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It’s a New Year in Nashville

January 1, 2011

I was looking back on where I was two years ago on my other site, and came up on this blog post which represented a very different time and place. Back then “Just Nashville” was far from my mind and I was empowered to oppose what I believed (and continue to believe) was a misguided attempt to deal with immigration issues at a local level, what seems now like a quaint salvo in prejudice that was to come. Part of that empowerment came through a coalition involving the mayor’s office, local immigration activists, the remnant of the Obama Campaign organizing crew, and (the most surprising of all) the Nashville Chamber of Commerce. We gathered the morning of January 20 to celebrate the inauguration of our nation’s first African American president, and believed that anything was possible.

It’s been a long two years since then . . . a time when I found myself being drawn more deeply into the Nashville political scene. There have been some wins and losses along the way. Through the work of some friends we saw the rhetoric about closing Metro General Hospital change, while on the other hand we saw the largest and most financially risky project in our city rammed through with little consideration of the will of many Nashvillians (we’ll never know if it was a majority). We won the English Only debate, only to see a class and culture war created between the educated elite newcomers and the traditional Nashville working class over the fate of the Nashville fairgrounds. The business and development communities have flourished, while neighborhoods felt abandoned on the priority list. And of course, in the midst of that we experienced together the worst natural disaster in many years in the Nashville floods, with both a huge outpouring of volunteerism in the first weeks, but also actions designed to cover up the extent of the damage to protect local tourism interests. It’s been a long, strange trip, and it’s hard to believe that I’ve been along for the ride throughout the journey.

I would love to say that today represents a day of new beginnings, a day of rekindled hope for our city, but I have lived here long enough to know that we will continue to have good times and bad times. The fairgrounds issue is far from settled, and the battle looks hard and bloody. We are likely facing continuing budget difficulties in the coming months and years and the pressure on the poor and marginalized, already high, will get even greater. We are a city that needs a long and deep conversation about who we are and who we want to be, but I see very few of our public leaders that are willing to take the risk to start such a conversation, let along open themselves to the possibility that what the Chamber wants may not be what the citizenry wants. And, by all indications, we are very likely to be drawn into another debate on immigration at the state level, putting our economic future at further risk.

I do have hope, however. I have seen new voices arise, new coalitions be formed, who seem willing to speak truth to power. I have seem grass-roots organizations grow into formidable opponents who are willing to challenge the moneyed interests that want to control our city. I see a generation of young people who understand justice deeply and are willing to stand up to be voices for those whose backs are up against the wall. There are people who are willing to ask “why” and to dream into being the “why not?”

So Happy New Year Nashville. It looks like it will continue to be a fun and interesting ride. May we join together in helping our city be a place of justice, love, and peace.

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