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.

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.
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2 Responses to Vineyarders Sing, Loud and Clear

  1. Karen Ann says:

    We used to dream about and hope to own a small home on island but that window has closed with outrageous prices. We have often wondered when we make our yearly visits… how the heck does the average family and all these service workers afford to live there, where do they find reasonable housing? And the answer is of course, the crisis you have written about. You have to wonder what the powers that be are thinking as they allow the tides to turn so starkly in favor of the wealthy seasonal occupants and tourists and turn what used to be an affordable but uniquely charming new england paradise Island into something completely different. An Island that depends on the people who make all those services available, yet they can’t afford to live there. And I feel for the generational families who can no longer stay because financially it’s not feasible. It is changing the whole vibe of the island and I find that so sad. And it’s happening in so many places. Contrats on this major win, I hope it brings more with it….


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