The Disappearing Advocate
Okay, it seems time to come up for air after far too long of being dormant on this site. I suppose one could argue that the silence from my office on Nashville issues is a sign that all is well, and in some ways they crisis mode that seemed to be inaugurated during Karl Dean’s first term (not always originating with him) has settled down a bit. There was a time when we seemed to bounce from event to event — English only . . . Metro General Hospital . . . the convention center . . . the fairgrounds (and for me the potential impact of that closing on Hickory Hollow) . . . and then the floods. It was an eventful first term for Mayor Dean and I suppose that his reelection led to a collective sigh and a desire to just mozy along without any drama. Yes, there was a property tax increase, but given the anti-tax climate of this state the debate was relatively quiet and the rhetoric was pretty muted. There have been school board issues — but we’ve had drama in the Metro Schools for years and for the most part they’ve ceased to be news.
In the calm after a season of controversy and difficulty, it’s been easy to cast my interest in the politics of Nashville aside. Yet, some of my silence has been due to the continuing belief that all politics is ultimately local, and my focus on the politic of our adopted community (Old Hickory) which didn’t leave a lot of time for the broader concerns of Nashville. The things that happen here – be they a zoning change or the opening of a new business – don’t necessarily resonate with other Nashvillians . . . even though they are vitally important to my neighbors. And thus it’s been easy to sit on the back porch and keep my vision limited to the streets around me, failing to look up at the horizon and the big city down the road.
I wish I could say that I’m back and that I’m going to be more diligent to offering commentary about the city that I love, but I know myself, know my schedule, and know that life often throws curves. This post is being written as much to say “I’m still here . . . I haven’t gone away” as anything substantive. And yet, I really WANT to get back to writing here as I ‘m convinced that engaged conversation offers the creative solutions to the problems we face.
We live in a difficult time. Our society as a whole is deeply polarized, with competing visions of what life in America is supposed to look like. The tension between the needs of neighborhoods and residents of Nashville and the businesses those residents work for continues to be present, with some thinking that economic development is a reflexive “anything business wants” stance while other of us believe that it represents intentional thinking about the kind of place in which we want to live, which may limit business expansion and development at times. Our city is both vibrant in some places, but very much in decay in others, and in spite of the rhetoric and desire of the Nashville Chamber and the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, we are far from a world class city. We may look good on TV on Wednesday nights, but there are all sorts of neighborhoods that Hayden and Connie are avoiding in taping their show.
What worries me is two comments in heard recently. The first came in a conversation with a long-time advocate for the poor in our city about the new TV show. I was describing the Power’s Booth character, the Belle Meade business who was pulling the political strings behind the scenes and this advocate said (somewhat jokingly but with a serious look on his face), “Oh, I didn’t know that this show was a documentary.” The second comment came in a conversation with a long-time judge the other day in which he noted that “…the Chamber of Commerce is running this city.”
While neither comment surprised me (for they reflect thoughts I’ve had for quite a while) it’s troublesome that it’s become so blatant that folks openly proclaim it. It was blatant in the debate over the Great Hearts Charter proposal that was ultimately rejected by the school board (with the subsequent punishment by the powers that be who were shocked to see the people rise up with a different opinion than their own). It was blatant when the Tennessean, a paper founded on truth-telling in the face of power, published one of the most bizarre endorsements in their history in which they provided all the arguments why they shouldn’t endorse the republican candidate for president and then endorsed him anyway. There is a particular group with a particular vision of what this city should look like, and Lord help you if your vision is just slightly different.
Don’t get me wrong . . . the people who have been pulling the strings aren’t necessarily bad people (they aren’t our Nashville soap opera villian). I tend to believe (naively some would say) that they want the best for the city. However, in most cases they tend to believe that their vision is the only vision, and that anyone who questions the wisdom of their vision or has a different vision is an enemy to be attacked. In a “my way or the highway” world, this culture of personal attack is out of control, and our ability to come together as “one people, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all” dries up and turns to dust.
We have to find a new way – a way that recognizes that governance (be it at the city, state, or federal level) can never be effective when it’s about power and control rather than “we, the people.”
For me, that happens when people sit down across the divide and talk with one another about the problems we face. It happens when we invest the time in creative conversation, recognizing our valid differences, but trying to find the places of common ground where we can move forward.
When we do so, a strange thing rises up – the sense of hope. Hope blooms when people think about the possibilities and then come up with the means to bring that vision to reality. Hope springs forth when transparency takes precedence over back room dealings and people begin to feel heard. Hope is the force that brings forth change, and without it the polarization continues and we fail to be everything that we are supposed to be.
It’s time for some hope in our city. Let’s come together and see if we can find some.