It’s All Connected: The Inextricable Urgencies of Now
An op-ed by Jon Queally
“It takes two to speak the truth — one to speak, one to listen.”
— Henry David Thoreau
On Friday, April 3rd more than 50 community organizations from around Maine are hosting a public town hall meeting on the economy, health care, war and the environment. The event will be held at the University of Southern Maine’s Hannaford Hall in Portland, and will run from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m..
Conceived in response to the numerous and multi-layered challenges facing our nation, our state, and our communities, this meeting is open to all residents and friends of Maine. Organizers (of which this writer is one) hope to see a large and spirited turnout. The purpose is to give the residents of Maine an opportunity to share their concerns, voice their ideas, and offer potential solutions in an open and respectful forum. Many will speak and all, including the elected representatives invited, will listen. The scope of the meeting is drawn from four weighty issues, but there is no predetermined agenda regarding what can be said or what shape the evening will ultimately take. The floor, as they say, will be ours.
There is much afoot in Washington these days. Change is all the rage, yet so much of the political discourse sounds oddly (some of it horrifyingly) familiar. In our state and local governments, budgets are whimpering at the base of chopping blocks as legislators and towns come to grips with the demand for more services in a time of diminished resources. Those Mainers who find themselves out of work, or falling behind, are doing what they can to keep it together, but not even the lifeboat that is the federal stimulus package can save so many in need. We may all be in the same chaotic waters, but the currents are such that some are pulled out further and faster, while others are spun in tighter circles. Let us please mention those hardest hit in hard times: the sick, the homeless, and the disabled who are mercilessly dragged over the rocks by a series of incoming waves. So many are reaching for the same under-funded, over-crowded, and hard-to-steer lifeboat of government relief at a time when the lifeboat itself is taking on water.
The fact that we need change is not so striking as the enormity of the change we need. Barack Obama’s ascendance to the White House will be highly dramatized in the history books, but so, too, will this moment in our history, when the failure of our most trusted and deep-seated policies came into such sharp relief. The calamities we now face were not built by the Bush administration, and they cannot simply be cured by the Obama administration. As is tradition here in Maine — with April just upon us, the ground thick with mud, and the last piles of dirty snow evidence of our long, cold winter — we must meet the new season with a deep spring-cleaning. And for me, I prefer not to think of Obama as the broom, but more accurately as the door to the porch that has been opened. We then, are the broom, the sunlight, and the fresh air. The cleaning that needs doing is significant and difficult, but it has never been more necessary.
We choose to discuss the economy, health care, war, and the environment not because they are the only issues facing us, but because taken together, these pieces of the puzzle can help us visualize the interconnected complexities — and deficiencies — of the whole. Of course, we could have four separate town hall meetings to address each of these highly charged issues. Three hours would not be adequate to discuss even one of these issues fully, so why press all four into one? The answer, as we perceive it, is that this meeting ought to highlight how these four complex issues cannot be rendered separate from each other. Our health has as much to do with our environment as any insurance plan. Our foreign wars are inextricably linked to our domestic economic woes. How and where we derive our energy could help solve many of our health, environmental, and economic problems in one fell swoop. A more equitable and just economy would not find a single American without access to health care.
Some in Washington would like to suggest that only the health of the economy matters. We are still very much caught up in our addiction to growth. There are many who would like to weather this current storm and then get right back on the path that lead us to it. A mere hiccup, they would suggest, on what is otherwise the perfect path of economic stability. We must challenge this thinking with all our might. It is at this moment — with so much evidence that the path we’ve been on has been unsustainable and deeply destructive — that we must call for a drastic turn. We call for this globally. We must call for it nationally. And we must call for it in our beautiful state and in our many towns.
And the best part is that we are so vastly capable of this challenge. Whether we overtly champion our leaders in government or whether we are deeply suspicious, we can forge new solutions with or without them. Living in this democracy — imperfect as it is — gives us the privilege, if we can bear the hard work, to manifest our vision of a more perfect town, a more equitable Maine, and a more just nation. We can offer our friends across the globe an opportunity to view us as allies in the planet’s challenges, and not as impediments to its ecological survival.
The point is that we must be the new solution. We must refuse to see the captains of industry as our sole saviors, or government officials as our sole problem. When you come to the meeting this Friday, look around. When you look at the crowd in the room and listen to their concerns, their woes, their visions, and their hopefulness, ask yourself: Am I part of the problem, or am I part of the solution?
I would say, if you find yourself in attendance, you’re about to be part of the solution.
Jon Queally is assistant editor at commondreams.org, a progressive, independent news outlet. He lives in Portland.