Friday, November 20, 2020

A Less Than Ideal Time to Rally the Neighbors, but...

Firefighting planes pass over the house.  9/9/2020

A little context:  I've participated in community organizing in the past.  I've held my protest signs, drafted charters, gone door-to-door for leaders and causes I believe in, written letters-to-the-editor and to decision makers, helped launch clubs and volunteered my time.  Man, oh, man do I hate the door-to-door stuff the most.  I really do.  I find it nerve-wracking, anxiety-inducing, and exhausting.  Ugh.  Terrible.  Not one drop of enjoyment there.

I only mention this to illustrate my level of passion about what is to follow.

A bountiful autumn snowfall.  10/24/2020

I rallied and organized my neighbors to protest a zone change proposal that would have been bad for the quality and safety of our neighborhood.  I braved the horrors of going door-to-door (during a pandemic and an especially contentious election season, no less!!) and collected signatures and made sure they understood the zone change process and what they needed to do.  Talk about a crazy time to decide to go out and meet ALL the neighbors!  It went really great though.  Honestly, I think a lot of people were eager for someone to talk to!  They all seemed relieved that someone was doing something to try and stop the zone change.  No one was in favor.

As a result, I had a 100% success rate getting people to sign-on to the petition/protest letter.  In fact, I secured half-again as many signatures as required by the planning board to qualify as a "valid" protest.  I then followed-up with my neighbors via letters and phone calls to encourage them to send an email to our city council reps, to comment at the public meeting, etc.  

And then, to my complete surprise, it made a difference!  Our city council voted down the proposed change.  

Looking out over town from the rimrocks that rise above it to the north.  10/1/2020

Both of our ward representatives reached out to me afterwards and thanked me for sticking with it and being an involved citizen.  One went on to say that the council gets so many zone change requests, that without feedback and involvement from the surrounding property owners, they might not ask as many questions or look into each zone change as closely as they did in this case.  They mostly go with the recommendation of the planning board, if no one else says anything otherwise.  Once they dug a little deeper into the proposed changes for our neighborhood though they could totally understand the concerns shared by me and my neighbors.  The council even raised additional concerns we hadn't thought of.  City council voted 3-9 against the proposed zone change.  Because of the neighborhood protest petition a 2/3 majority would have been required to pass it so that was a resoundingly clear vote.  

Honestly, I thought I was putting in all that leg work for nothing.  I invested a good deal of my time and energy, but I sincerely didn't expect city council to vote in our favor.  I thought the neighborhood would surely lose out to incessantly pro-development, pro-business interests.  (The planning/zoning board meeting a couple weeks before the city council vote was tremendously discouraging, to say the least.  They recommended that city council pass the zone change.)  However, I knew that if I did nothing to try and stop it I would be mad at myself forever.  Every time I went past the new development I'd kick myself all over again. I have a hard time letting things go, what can I say?  On the other hand, if I tried and failed--if the council voted to pass the change--at least I could be upset with them and not with myself.  I would have done what I could.  I knew that would sit better with me long-term. 

Enjoying all the clean, calm white on a wintery walk near the house.  10/24/2020

So, I organized the neighbors because I thought it was the right thing to do, even if it was futile.  And I am so glad!  Not only because we influenced the outcome of the decision either, but because I got to know my neighbors better.  I spoke with so many wonderful people, learned about them, met many of them for the first time ever.  They were diverse and interesting and had wonderful stories about our neighborhood, especially those that had been there for 40+ years. 

My neighbor Jack asked when I was going to run for city council myself.  Courtney from across the street actually ran on over after the (live stream) city council meeting to share the moment.  "We won!  we won!"  It really felt like the neighborhood came together on this one and that was wonderful.  That was a win in and of itself.

Ginger eagerly awaits me at the puzzle table, keeping my spot warm and everything.  10/20/2020

When the conditions allow, Matt and I are gonna do another kind of community organizing.  We're going to rally a block party or neighborhood picnic in the park at the end of the street.  I want to keep knowing my neighbors.  I want to build on this neighborly relationship and comradery.   We're hoping maybe in the spring...or next summer.

Out for a stroll around the neighborhood with a smoky red sun leading the way. 9/13/2020

This is one of my biggest wins for the entire year.  In a time when so much is going awry, this went well.

2 comments:

Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts and ideas. I value the advice and friendship that you share with me!