When we were all cocooned during those cold winter months, when the ground was covered and covered and covered with that pristine blanket, we could maybe pretend to be innocent. But as soon as the thaw comes, and the snow begins to melt, up comes the muck. Detritus not taken care of before the advent of winter, lost mittens, garbage fallen under fresh snowfalls, regrets and mistakes frozen in time, now visible to our neighbors, holes in our socks, lost illusions, and internecine conflicts among erstwhile allies.
In the days leading up to the March elections in Burlington, those longing to believe in the political promises of the Sanders-Driscoll legacy vied with those working hard to make the Infinitely improbable dream of another world come true, both sick unto death of the inevitable persistence of the Weinberger Mayoral stronghold. Some insisted that anyone but Weinberger was a win; others chose to believe that Driscoll as mayor would give them a place at the table; others still (ours truly, for example), affirmed that what we had been fighting against all these years was more than just one bad man. Replacing him with someone slightly less egregious was not the point. Getting rid of Weinberger (who won, but failed to win a majority of the voters’ approval) would have felt good, to be sure, and might have fended off some immediately disastrous consequences; but to really change Burlington (and the world), we need to acknowledge that our problems are more complex than the fact that it just happens to (still) have a business-driven developer as its mayor. Looking around the country just a little bit will tell us that the kinds of things happening in Burlington are happening everywhere. They don’t have Miro Weinberger as mayor in Seattle, in New Orleans, in Detroit, in New York City. So how can it be that they have the same problems we have? In some of those places, they even have Progressive-type politicians making promises like our Progressive-type politicians make. But these promises don’t do much, because we are all up against something much larger than occasional destructive individuals. We are up against a system based on selling out real democracy for political career posturing, and on money—a non-value—which ignores all real values as naïve and unrealistic, a system which continually mortgages our higher potential in exchange for a few crumbs of, say, “affordable housing” that isn’t even affordable.
We are living in a society where city leaders sell out their responsibilities as caretakers of public good, of commons, of natural resources, of education, of job creation, to large-scale property owners in exchange for fast money to prop up their otherwise badly-managed, unsustainable economies. City leaders depend on property taxes for everything. So rich people are courted, big businesses given huge tax breaks, poor people displaced. Everything looks great, just as long as you don’t look that closely. Mayoral candidate Carina Driscoll’s one complaint about the downtown mall rezoning in Burlington was that Weinberger did not make a good enough deal with Sinex! We could have gotten more money out of him! True, but would that really have made it okay to sell out our democracy, poison the lake, displace residents, and create a traffic nightmare? Mayoral candidate, Infinite Culcleasure, by contrast, noted that a City should not be run like a business. A City should be a community, managed by neighbors collaborating with each other, in cooperatives, in common cause. Unless Culcleasure’s vision is taken seriously, we will never get out of the vicious circle of property-tax dependent decision-making.
But to do this would be to collectively decide to live for something more than a good credit rating, more than a robust grand list, more than a spreadsheet outlining how many old unnecessary buildings we have destroyed to put up new unnecessary buildings. We might—but not necessarily—have to give up the convenience of some of our new expensive gadgets and toys, our parking meter apps, for example. We would have to be fulfilled by other kinds of riches: books, ideas, music, friendship, love, nature, history, philosophy, art—community. Could we stand it for a day? At first it would seem quiet, uneventful, boring even. No interruptions, no notifications, no updates, no hype. But in time we might find ourselves happier, more human; richer and healthier, more in touch with our neighbors, less wasteful, more delighted by quiet miracles, like the coming of Spring in all its muddy glory. We would certainly uncover less garbage when the snow thawed.
The melting of the snow is not the only thing revealing dirty muck where everything once seemed a sparkling field of promise. The months after election season will surely expose worse—promises made by candidates hoping to win votes from people, people who have been fighting hard for important causes for years, only to find they have been used as pawns in an election game. It might seem like enough reason to wish the snowy covering back. But, it is better to know what lies underneath, no matter how bitter; and it is wiser, of course, not to blame the Spring.