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.
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.
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.
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.