It Isn’t Nice

Last Friday’s Vineyard Gazette carried an op-ed about the roundabout by Dan Greenbaum, a retired transportation consultant who now lives in Chilmark. Mr. Greenbaum is a voting member of the Martha’s Vineyard Joint Transportation Committee, an advisory group that helped move the roundabout project forward. A letter he submitted to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) before its September 1 public hearing was cited by more than one commissioner to support a pro-roundabout position.

So the first thing I noted about this op-ed was how lukewarm its support of the roundabout was. “Realistically,” wrote Mr. Greenbaum, “considering the advantages and disadvantages of the roundabout, it would not be the end of the world if it did not proceed at this time. Nor would it be the end of the world if it goes ahead.”

What moved Mr. Greenbaum to write his op-ed, it seems, was the controversy the roundabout proposal has stimulated, specifically its tone. Before I reached the end of the second paragraph, I’d encountered these phrases: “unwarranted accusations,” “so much negative energy,” and “extremely strong opinions and words.” The op-ed concluded with this plea: “And please, let’s avoid any more personal attacks.”

Of course I had to write a response. The writer gave no examples of what he considered “unwarranted accusations” or “personal attacks,” so I confined myself to explaining why, having followed the issue closely since it resurfaced last spring, I’m angry about what I’ve seen so far. I wanted to go further, but at 775 words my “letter” was already squarely in op-ed territory so I stopped there.

Malvina Reynolds, after whom my car is named

Recognize the source for “It Isn’t Nice,” the title of this blog post? Malvina Reynolds’s song was practically an anthem of the civil rights movement and its descendants. If you don’t know the song, or if you want to hear it again, as sung by Malvina (1900–1978), here it is.

It isn’t nice to block the doorway,
It isn’t nice to go to jail,
There are nicer ways to do it,
But the nice ways always fail.

When those in power can’t refute your arguments, or don’t want to be bothered, they love to call you rude or strident or not nice. Now I’m flashing back to the late Pat Parker’s classic “For the Straight Folks Who Don’t Mind Gays but Wish They Weren’t So Blatant.” The gist is that “we” are making “them” uncomfortable, so we’re the ones who should tone it down.

Dan Greenbaum didn’t give examples of the “unwarranted accusations” and “personal attacks” that he finds troubling, so I’m not sure what he’s talking about. In this very blog I’ve written some less than complimentary things about certain players in the drama, but they’re based on what I’ve observed firsthand and information I’ve gleaned from others. I’ve spent time blowing off steam in private with others who’ve attended the same meetings and are similarly exasperated. Better blow off steam in private than explode in public, say I.

True, less than temperate statements have been made by some posters to the Martha’s Vineyard Times website. Nothing nearly as vitriolic, however, as gets posted whenever the subject of Brazilian immigrants comes up. One commissioner did say that she found the online comments “intimidating.” As an example she cited one that said she was long-winded and never got to the point. I’m pretty sure that some people say the same thing about me. I might take issue with them, at least some of the time, but I don’t feel intimidated. If they threatened to slash my tires or kidnap my dog, then I’d feel intimidated. On the whole, I’ve found the online discussion pretty level-headed and informative.

Another commissioner, a veteran of island politics, pointed out that when you take a stand, you’re going to make some people angry. Implication: They might say nasty things about you. Still another commissioner said that he didn’t feel intimidated, even though he’s an anti-roundabout commissioner who was appointed by pro-roundabout selectmen. This is encouraging. Still, my hunch is that some of the commissioners are just a tad too isolated from divergent views, and unwilling to acknowledge that what they do in their meeting room has consequences beyond its walls.

If anything, island public opinion is too nice. We haven’t blocked any doorways or sat on any floors, never mind gone to jail. If we were really fired up, more than one commissioner would be either in the stocks or in the witness protection program. Maybe the commission’s discussions would be more incisive and lively. Who knows?

Now our new ways aren’t nice
When we deal with men of ice,
But if that is Freedom’s price,
We don’t mind.

Sing it, Malvina!

About Susanna J. Sturgis

Susanna edits for a living, writes to survive, and has been preoccupied with electoral politics since 2016. She just started a blog about her vintage T-shirt collection: "The T-Shirt Chronicles." Her other blogs include "From the Seasonally Occupied Territories," about being a year-round resident of Martha's Vineyard, and "Write Through It," about writing, editing, and how to keep going.
This entry was posted in Martha's Vineyard, public life, writing and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to It Isn’t Nice

  1. Erik Albert says:

    How can you go on about a proposed round about in a town that you don’t live in while remaining silent about your town’s exclusive beach policies at Lambert’s Cove, a public park


    • Erik, you’d be amazed how rarely I think about Lambert’s Cove Beach. I did go to the special TM three weeks ago where the dogs-on-the-beach issue came up. During the 14 or so years I lived in Vineyard Haven, I rarely thought about Lambert’s Cove Beach. The last time I went there during summer “permit” hours was, IIRC, 1985.

      You have been on this (apparently) one-man crusade for quite a few years now. As far as I can tell, your tactics haven’t gotten the results you want. A popular definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” Maybe you should try a different tack? Those of us who oppose the roundabout started from scratch last spring, when the roundabout looked like a done deal. Now it’s not a done deal at all. Maybe if you paid more attention to the anti-roundabout campaign, you’d get some ideas about how to be more effective.


  2. Hal Davis says:

    Hearing that Malvina Reynolds song thrilled me more than I expected, after all these years.

    I remembered one lyric as:

    It isn’t nice, it isn’t nice,
    But thank you, Mister, for your advice.

    Probably Barbara Dane’s version, slightly more raucous.


    When I first visited WisCon, the feminist science fiction convention in Madison, Wis., I was amazed, as a New Yorker, how mellow it was. Richard Russell, the convention chair that year, said WisCon had a reputation among Midwest SF fans of being “strident.” Still hard to wrap my head around that concept.


    • “Strident” and “feminist” seem to be synonymous in some thesaurus somewhere. :-/

      One of the online lyrics sheets for “It Isn’t Nice” noted that in later versions “three-man picket line” was changed to “token picket line” — for obvious reasons. It sounded like Malvina herself did it, but Barbara might have done it too.


  3. Speaking truth to power usually falls to the poets, be they singers or wordcrafters like you. And yes, you will be put down, ridiculed, sometimes directly threatened if you don’t shut up. They will do whatever they can to silence you. Long live the freedom of expression afforded by blogs and other media outlets. It’s a brave new world for rabble-rousers and dreamers of dreams. You’ve always been fearless, Susanna. Onward and upward!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.