Sunday, March 14, 2021

Heart and Soul


Some years Columbia Association elections and the accompanying Village elections pass by with the silence of the proverbial tree in the forest whose falling goes observed. Other years there may be a spark of enthusiasm here or there, or a bit of a kerfuffle due to generational turf wars. But, to be honest, Columbia election season is usually nothing to write home about.

This year, thanks to a newly-minted  LLC called The Rouse Project, we appear to have been thrust into a battle over the heart and soul of the Columbia Association, if not Columbia itself. Comprised of a Steering Committee of area notables, The Rouse Project looks to have been formed for the specific purpose of shaping the conversation around this year's elections. 

If you haven’t already, you can take a look at their reasoning here. There’s a combination of old-school Columbia idealism combined with some serious consternation and condemnation of present day CA. The Rouse Project lines up its arguments in a way that both diminishes the credibility of the Columbia Association while also denigrating the work of the current Board.

Now, I’m as curious (if not moreso) as the next person when it comes to all things Columbia, but I can’t hold a candle to former County Council candidate Hiruy Hadgu when it comes to the arrival of the Rouse Project on the local scene. Armed with what appears to be a heavy sense of skepticism, Hadgu combined a fairly deep dive into publicly-available documents with amateur sleuthing skills and produced a three-part blog exposé.  It’s safe to say that the conclusions he arrived at were, at turns, alarming, puzzling, infuriating, and hilarious.

If the Rouse Project materials feel like a hostile takeover, Hadgu’s just feel hostile. Period.

The Columbia Association released a response this week to the Rouse Project mailer. In the post they cover, point by point, the issues raised by the Rouse Project. You can see that here.  In comparison to the other two, the CA piece uses an informational, even, and positive tone. It encourages residents to ask questions, do their own research, get involved.

So here we are.

What’s a Columbian to think?

I’m going to share with you a snippet of a conversation that took place in a local Facebook group which I think may shed some light on this situation. In response to the posting of Mr. Hadgu’s Rouse Project critique, one comment read something like this. (I’ve edited/condensed it to make it more general.)

  • Did you ask anyone involved with these projects/organizations to provide answers to those questions?
  • Show me the documented evidence of your inquiries about these questions to the people you accused.
  • Show me your correspondence with anyone directly involved.
  • Show me the documented evidence of your correspondence.

It struck me that these are the very questions I’d want to ask the leaders of the Rouse Project. This is exactly what both are missing. It hardly seems like they’d have anything in common but, they do. 

  • Did the Rouse Project ask anyone from CA/Village elections to provide answers about the issues they fault them for?
  • Show me the documented evidence of your inquiries about these issues to the people you accused.
  • Show me your correspondence with anyone directly involved.
  • Show me the documented evidence of your correspondence.

It’s quite easy to go off by yourself (Hadgu) or with a small group of like-minded friends (The Rouse Project) and come up theories, talking points, and a list of grievances. It’s quite another thing to have to take the initiative to reach out to those one disagrees with and experience the awkwardness of real human interaction. Engage in back and forth. Face people one doesn’t particularly like.

Skipping that step is a red flag for me.

Whether it’s a three-part exposé or a well-funded public relations campaign, my own response is the same. I am uneasy to take the advice of those who aren’t willing to take the risks involved in engaging with “the other side”. And let’s be honest. Both the Rouse Project and Hadgu have clearly painted pictures of a choice between their own vision and “the other side.”

But when it comes to Columbia (as in much of life) no one is all right or all wrong. We learn more and we make more progress when we engage. 

Are there issues in Columbia that we should be addressing? Absolutely. Can the CA Board and the Columbia Association do better? Always. Do I wish that more people cared and were involved in the process? Do your opinions matter?

Oh, yes.

But I find myself this year pulling back from all the noise and wanting to remind people that they can make up their own minds. Do your own research. Formulate your own opinions. Just as no one group or generation owns the Rouse name or legacy, no one group or person should tell you what to think or how to vote. 

Buck the trend. Be yourself. I think that there’s something truly Columbian in that, after all. 

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