I just posted this in reply to a comment to my most recent post, “To Dredge or Not to Dredge.” In that post I quoted William Blake’s line about “seeing the world in a grain of sand.” When we talk about the Mill Pond, or West Tisbury, or Martha’s Vineyard, we’re talking about other things as well. Here’s some of what this particular grain of sand can tell us about being politically effective in the wider world.
From where I sat, the ATM vote looked less like a vote against dredging and more like a vote of no-confidence in the Mill Pond Committee’s recommendation. The fact that a respected and knowledgeable member of the committee strenuously disagreed with the recommendation was certainly a factor, but it wasn’t the only one.
1. If the MPC’s goal was to encourage further study, then the article was poorly framed, perhaps fatally so. The words “in preparation for dredging” suggested to me and others that dredging was already a foregone conclusion. Had we voted for it, this would have been used as evidence that the town had already taken a step toward dredging, so let’s take another. This is why Kent Healy’s points resonated: he created doubt in our minds that dredging should be a foregone conclusion right now.
2. It’s no secret that some people strongly support dismantling the dam and turning the Mill Pond back into Mill Brook. Others are strenuously opposed to the idea. This is probably why the dam kept coming up in the discussion, even though it wasn’t mentioned in Article 32. The MPC could have acknowledged the issue and made clear that it’s separate from dredging, or preparation for dredging — if indeed it is. They didn’t. I suspect they lost some support as a result.
3. The discussion between Kent and Bob Woodruff wasn’t especially productive, but it was informative. It informed many of us that those closest to the issue didn’t agree on what should be done. That’s important information. It’s not a good sign when the committee that brings a warrant article to town meeting is so deeply divided.
4. Town meeting floor is not the best place to work out serious differences. This is related to (3). One citizen commented that those working on the town hall renovation and the library expansion had raised the benchmark for town boards and committees. I agree. The consensus that emerged on those projects didn’t come out of nowhere. Those people worked their butts off. The library trustees and friends in particular continually solicited feedback during the planning process. The plans evolved as a result. People who had reservations at the beginning came on board, or at least didn’t get in the way. The MPC can profit from these examples.
5. The MPC majority kept crying “Emergency! Emergency!” without providing convincing evidence that an emergency exists. Kent Healy’s comments strongly suggested that it doesn’t — that we don’t have to act in haste in order to head off calamity. From the local level to the national, “Emergency! Emergency!” is used to head off, curtail, and even stifle discussion. I’m deeply suspicious of anyone who uses it, no matter what their motives, and when they haven’t got the facts to back up their fearmongering — forget it. I’m proud of the ATM for resisting the urge to stampede, but somewhat dismayed that the vote was so close.