July 3, 2007

NO MORE FALSE DICHOTOMIES : The end is near. Get ready for the beginning

Public transportation: is plentiful in Portland, and the light rail line downtown is free.Early Sunday evening, I met my niece over near Churchill Downs, where she is looking at a house. We walked and drove around to take the measure of the street and its environs. We passed an elementary school that sits right in the neighborhood, and it brought up quaint notions of kids walking to class.Of course, that has not been a routine scenario over the past 32 years, since court-ordered busing came into vogue in Louisville as a way of breaking up a system that tended to keep the haves and have-nots stuck in place. Most of us can easily understand the allure of going to school just down the block, I suppose, and many of us can also understand the difficult changes needed to dislodge a huge problem.With last week’s ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, this is now more than just another academic argument. We are back in the tall weeds, where our path forward is pretty obscure, and we are going to have to hack our way out.Like most non-right-wingers, I was stunned, but hardly surprised, by the high court’s recent right-leaning decisions. Beyond the desegregation ruling, the Supremes also watered down the Endangered Species Act, made it easier for partisan groups to hijack elections (citing free speech) and ruled that young people can’t get away with saying something if it may offend the establishment (uh, not citing free speech).A few observations. First, to those Nader voters and others who say it hardly matters who occupies the White House, the Supreme Court is one clear reason why it does. Second, given that a conservative president has appointed two conservative justices, these moves are hardly unexpected. We reap what we sow.After I ruminated a bit, it occurred that this may well be the beginning of the end for this kind of nonsense. With this country increasingly made up of minorities, and with polls showing young folks trending away from the right and more engaged in the political process, I believe our nation will move away from judgmental policies in favor of enlightenment and inclusiveness. As one friend noted, “It’s gonna be fun kicking their ass again.”I have faith all that will happen, although it may take a while. I do worry about the confluence, like watching two cars approach the same intersection from a distance. You clearly notice two massive objects heading toward the same point, but at variable speeds. You can’t quite tell if they will arrive at the same time. If they collide, of course, there is calamity. If they pass untouched, there is relief, and a whole new energy.That is to say, these regressive and repressive policies can do real damage over the next 10-20 years. But there is no reason to hang our heads. So, bitch and moan for a while, and then roll up your sleeves and get to work on the change you want to see.I went to Portland recently for the annual Association of Alternative Newsweeklies convention. You know the drill — lots of “networking” (read: partying) coupled with varying attempts at professional development.All told, the conference was not bad. We may not make much money in the alt-weekly world, but we are still relatively independent and free to write honestly about issues. The business model seems to be holding up, Craig’s List notwithstanding, and if we stay sharp about how we do what we do — that is, if we understand and embrace the way technology has changed how people get their information — the future seems bright. It sure beats the hell out of working for daily newspapers, which are basically fighting for their lives.The real a-ha from my trip concerns the city itself. Portland is often held up as a model progressive city, but I had never had the chance to see for myself. Now I know — the hype seems quite warranted.As I wrote in a LEO blog post (“What’s so damn great about Portland?”), praising Portland should not be construed as a slam on Louisville. That is a false dichotomy — hence the name of this column, which from time to time will take on that very subject (send me your own examples) — and I reject it.At the risk of being labeled a Louisville-hater, then, it is difficult not to pine for the more progressive mindset that is so apparent in Oregon’s signature city. You can get around Portland any number of ways, including free light rail downtown. All of that didn’t happen overnight, or by chance, but clearly it could only occur with vision and political will.I love Louisville, but I tire of “can’t do it” thinking. Certainly there is a lot happening here — as our cover subject, Sid Griffin, notes, this isn’t the same city it was 30 years ago — but there is also a defeatist mindset that says the real big ideas are beyond our grasp. See: light rail, 8664, actual clean air and growth standards, and so on.Nothing worthwhile comes easy or cheap, but wouldn’t it be nice if our leadership thought a bit bigger?Finally, on behalf of LEO, let me wish everyone a safe and fun Independence Day. One annual tradition I have become quite fond of, purveyed by a real estate company in the week or two leading up to July 4, concerns the placement of tiny American flags in the yards of average folks.Walking or driving the streets and seeing the flags, neatly in a row and blowing in the breeze, is a moving experience. And, of course, we are all free to interpret that flag just as we wish.Happy Fourth, folks. Contact the writer at cstemle@leoweekly.com