Time Magazine has caught a fair amount of flak this year by naming you the Person of the Year, rather than selecting an individual mover and shaker. Some of the criticism that it copped out is valid. After all, the biggest news event of the year was probably the shift of power in Washington, and for Time to name everyman as Person of the Year, rather than someone like Pennsylvania Congressman John Murtha, who was key in shifting public opinion against the incumbents, can be seen as evasion.
Nevertheless, Time does have a point. Reviewing local events over the past year, it appears that a lot of the most important things that are happening are not being handed down by powers on high, but are bubbling up from the grassroots (though, unlike Time, our observation is not limited to internet activism). Washington may have been gridlocked by a combination of partisanship, self-interest and incompetence, but here at home the ordinary people have made a lot of difference.
The citizens of Cochecton who blocked the recent Catskill Homes development are one prime example. They saw something happening in their neighborhood that they didnt like—a development that they felt would destroy what they valued about their home. They studied it, showed up at meetings, wrote to the newspapers and let their representatives know how they felt about it. The result: no development. Whether or not one thinks the project would have been a good thing for Cochecton, one has to admire the way the people there took control of their own destiny.
New York Regional Interconnects (NYRI) proposal to route a high-tension power line through the Upper Delaware River Valley gave rise to another example, although in this case the outcome is still uncertain. However, the strong grassroots response to the proposal by groups such as the Upper Delaware Preservation Coalition has certainly made itself heard—and slowed the project down—in Albany.
More broadly, local groups opposition to NYRI has been mirrored by similar grassroots organizations around the country who might also have unwanted transmission lines rammed down their throats by the Energy Policy Act of 2003. Combined, our voices are making their way up to Washington, where theres at least some chance that the new Congress will repeal some of the acts most noxious provisions.
Health care is another example, not only here but in other localities around the country. Legislators in Washington may be afraid to deal with the healthcare issue, but more and more states, from California to Massachusetts, are addressing it head on. Here in New York, pressure to do so is, once again, coming from the common folk, like Sullivan Countys Senior Legislative Action Committee, which recently gave a presentation to the county legislature asking them to adopt a resolution endorsing single-payer universal healthcare. Result? Such a resolution was passed through committee a couple of weeks ago, and is expected to be adopted on the floor.
Of course, that resolution has no binding force. But in Orange County a similar resolution just passed through committee. Although in that case it is not likely to pass on the floor, the fact that two neighboring counties are grappling with the matter simultaneously suggests that counties all around the state are probably doing so. Pretty soon those voices may get loud enough that Albany—and even Washington—realize that they will have to act on universal health care.
Globally, the weather is becoming more violent as CO2 emissions from fossil fuels surge out of control. In Washington, all theyve done about it is suppress scientific reports on the subject, grant billions of dollars to oil corporations and look for new places to drill for an obsolete power source.
Locally, weve been more inventive. In September, for instance, the Sullivan County Division of Planning and Community Development unveiled plans for a Green Technology Park to be built on land owned by Sullivan County Community College. The project will be a home for green business and a training center for technologies such as geothermal heating and sustainable building materials.
Recent plans to generate electricity from our landfill are another environmentally progressive step. Some argue that a truly forward-thinking legislature would have invested in the plant itself, rather than inviting a private company to do so. But that still puts us leagues ahead of the dinosaurs in Washington.
So lift your glasses: heres to us little guys. May we continue to lead the way in 2007 as we did in 2006—and may the big guys in Washington finally learn to listen.
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Happy New Year
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I would like to take a moment to let your readers know what I think of your newspaper. As a subscriber and active organizer of community events, I must say thank you for everything you do when it comes to community coverage and the quality of your paper. I look forward to reading it every week it comes out, as it truly is a community paper. The coverage on my Santa Claus is coming to town event and center-page spread was nothing sort of spectacular. Your graphic artist, Lori Malone, is in my opinion is one of the best in the area at making visions come alive on paper.