Friday, May 12, 2006
All politics is local
"All politics is local," former Speaker of the House Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill said famously. In the past eight days, local politics have had a grip on Carlisle as voters repeatedly gathered to discuss and direct the town's future — twice at Town Meeting, once on Election Day and once at the dump (um — the Transfer Station).
Yes, the Transfer Station. If you were there last Saturday, your car/SUV/truck stuffed with trash and recyclables, then you were part of the political arena. Signs for candidates sprouted at the entrance to the Transfer station, candidates showed up to shake hands and distribute flyers and their supporters mingled with the cans-and-plastics recyclers and Swap Shed hopefuls. Cars were parked three deep near the Swap Shed; they backed up at the entrance to the dump and people conveyed their recyclables on foot to the proper bins.
It seems ironic that in towns larger than ours, aspiring officeholders meet the public face to face more easily than here. They knock on doors in some neighborhoods seeking to explain their positions and garner votes. In Carlisle, this would be impractical except in the historical district — imagine spending a day canvassing our neighborhoods with our two-acre zoning. And who would be at home during the day anyway?
Candidates in larger cities march in parades, meet the voters in local restaurants, shake their hands at bus stops and subway entrances. Here in Carlisle we meet the candidates at the dump; it is a less-than-ideal forum for reasoned discourse on 40B housing or a debate on artificial turf for Banta-Davis against the background of grinding trash compactors and glass smashing into metal bins.
Voters need face time with the candidates. We need to meet them, talk to them, learn where they stand on the complex issues facing Carlisle for the next 20 years. Their carefully crafted statements in the Mosquito offer only a superficial profile. Their approaches to difficult problems as well as those often-indefinable qualities that separate one candidate from another in contested races and "the vision thing" are unexamined and voters are left uninformed.
The League of Women Voters held a candidates forum in Town Hall on April 2, four weeks before Town Meeting and five weeks before the election, when few voters are focused on the issues. Only 25 people — and that included some of the candidates — attended on a gorgeous Sunday afternoon. Few questions from the audience were asked. Next year why not schedule the forum closer to Town Meeting and the election, hold it in the evening and invite selected voters to bring provocative questions?
We are a small town. Opening our homes to introduce a favorite candidate to neighbors and friends is another approach to "meeting the candidate," but everyone's calendar is so stretched in the spring that attendance even at neighborhood gatherings can be iffy.
Tip O'Neill also advised candidates, "Don't forget the people who elected you" and "keep your speeches short." He might have added, "Go out and meet the voters."
Food for thought
If spring has sprung, the grass has riz and you wonder where your flowers iswhat did you do last year to insure horticultural success this year? So much for fiddling, you grasshopper, you! Lounging on the beach listening to Janis Joplin, trying desperately to recoup your misspent youth and getting a tan that will carry you through 'til ski season did nothing for your yard! "Everybody in the world wants the same damn thing!" sang Janis, but she wasn't talking about gardening. So, what's to do?
Get a plot at Foss and make sure you don't leave town during prime weed season or that you have a designated weeder. Of course, plots at Foss are scarcer than hen's teeth and as Carlisle's Farmer's Market becomes increasingly viable, plot availability will thin even further. Will there be increased pressure to farm more of the Conservation land? Will food for the town's sprawling masses out-compete their need to actively recreate? Would it not be ironic if the winning float at Old Home Day was "Carlisle Grown and Fresher;" that a pickle referred to something comestible rather than a mess one of the town boards or committees had gotten themselves into?
What would it take to create a minor credit course in the Carlisle School that focused attention on school sustainability, or a Scout merit badge for husbandry or similar program which emphasized domestic self-reliance? Pizza night with the kids would be so much more exciting if, instead of eagerly awaiting the Domino's delivery, the family made their own. It would take less time, engender more creative thought, be more nutritious, generate less waste, and be a lesson in food service management all at once. Imagine: having pizza and not feeling you need to go to the gym.
Middlesex County (where we live) has the second highest density of millionaires (after Los Angeles County) and Carlisle is one of the wealthiest communities in Middlesex County. So why would anyone think we would be interested in self-sufficiency, never mind teaching our kids such arcane arts? According to market surveys, suburban families spend lavishly on kitchens and "great rooms," invest in the best culinary gear, heavily subscribe to food magazines, and don't cook. This is despite the fact that most of these same households employ folks to clean up after them and an army of landscapers and gardeners to effectuate a salubrious environment that, at best, feeds our eyes and, at worst, is meant solely to impress the neighbors.
If school sustainability is too much to hope for, how about a project that raised enough fresh produce for some of Carlisle's elderly who know and appreciate fresh food and might reciprocate by sharing their history and knowledge thereby creating some community continuity between the generations? There is a corps of dirt-based foodies in town. There is a small legion of well-intentioned parents. There are two communities of need. In a town that speaks loudly of our sense of "rurality," what would it take to put our energy where our mouth is?
© 2006 The