Chris Graham: Medicine

We have, unfortunately, experience with losing elections – we being progressives in Waynesboro, loosely defined.

And I say loosely defined because the word progressive means something very different in Waynesboro than it does just about everywhere else in the country.

In California, for example, progressive means, well, what it means in California. The progressive coalition backing the three challengers in Tuesday’s City Council elections includes people who would get laughed out of progressive meetings in California, not that they’d try to go.

Counted among Waynesboro’s progressives are numerous lifelong Republicans, committed Republicans, whose only slightest leaning toward being progressive is that they think the city should spend a little more, which is to say, something more than nothing, on economic development and the public schools, not to mention the city’s crumbling infrastructure.

And then there are the independents, and the Democrats, whose number includes me, whose record as a Democrat includes my single meeting as a UVa. Young Democrat, during which I realized that I may have thought of myself as a Democrat back home in Waynesboro, but I wasn’t one of those Democrats.

That’s my way of saying, we’re not talking about us Waynesboro progressives being tax-and-spend liberals, not by a long shot. We get called that, but our tax-and-spend liberals actually cut taxes in the rare times that they’ve had the reins of power in local politics.

Their sin, our sin, I should say – that we’re not died-in-the-wool do-nuthins.

We think our city needs to invest in economic development and education. It’s our opinion that the fact that the only jobs that our kids can look forward to after graduation involve serving food or folding sweaters is cause for alarm for the future existence of our city. And that borrowing $3.5 million to buy land that we will let sit idle for 20 years with the grand plan to resell it at what will likely be a marginal profit at best is the height of folly.

A bare majority of city residents who voted today disagree with us. They don’t seem to have any sort of operating philosophy, other than that they don’t like us. I get this from people sometimes – that I sometimes use big words in normal everyday conversation, that maybe I need to bring it down a notch. I was called an elitist on the blogs and the campaign trail four years ago, and it made me laugh until it made me cry.

Only in Waynesboro can one grow up in a trailer park in a single-parent family, work one’s way through college, start a successful business from scratch and be labeled an elitist.

It took me literally almost all of the next two years to get over losing the 2008 election, and how I lost it. In that time, I often questioned myself, and sometimes publicly, why I was still here, when life would be so much easier, and business so much more profitable, somewhere else, anywhere else.

I settled on the answer that had motivated me to run for City Council in the first place. This is home, same for me as it is for the do-nuthins, more so for me, if you want to split hairs. Both sides of my family have been in this part of the Valley dating back to the earliest settling of the Valley in the 1730s and 1740s. Which is to say, I’m not some carpetbaggin’ liberal from New York working in Charlottesville at the high-falutin’ University telling you how you ought to do things. I’m as Waynesboro as anybody else, and more than most.

And I’m tired, damn tired, of seeing kids like friends of mine who received good educations in our local school system look at their job prospects after graduation and decide to move on to make other parts of the world better places to live.

And I’m tired, damn tired, of hearing the do-nuthins call our kids derogatory names – before the local papers shut down their anonymous blogs, the term “precious darlings” was en vogue by those who wished to delegitimize concerns raised by parents and teachers about school funding.

I’m damn tired of seeing the powers-that-be study and plan and talk about what they’re going to do and then not do it.

And I’m damn tired of accepting that it just is the way it is, and I can’t change it.

I can change it, you can change it. Anybody can change it. All of us can change it. Not today, obviously. We lost another election today. We’re getting good at that.

Why do we keep losing? Simple. We keep playing the game using the other guys’ rules on their field and their ball. All the mayor has to do is say the words Wayne Theatre, and our side starts falling all over each other about how to respond.

Oh, dear, he said Wayne Theatre. The election is lost.

With that attitude, yes, it is. Because actually what we’re saying is, We were hoping to be able to get enough of the voters who otherwise consistently vote for the do-nuthins to peel away and change their votes to be able to pull this one out, but, well, he said Wayne Theatre, so now that ain’t happenin’.

Does anybody but me see how much bullshit there is inherent in that way of thinking?

You don’t win an election by writing a couple of big checks, buying some signs, making sure the candidates knock on doors, put out a hard-hitting mailer or two and then get the plans for the victory party cranked up in time to secure the services of a good bartender.

You want to win the next election? You start tomorrow morning, and you don’t do it thinking you want to win the next election.

This is how I’ve kept myself sane in the two years since I was able to figure out how to recover from losing in 2008. Whether or not the do-nuthins want us to do anything, we can do what we want to do. They want to make the Wayne Theatre a thorn in our side? How about we open the damn thing up and sell it out a few times a month and show them that the business plan that we’ve been working on for 10 years has been viable all along? Wouldn’t that be a swift kick to the groin of their tried-and-true strategy?

How about we pool our resources and assist entrepreneurs looking to open shops and restaurants and high-tech business and industry in locations across town? So what if the city doesn’t want to be a partner. Screw ’em.

And how about we not wait until a few weeks before the next election before we start getting people organized to have their voices heard on school issues and issues involving older persons in our community and the homeless and those who have substance-abuse and mental-health issues?

There’s a way to combat the perpetual apathy that plagues among the affecteds that plagues us every other May – not giving ourselves the time off needed to develop apathy.

This is all, of course, much easier said than done, and it hasn’t been easily said, given how long it’s taken me to spill all of this out.

The immediate aftermath of yet another unsuccessful election is the perfect time for kvetching and throwing in the towel and glooming and dooming and related nonsense.

Again, I was there. Took me two years to figure out which end was up. I’m not criticizing except as one still in rehab over a tough election loss that I’m probably never going to get fully over, despite my protestations.

The seeds of victory are always planted in defeat. We know how to do this. In a way, we’re already doing it, if you think about it. We lost today’s election by small margins with an electorate that was almost entirely of our rivals’ choosing. We almost beat them today using their rules on their field with their ball.

Will we continue to play a game that we know that we’re going to lose? We need to learn from our mistakes and grow toward the next time, and yes, dark as your night might be tonight, there will be a next time.

More at www.TheWorldAccordingToChrisGraham.com.



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