OUR TURN: Power of the people alive in the Highland Lakes

Neighborhood activism still has a place in the Highland Lakes.

The voices of the people continue to carry weight, even in this day of polls, opinion surveys, political action committees and slick public relations firms.

That public participation is a good lesson for the national political parties to learn. And local politicians should be listening, too.

Sometimes, democracy really does just come down to what the people want.

Nowhere has this philosophy been clearer than in two recent confrontations between grass roots neighborhood groups and business interests.

In these cases, a pair of business projects approved by government agencies did not meet with the approval of neighbors.

One involved the owner of a commercial outhouse company who wanted to spread  human waste on his private property (a practice that has existed for centuries).

Another was the erection of an 18,000-gallon propane tank in a neighborhood as part of the launch of a natural-gas delivery operation.

Even though state agencies gave both of the ventures a green light, disparate residents united to present a common front of opposition.

These are classic NIMBY practices — Not in my backyard.

While NIMBY sometimes has a negative connotation, these two recent episodes are examples of true political activism at its most basic level — neighbor to neighbor and house to house as folks from very different walks of life band together to express a common viewpoint.

In other words, democracy at its most basic and fundamental level.

These residents joined in a common cause because they feared for their health and safety and worried that property values might plummet.

This assertion is not to say their fears were true. In both cases, not only did the business interests have the go-ahead from the government — or the expectation of approval — but they also planned to exercise all known safety precautions.

To their credit, the businessmen also met with or at least listened to their critics; they remained polite during the process even when the heat of the rhetoric rose; and they ultimately canceled their plans out of a sincere desire not to create ill will.

In other words, these businessman simply wanted to be good neighbors.

While the campaign speeches become more polarized at the national level during this election season, and the barbs and accusations more outlandish, it is refreshing to see on a local level that folks can still discuss issues in a somewhat civilized fashion without getting too ugly.

This local process of discourse — though not without its own emotional moments — is still a more measured and reasonable response than what we sometimes see from the supposedly sophisticated, well-heeled movers and shakers of the national political parties.

As the country this past week observed Constitution Week, which honors that uniquely American document that extends cherished liberties to citizens living under the United States’ form of representative government, it also behooves us to remember another, more ancient lesson: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

That truth is a message we can all take to heart.

 

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