Trav and I are hanging out at a motel in Epping, New Hampshire, resting up for an
APDT Rally trial that starts tomorrow. For some background on Rally, see “Rally Off-Island,” my post about a trial we went to last month. This means that I won’t be able to attend a couple of events tomorrow morning. What a total drag that I can’t be two places at once.
The first event is a meeting of Martha’s Vineyard Democrats. I invariably vote Democratic when I vote at all, mainly because I’m either too young or lived in the wrong states to have voted for the likes of Ed Brooke, Mark Hatfield, Charles Percy, and Margaret Chase Smith. I’ve never been involved in party politics, and I don’t aspire to start now, but (this being an election year) our state senator, Dan Wolf, and our state rep, Tim Madden, are going to be there. They’re both Democrats.
What I’m dying to know is (a) what they think about the overwhelming “no” the voters of five island towns gave to the roundabout — Aquinnah, the island’s smallest town and the last to vote, on Wednesday weighed in with a whopping 81% no vote; (b) what, if anything, they plan to do about it; and (c) if they plan to do nothing, which is what they have done so far, why we should support them, vote for them, or generally encourage them to think of themselves as our representatives.
That meeting takes place at the Howes House, home of the Up-Island Council on Aging and frequent venue for town government and other political meetings. Immediately afterward, Representative Madden and Senator Wolf will cross the rutted dirt parking lot to the West Tisbury library. There they will ceremoniously receive the news that the annual town meetings of all six island towns urged that the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission be overturned. True, this decision sucks. Equally true, the vote at the West Tisbury ATM meant diddly squat; it was the last item on the warrant, and those who hadn’t left already were pulling their jackets on and saying good night to whoever they were sitting next to. The discussion was minimal, the vote totally symbolic. The situation was similar, I’m told, in other towns.
The Honorables Wolf and Madden were among the co-sponsors of the anti-Citizens United bill on Beacon Hill. How honorable of them to take a principled stand on a totally symbolic bill that will cost them nothing. What wonderful evidence in support of “snowmobiles in Christiantown syndrome” — the notion that the amount of time, energy, and general hullaballoo devoted to an issue is in inverse proportion to its importance.
If I were there, I’d love to step out of the gooey congratulatory crowd, present the Honorables with the results of the roundabout referendum votes, and ask what they plan to do about it. If the Honorables didn’t have to toddle off to Nantucket immediately after the ceremony, I would point out that plenty of threats to democracy in this country have nothing to do with Citizens United or the 1% that the Occupy people like to rant about.
So before I left the island this morning, I wrote a short bit for Mathea Morais of Martha’s Vineyard Patch, who had asked several of us anti-roundabouters for our comments about the referdum votes — “about what you think it means or you think it should mean for the Island and the way things get decided here.” Well, I should have been copyediting the manuscript that’s due in New York at the end of next week, but instead I wrote this:
The election results confirmed in spades what I learned when I was out collecting anti-roundabout signatures: popular opinion is overwhelmingly against this thing. Since the percentage against was well over 70% in five island towns (over 80% in Aquinnah), I think it’s a safe bet that the result in Oak Bluffs would have been similar if the OB selectmen had allowed the town’s citizens to vote by secret ballot.
If it were up to Vineyard voters, there would be no roundabout at the blinker. Unfortunately, it’s not up to us. It’s up to the state — to MassDOT and, ultimately, the governor. I wish I could say I was confident they’d do the right thing, but I’m not. Martha’s Vineyard doesn’t even have the electoral clout to influence our state senator and our state rep. Clout is what matters, and I’m afraid MassDOT and Greenman Petersen Inc. (GPI), the contractor, have much more clout at the State House than we do.
I didn’t get involved in fighting the roundabout till early last summer. Like many other Vineyarders, I thought the project was dead till it came roaring back in April 2011. We’ve made a lot of headway since then, but all the while I’ve been asking “How did this boondoggle get this far? At what point did the Vineyard lose control of the process?”
As I understand it, we lost control of the process when the Oak Bluffs board of selectmen signed the contract giving the state financial and managerial control of the project. Most likely that contract would never have been drawn up, never mind signed, if the elected and appointed members of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) had been paying closer attention and asking more rigorous questions in the period from 2004 through 2006.
Popular opinion was mobilized against the roundabout in those years — and it was totally blown off. In 2011 and 2012 it’s been blown off again. What’s the message here? That there’s no point in getting involved. No matter how well you do your research and present your arguments, no matter how many people you’ve got on your side, you’re not going to be heard.
And guess what? The ones who aren’t listening aren’t the so-called “1%.” Many of them are our very own elected officials, and some of them live right up the road from us. For me the big lesson here is that we need to wake up, believe we can make a difference, then pull together to make our voices heard.