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.
Brilliantly, no real estate developer had to put any of their own money in: Taxpayers, like you and me, paid the full price to purchase and demolish the 200 homes that were standing on 44 acres of commercially valuable land facing the airport entrance. The pretext was all too real F-16 noise. But the real reason those homes were selected for purchase and demolition was so land speculators could earn profits by commercially developing that now empty land. The genius of the scheme is that they did not have to risk a dime of their own money to purchase or demolish the homes.
F-16s were scheduled to retire. Without extreme military jet noise continuing after retirement of the F-16s there was no reason to demolish the 200 homes in the first place. There would be no reason for South Burlington to change the zoning of the 44 acres from residential to commercial. The scheme to turn F-16 noise into money would collapse unless an extremely noisy military jet would replace the F-16.
The scheme was facilitated by political pressure on the Air Force to do something it did not want to do: bring dangerous F-35A fighters to a densely populated city. All so developers could maintain the high noise needed to turn the 44 acres into money for developers.
Oops. The taxpayer funded profit scheme got a bit tangled by 3000 problems: 3000 families, whose affordable homes will not be purchased and demolished, will remain stuck for life in the F-35 noise danger zone that the Burlington Board of Health says causes learning problems for children and heart problems for adults. Too bad for them that these 3000 families will go forward with decades of suffering while the developers enjoy this dangerous plan.
Fortunately, Burlington can put a stop to the whole unpleasant scheme at Town Meeting. Vote “yes” on Ballot Item 6 to cancel the F-35. Do not allow 3000 families to be sacrificed to further enrich the already safe and secure.
Voting for Ballot Item 6 is a way to implement a fundamental right included article 7 of Vermont’s constitution: Article 7: “That government is, or ought to be, instituted for the common benefit, protection, and security of the people, nation, or community, and not for the particular emolument or advantage of any single person, family, or set of persons, who are a part only of that community.” In this case, health and safety for 3000 families and loss of decent affordable housing v. taxpayer funded profit for a handful of developers.
February is the shortest month, and usually the hardest here up north. We have a disease called “the Februaries”. Its symptoms are malaise, dismay, a general sense of why bother. Those of us who enjoy silky stockings and gossamer fabrics, delicate shoes and such, are tired of being swathed in layers of coarse, thick wools and downs, heavy boots and thick socks. Our hands are rough and raw, from shoveling and maybe carrying wood in and out of the house, and we are lucky if our pipes haven’t frozen, our car batteries gone out, or (if we are more intrepid) if our ears have not been frost-bit while bicycle riding. We have had the cold or the flu for weeks, and it doesn’t seem to go away, no matter what.
But we can be consoled to know that we have only a few more months of winter to go! And then, when we see that it will be slipping away, we remember to enjoy its particular magical beauties: the sparkly starry nights, with soft snowy fairy-dust in the air; the silvery moon gleaming in the silence; the wild slabs of ice thrust up against each other in the river; the manifold animal tracks in the snow; the red cardinal against the white.
It is already getting lighter at night; we can see our way through. Keep on, my friends, keep on.
Is it the white snowy fields, like blank pages spreading out into the distance?
The long, dark nights, the plentiful dream-filled sleep, the emptiness, that suggests some new kind of way of filling up space, a life, the ticking time?
Without a space to breathe and reconsider, it is hard to imagine newness to grow at all. But, on the other hand, without stimulation, discourse, interchange, nothing much will get generated.
In any case, I ordered seeds for the garden: corn and beans and carrots and three kinds of melon and flowers and herbs and beets and squash and pumkins. Way early, I know, but a girl can dream of spring whenever she wants, right?
I think, ultimately, that newness is possible, even unstoppable. Oldness recurs, to be sure. And we can, in many cases, be glad of the comforting, familiar, archetypal patterns. But newness is inevitable, is a feature of what it means to be human, is happening right now. Listen and you will hear it cracking.
Have you read that great Russian novel, Oblomov, about the man who basically never gets out of bed? He is slothful and slovenly, has crumbs in his beard and in between his sheets?
Well, that is how we have been about this website. We have been embodying the most self-indulgent traits of what some critics called the “Superfluous man”. We have not updated the masthead for months. There are no new issues posted since lord knows how long. The blog entries are few and far between. But, really, what is a website if not superfluous?
We have excuses, like all good Oblomovs, but we won’t bother you with them. Perhaps we just did not have the will to begin, or the belief in the improvability of mankind or the aesthetic or utilitarian redemption of mankind. Perhaps we were trying and failing, repeatedly, to get interns to help us with the task?
In any case, the luxurious days of neglect are now coming to an end. We begin, now, a new regime of contemporary American industriousness, to counteract the lovely, lilting delights of 19th century Russian nihilism. Watch out for vigorous reporting and ground-breaking news, insightful commentary and deeply moving suggestions.
As I write, the September issue should be on its way (late) to you, and the October issue is almost ready for printing. Thus, we look ahead to November, the month of our beloved publisher’s birth (and that of many other dear Scorpions). Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness? Season of death and darkness? The title of my favorite Flaubert novel, the month before December?
In honor of such auspicious richness of flavor and chiaroscuro, please send us your most complexly variegated texts and images.
Essays, letters, poems, pictures, visions, stories.
We are, as usual, interested in the crux where utility and beauty meet, in questions of how to be most alively human amid so much that is deadening, in the tension between wildness and civilization, democratic participation and imagination, art and politics, and any ideas about how to make all people’s (and animals’) lives more meaningful in the Lake Champlain Bio-Region and Beyond.
Prose texts should be 750 words or less to fit on one page, or 1500 words or less to fit on two.
Images are subject to cropping or the superimposition of words.
Let us know if you have any questions, comments, complaints.
For November, I need submissions by around October 10th, emailed to email@example.com.
And no, we don’t pay. Apologies.
Summer is here and the gardens are overflowing. I was just in Barcelona, at the Fearless Cities Conference http://fearlesscities.com/about-fearless-cities/ with two of my Burlington comrades. One of them, Ibnar A. Stratibus, found the word “fecund” most fitting to describe the smells and sites of this wonderful city, as we walked down the crumbling stairwells through Parc Guell through an abundance of flowering bushes and vines and trees. Life persists, life affirms itself, even as terror and tourism and heartache and commodification and homogenization threaten to deaden our senses and dull our diversity until we are zombies. Life persists! Nature seems sometimes, despite all, to be indefatigable. Let us take Her as our model and insist on growing and striving and joying in being alive no matter what obstacles, no matter how hopeless things might sometimes seem.
Mud, rain, sleet, sun. We are churning up the muck and it is not always pretty. But it is always beautiful. I went to the Intervale yesterday and there were mushrooms and new buds appearing right before my eyes. A sign told me not to pick the ramps and the fiddleheads. I did not, but I wondered how many others had disregarded the rules. I certainly have picked them at other times, along other paths, innocently enough. People ride by on bicycles. We shed the sweaters, the raincoats, the hats we needed in the morning, and wrap them around our waists or stash them in our bike baskets. People are feeling more feelings than they can stand and in the evenings the music wafts out of the opening and closing doors along North Winooski Avenue, just north of Pearl Street. Who is it who feels alive enough to live up to the Spring? Which of us can meet her without feeling the thorny lacerations of old regrets and new longings? Which of us is stoical enough not to feel disturbed by the stirring of ancient sap underfoot?