By Jan Worth-Nelson
In a conference room at City Hall recently after a typically chaotic council meeting, Councilman Herbert Winfrey leaned across a table and said something that stuck in my brain. He said, “A city is what it accepts.”
I’m still thinking about that. It’s a sunny Wednesday, late September, and the heat has finally broken. I’m in my upstairs office, the window to my left open to blessed fresh air for the first time in a week.
But even though the temperature has mercifully hit the 70s, it doesn’t matter to the dog next door, the extremely high-strung Wilbur. Wilbur goes crazy when a leaf falls. He is barking frenetically right now, and I’m tempted to yell through the screen, CALM DOWN ALREADY!
That said, as I’ve noted before, I kind of like Wilbur. He’s got passion; he defends his territory; he’s predictable. Wilbur’s excitable, protective ways are part of the neighborhood. This might not be what Winfrey’s getting at, but we accept him as he is. In his way, he’s Flint Strong.
I actually know why he’s barking. Kenny, Andy, and Ted are trying to get an invasive vine out of the lilac bushes along the fence between my house and Wilbur’s. This is very disturbing to Wilbur.
And up in my office, I’m trying to interview Arthur Woodson, architect of the mayoral recall and himself a candidate for mayor. Woodson agreed to come over to answer questions for our election special edition, a willingness I really appreciate. I like Arthur and every time I talk to him I find out ten or twenty things EVM should be writing about. Kenny’s buzz saw is going full bore and Wilbur’s still barking. In the middle of it, Ted yells up, “Jan, Jan, how far down should they cut? Only the top or all the way down?” Arthur is talking about how we have failed veterans in America, and I have to pause and say, “I don’t know, I don’t know—just get those vines out of there!” Andy yells, “If you just top it off you won’t get all the vines.” They’re all debating it just under my window and finally I holler down, “Just cut them all down to the bottom, damn it. They’ll grow back.” I’m trying not to make metaphors out of all this. Wilbur is still barking. The buzz saw starts up again.
Nonetheless, Arthur continues answering my questions and we’re having a terrific conversation about the city council, about respect, about municipal balance of power, about working together. About America. Arthur’s passion is direct, informed and propelled by a hopeful bitterness—I say that because he’s outraged about many things, but he believes in activism. He believes that if people pay attention and get informed and speak up, it will make a difference.
I’m not endorsing Arthur here, but what I am suggesting is these days it’s clearer than ever that the only real control any of us has is local: I mean in our back yards over our fences, on our street corners, at city council and school boards, at the counter at Good Beans and the barstools at Cork, in pews at Grace Emanuel and Temple Beth El and Joy Tabernacle — all the places we find each other and share our lives.
So, this month East Village Magazine tackles two approaches to what it means to go local – to be in community.
Harold Ford’s piece – the first of three– about the Flint Journal/M-Live, examines the cost to communities of the decline of local journalism. It’s a significant piece of work about a significant shift in community life. I urge you to read it and to consider what you can do to support local journalism—the lifeblood of participatory democracy.
Also, with an eye toward the Nov. 7 election, a team from EVM fanned out to briefly interview all 35 of the candidates: 18 for mayor, 17 for city council. We used phones, email, even an intermediary at Totem Books who held one candidates’ answers until our reporter could pick them up. We posed the candidates in front of city hall and met at The Torch to compare notes and compile our data. We got emails from the candidates late at night and phone calls early in the morning. It was hyperlocal and ambitious and fun. We captured 22 for the hard copy; others who didn’t make our print deadline will be up online soon.
This election matters if you care about this city. Why not read up on these candidates and their ideas? Why not venture to a city council meeting or a candidates’ debate or your next neighborhood association meeting? Why not get involved? And most of all, WHY NOT VOTE? The residents of this city can and should do better than the pathetic 7.4 percent turnout for the Aug. 5 election. That’s shameful. That means 93 percent of the voting population chose not to exercise their power.
That brings me back to Councilman Winfrey. What will this city accept Nov. 7? What are we accepting from our public servants and our mayor? What are we accepting from our neighborhoods? What kind of city will we be?
Finally Arthur and I wrap up our conversation, I shake his hand and take a picture of him against my yellow wall, a tall man towering next to my pile of yoga mats. After he takes off in his truck, I go down to pay Andy and Kenny and we lean against Kenny’s truck and talk about politics. They are both scratching their heads about why this city generates one soap opera after another. To me, leaning over the backs of pickup trucks talking about local politics with my neighbors is a little bit of heaven. And for now, no barking. Wilbur the “Flint Strong” dog, like a good citizen, has had his say.
EVM Editor Jan Worth-Nelson can be reached at email@example.com.