Rural issues and the 2017 Massachusetts Democratic Party platform

The Massachusetts Democratic Party is holding hearings about the 2017 party platform, which will be approved at a convention in June.  The Platform Hearing Committee was in western Massachusetts yesterday, holding one hearing in Springfield and another in Pittsfield. The following is the statement I made at the Pittsfield hearing.

Good afternoon,

My name is Beth Bandy. I am Chair of the Select Board in the Franklin County town of Charlemont, and I also will be an alternate delegate from Charlemont to the Party’s Convention in June. I am here today to make suggestions for the new State Party platform that would show support for our rural communities and help the Party engage rural voters.

As Representative Mark knows, for the last year the Charlemont Select Board has been hosting a series of meetings with Select Board and Finance Committee members from more than 20 small towns around western Massachusetts. These Small Town Summits are opportunities for us to discuss common concerns with our colleagues. We also have started reaching out to our peers in rural communities in other parts of the state. Over and over, we keep hearing that rural towns in Massachusetts are facing the same challenges.

Let me be clear. When I say “rural towns are facing the same challenges,” I mean half of all the towns in the state are in the same boat. We tend to think about Massachusetts as an urban or suburban state, but 170 municipalities in Massachusetts – that’s 48% or almost half of the total – are rural.

These communities are running on very lean budgets with limited revenue options. Town office functions and services are provided by volunteers, with a minimal number of paid staff. These towns are home to more than 830,000 people who desperately need economic development opportunities. With this background in mind, I would like to make the following proposals for the new platform.

The Preamble to the Party’s 2013 platform included 18 brief statements summarizing core principles of fairness, equality, safety, and access to basic infrastructure. As we craft a new platform in 2017, I would like to see one more bullet point added to the preamble that reads:

“We want broadband access for all residents of Massachusetts.”

I also would like to see a new section added to the platform that focuses specifically on rural issues. This section ideally would support:

  • sustainable economic development, job creation, and entrepreneurship in the state’s rural communities broadband access as an essential component of rural economic development
  • a sparsity formula for calculating rural school district aid – similar to what is already in place in more than half of the states around the country
  • fair and predicable PILOT payments for State-owned lands – an essential component of financial sustainability for many rural towns in Massachusetts, some of which are more than 40% owned by the State
  • taking the needs and unique challenges of running rural towns into account when passing new legislation

Thank you for the opportunity to speak this afternoon. I look forward to seeing you at the Convention in June and working with you to make the Democratic Party a positive force in rural communities across the Commonwealth.

Sunday notes: on compassion, dialogue, and race

Friday’s TED Radio Hour focused on the theme of compassion. The first segment on the show began with CNN columnist and commentator Sally Kohn reading offensive tweets she has received recently. She went on to say:

“It’s like that uncle you might disagree with at the holidays… You might argue politics, but you still love him… You would never say the things to your uncle in person that people say to complete strangers on Twitter… We have to figure out a way to re-learn compassion, and that is ultimately being able to appreciate and validate someone else’s experience, even if it isn’t our own.”

Her segment of the show is embedded below. The full episode is online here.

Earlier this week, Brainpickings featured a longish read by Maria Popova, Legendary Physicist David Bohm on the Paradox of Communication, the Crucial Difference Between Discussion and Dialogue, and What Is Keeping Us from Listening to One Another . In the post, Popova explored Bohm’s On Dialogue.  Although this book was written in 1976, it concerns communication breakdown that we see all too clearly in America forty years later:

“Different groups … are not actually able to listen to each other. As a result, the very attempt to improve communication leads frequently to yet more confusion, and the consequent sense of frustration inclines people ever further toward aggression and violence, rather than toward mutual understanding and trust.”

Popova also highlighted Bohm’s comments that distinguished discussion from dialogue. The latter, she quoted,

” ‘Dialogue’ comes from the Greek word dialogos. Logos means ‘the word,’ or in our case we would think of the “meaning of the word.” And dia means ‘through’ — it doesn’t mean ‘two.’ A dialogue can be among any number of people, not just two. …The picture or image that this derivation suggests is of a stream of meaning flowing among and through us and between us. This will make possible a flow of meaning in the whole group, out of which may emerge some new understanding. It’s something new, which may not have been in the starting point at all. It’s something creative. And this shared meaning is the ‘glue’ or ‘cement’ that holds people and societies together.

One of the topics Americans have the hardest time talking about is race. Popova’s post also referenced the 1970 dialogue between James Baldwin and Margaret Mead that eventually was published under the title A Rap on Race. (There is a whole series of Brainpickings posts on this subject, which you can read here.)

On a related note, today’s New York Times Sunday Review includes an opinion piece by Demos president Heather C. McGhee, ‘I’m Prejudiced,’ He Said. Then We Kept Talking.

In her piece, she mentioned that Demos is participating in the Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation (TRHT) program, was launched by The W.K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF) and 130 partner organizations this week. The press release announcing the new initiative stated,

“WKKF believes the stage is set for this pioneering enterprise. The repeated police and civilian killings of unarmed people of color, well-documented bias within our education, health, civic   and justice systems, and escalating divisive rhetoric over religious and ethnic intolerance and immigration policies have created an environment where race and ethnicity are driving our national discourse and fueling anxiety and fear in our communities.”

TRHT will draw on truth and reconciliation models used in other countries around the world. Northeastern University School of Journalism released a report in conjunction with the TRHT launch, Meta-Analysis of Recent Polling Data on the Impact of Racism on American Society Today. The first event of the TRHT multi-year program will be a  National Day of Healing on January 17, 2017.



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