someone singing in the woods, it might be me.

Will you join in our crusade?
Who will be strong and stand with me?
Beyond the barricade is there a world you long to see?
Then join in the fight that will give you the right to be free!

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