My Turn: We must set aside our differences, embrace all


Monday, November 20, 2017

What would it take to create a safe town in this uncertain world? On Oct. 30, the residents of Conway were asked to declare ourselves a “Safe Community” — meaning that elected officials and police would be barred from helping the federal government determine the immigration status of anyone found within town limits. A motion to table reportedly won by three votes, splitting those present right down the middle. Heated discussion continued long after the meeting had adjourned. It’s possible that bad feelings will harden, and cripple the town indefinitely.

There is an alternative.

While I couldn’t be at the meeting, I did sign the petition in favor of asking for the vote, and this prompted me to think more carefully about these matters than I had in the past. Or, rather, about the ramifications of this request for our community at this time. Yay or nay? Thinking it over, I came to believe that the right thing to do would be to abstain. Forcefully. A conscientious abstention.

In Conway, with 38-square-miles and approximately 2,000 men, women and children, I urge that, going forward, we look beyond the yays and nays, for a pragmatic, hands-on third way.

To be a safe community, we in Conway cannot afford to quarrel among ourselves over the liberal versus conservative battles being fought out at the national level. Of course, if you think the president is God’s wrecking ball, send your support that way. Or, if you think transgender people belong in the military, yes, do sign petitions and go to rallies. I support my own preferences on national and global issues, too, as best I can.

However, as a matter of utmost urgency, we need to work quickly and effectively to get Conway and its individual households ready — mentally and materially — for the hard times we know are coming. Much harsher, less predictable weather, less reliable harvests here and in places we now ship food in from, and an ever more vulnerable power grid.

Because carbon levels in the atmosphere are higher than at any time in the last 800,000 years and climbing, many fruits, vegetables, nuts and grains will have reduced nutritional value. The acidifying oceans are less hospitable to life in general; the marine food chain is compromised; mollusks and crustaceans will have trouble even forming shells.

The insurance industry can’t protect us from this scale of change, and higher levels of government are likely to be increasingly strapped for resources. There will be new pests and diseases we must learn how to work around and live through, if we are to maintain even minimal well-being for our wild lands, forests and meadows, their inhabitants including native pollinators, our gardens, farms, domestic animals and ourselves.

To be a safe community, we will need to practice clear thinking and strengthen habits of cooperation at the county, town and neighborhood level. Fortunately, Conway, a town of modest means, is mostly well-run and fiscally sound — because life and death challenges are clearly visible on the near horizon.

To be safe, we will need to get local infrastructure — roads, buildings, flood control, water supplies — in tip-top shape, ASAP. We all need to know our immediate neighbors, and they need to know us, our house by house resources and vulnerabilities. Who among us are doctors, nurses, veterinarians? We need to make sure emergency management services, fire, and ambulance, are as well-staffed and well-equipped as possible. It will be vital to create individual and municipal solar-based energy systems, ones that include a built-in ability to isolate ourselves in emergencies from the gerry-rigged grid.

We must set aside yesterday’s grudges over land and lifestyles, right and left, and anything else that puts sand in the gears of close cooperation.

So … what about undocumented immigrants? Let those of us who are so inclined open our homes and set generous tables for the tired and the poor, wherever they hail from. Town authorities have vowed informally not to interfere, I’m told, and in the unlikely event that they do, there will be time enough to join the issue for real. Going forward, we are more likely to find that refugees needing warmth and welcome, likewise any bad guys, do not come from abroad, but instead, from New York’s and New England’s flooded coastlines.

The future will be very different from the past. We will need every ounce of collective smarts, good will and ethical discernment we can muster. So let’s set aside the yays and nays, and work on a concentrated, all-hands, community-based effort to meet our uncertain future together.

To misquote Ben Franklin, if we don’t hang together, we’ll hang ourselves separately.

Sue Bridge lives and works at Wildside Cottage & Gardens in Conway, and is a member of the Town’s Energy Committee.