Politics on Martha’s Vineyard, as in any small town or close-knit neighborhood, are not only local but personal — sometimes intensely personal. It’s not quite true that “everybody knows everybody,” but if you’ve been around a couple of decades or so the degrees of separation are not many. As a recent arrival, I worked as a temporary typesetter then part-time proofreader at the Martha’s Vineyard Times. After a couple of years, I didn’t know everybody, but I sure knew how to spell their names right.
For islanders who’ve been around considerably longer than two decades, it’s not just a matter of knowing everybody; it’s a matter of being related to many of them.
One result of this intricate interconnectedness is a certain circumspection. Speak out on a contentious issue and you’re almost certain to annoy or alienate some of your friends, neighbors, and kinfolk. Is it worth it? you wonder. Will so-and-so ever speak to me again? Will what I say affect my kid in school, my sister’s job, my own employment prospects?
Another result is that when election day approaches and you aren’t up to the minute on the candidates, you’ll pay attention to the preferences of your savvier friends and relatives. Other things being equal, you’ll probably start leaning in their direction.
So a few days ago, when I received an e-mail from an acquaintance taking me to task for “bash[ing] Mark London with such a vengeance” in my blogs about the roundabout, I paid attention. Having been where I’ve been and seen what I’ve seen over the years, I know that my standard for bashing, trashing, and flaming is considerably higher than some people’s. Considered criticism of a person’s politics or actions does not equal bashing. Bashing by definition goes further, often much further, to attacking the person and/or the groups to which the person belongs.
For several years I reviewed Vineyard theater for the Martha’s Vineyard Times. My goal was to say nothing in print about an actor or director that I wouldn’t be willing to say to the person’s face. It’s not a bad standard.
True, I used the word “gag” in the headline I put on Mr. London’s memo to the members and staff of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC). “Gag” is not a neutral word. I said that my “overboggled mind” was “boggling anew.” Yeah, there’s a little rhetorical flourish in there, but those who’ve followed either this blog or the process itself probably won’t find it excessive.
After reviewing my previous blogs on the subject, I don’t believe I’ve been bashing Mr. London. I do believe that the MVC staff, led by Mr. London, played a key role in moving this project forward with minimal public input. That role, along with the protocols under which the MVC apparently operates, deserves close scrutiny in the months to come. So does the apparent inaction of the MVC itself. It’s not the MVC staff that we’ve elected to oversee island development. The commissioners are supposed to be directing the staff, not the other way round.
My correspondent’s spirited defense of Mr. London boils down to this: my correspondent has known Mr. London and his family for a long time, Mr. London is a good man, Mr. London loves the island, Mr. London has the best of motives.
Did I ever suggest otherwise? Everyone’s the hero of their own story, and we want our friends, colleagues, and kinfolk (at least the ones we’re on speaking terms with) to come off well too. I’m willing to bet that everyone on the Martha’s Vineyard Commission loves Martha’s Vineyard, each in his or her own way, but that doesn’t mean that they agree on what’s good for the island, or even that their opinions are compatible with one another. That’s what politics are about: the jostling, intermingling, and (one hopes) eventual reconciling of contradictory views.
Hang around long enough and just about everyone you know will surprise you one way or the other. It’s never easy to separate the doer from the deed, and the more strongly you feel about someone, the harder it is. A friend makes a dubious call. Someone you think poorly of makes a great save. The mind recoils with a big boingggg but we’ve got to live with it.