With the Grain
Spoken Softly
Pay No Attention
"Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain." (The Wizard of Oz, 1939).

Does that sound like your community leadership? If not, count yourself lucky. If so, what are you doing about it? Dorothy had to ask several times, but all she had to do was keep asking.

Toto had to growl a little. Dorothy had to stamp her feet. We're glad they did.

The Wizard blew into power, to lead a gullible public, fairly drunk with command. Too many folks 'in charge' live in a dreamscape as isolated as Oz, and--Toto, we have to get back home. We must speak out, contact our representatives, and write letters to the editor--stamp our feet and growl a bit. We need to click our collective heels, and soon.

Right to remain silent?

Maybe you haven't spoken up yet; that's your choice. However, our local news suggests it's time to start.

A local university is proposing a major 'research' park in the last large, relatively natural area within the city. Though citizen opposition is as great as any seen recently, the planners still move ahead. What heart!

The State has forbidden development on part of the site, which is to remain open space. The developers will seek special legislation to get around that restriction. What brains!

The written proposal calls for "bold steps." Obviously, not so bold as to consider redeveloping old commercial or light industrial sites available in the area. What courage!

Then there's a city plan to build new roads across a major wetland--for quicker access to the malls. (How's traffic in Los Angeles, where they have more roads than anyone else?) At a related public hearing, eight people spoke in support of the road on behalf of various business and government groups. Of the thirteen citizens who spoke as individuals, all but two opposed the plan.

By the way, in planning these two projects, the university and the city both simply skipped over their own environmental review boards (according to members of those boards). No wonder environmental advocates find it difficult working outside the system: the system doesn't even let its own environmental advocates work.

Clincher: our Governor wants State wetland protection activities moved to the Department of Commerce--talk about a pardon from the Governor!

This is out of control, and, not incidentally, out of the public eye, behind that curtain. The realtors lunch with developers, who drink with CEO's, who golf with board members, and none of them asks average folks what's important (best movie of the year: Roger and Me.) It's up to the rest of us to do our own networking.

Everything is for sale

Here's another example. Our local gazette should just call itself a salespaper, not a newspaper, because news now seems secondary to business interests. A recent Sunday issue proves the point.

Half the paper itself was advertisements. The 160 small pages (circulars and sales bulletin inserts) brought the average for the whole stack of pulp up to 65% ads. No wonder there's an excess of newsprint for recycling.

One folio (45% ads) described area goals for the future. (The year 2000 will only be 55% relevant?) A single half page was dedicated to sampling readers' feelings. (Readers' feelings make up only one-half of one percent of our future goals?)

Consider the recommendations: population control, birth control, reproductive freedom, better home environments, and sharing with others, along with two specific pleas for equality.

One resident called for a better legal system; several asked to end crime, drug abuse, and pornographic violence. While three letters protested health care costs, two mentioned property taxes. One writer focused on jobs, and three on governmental unity.

Education saw two votes, along with arts, and a call for electric cars. Specific proposals asked to restrict development of raw land, to redevelop old sites and buildings, and to leave more green space (in particular, to stop the proposed 'research' park).

Various articles in the paper addressed some of these topics. However, government and business leaders spoke throughout--again and again--about 'demand' for new roads, industrial parks, and other development. Demand from whom? Certainly not from people who live here, as their letters confirm.

We're not in Kansas any more

Toss in a few other plans, like operating the airport an hour earlier and later each day, over (literally) neighbor's objections, and widening a few roads. It's time for us to speak up. We have too much to lose, and the guys behind the curtain have too much to gain. It's no accident that Oz was a vibrant, dollar-bill green.

The moral of the story: Tin Man had a heart; Scarecrow had a brain; Lion had courage. We already have all we need--we must begin realizing how fortunate we are, and stop pushing for more, more, more.

Look into your heart. Use your brain. Gather your courage. Let officials know what you want for the world. They certainly won't know until you pull back the curtain and tell them.

Dorothy already had charge of her destiny. She had to ask several times, but all she had to do was keep asking.

Let's put it this way: every November, for one day, we're the ones behind the curtain. Attention will be paid.

© 1991 WTG All Rights Reserved.
1995 Footnote:

DNR officials rejected the City of Portage request to extend the road through wetland. However, through non-publicized meetings with state officials, the City maneuvered a political override, and went ahead. It remains "The Romence Road to Nowhere," as one executive described it at the early hearings.

The Research Park saw a different outcome. When neighborhood, environmental, historical, and recreational interests all aligned in defense of the land, the University bitterly broke off its attempted assault. For now.

Governor Engler didn't wait for Commerce. He issued an Executive Order (challenged unsuccessfully by other state officials) carving up the Department of Natural Resources, and paring off a new Department of Environmental Quality. (What would one have to do with the other?) As intended, more money is now spent on duplicating administration, so fewer funds are left to waste on defending our natural resources.

Finally, leadership (?) at the Kalamazoo Gazette appears even less aware of land and resource issues today than in 1991. Now and then an article slips in about dangers to farmland, habitat, or water resources. They're working to correct that.

With the Grain - - Box 517 - - Mattawan, Michigan - - 49017-0517 - - wtg@wtgrain.org

...head home now!
Reason to Plan Preservation Spoken Softly Waiting to Die