Thursday, April 3, 2014

Ghosts of Elections Past

A year ago, when I was running for CA Board from Oakland Mills, I experienced a moment of confrontation at the Candidate Forum which was a foretaste of the subsequent outcome. A gentleman stopped me as I was leaving and said, angrily, "You're trying to get rid of old people!"

I was stunned. He was waving my own bright orange flyer at me.

"It says so right here. That's what they told me, and that is why I'm here. You're trying to get rid of old people."

I asked him to show me the place in my campaign materials where I said that. He just kept on waving it at me.

The truth was that I had shared openly throughout the campaign that we needed to bring more people to the table. What that meant to me was making a concerted effort to engage younger residents in the process of running Columbia. Inter-generation knowledge-sharing and power-sharing.

My opponent took that and ran with it: she's trying to get rid of old people.

The other day Sarah Hussain, a former HoCo resident and blogger (Sarah Says) posted a link to this article on Facebook. She included the following quote:

"So who is in the room? Who is packing the public hearings and lining up at the speaker’s podium to try to convince municipal councils to slow the pace of change? The majority are usually people 55 years of age or older. Today, this group represents just over a quarter of the current population. In 27 years, when the housing we are approving today is just short of halfway through its life span, the youngest of this demographic cohort will be 82 years old.

I am not saying the voices of these people shouldn’t be heard. But their voices need to be among a whole chorus of collaboration that includes the people whom the change we are planning today is meant to accommodate.

We need to find new ways of reaching out to the people who are going to be living 25 and 30 years from now in the housing, neighbourhoods and towns we are planning and building today."

Sound familiar?

What do you do in a place like Columbia where a move to include younger residents is interpreted as a move to get rid of old people? Time and again I have listened to stories of younger residents trying to get involved and finding their motives questioned, their efforts scorned, their ideas excluded.

The Columbia Association has been reaching out through social media and on their Mind Mixer site, Inspire Columbia, to ask: what question would you like to ask CA's future president? Well, this is it. How do we get more people in the room and allow these people to be respected, empowererd, truly included as part of the team?

If we don't answer that question, it will soon be too late for any of the other questions on the list.


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