A couple of weeks ago Mary Nikas shared this photo in a post on the Salem City Council Facebook page (a private page which isn't associated with the City of Salem).
She said: "Photo taken this morning on Oakhill Road in SE Salem. Can we start spending our community development money on sidewalks now, please?!"
When I saw the photo of a woman having to ride an electric wheelchair in the road, I thought This is terrible, Salem needs sidewalks everywhere so people can get around safely.
Just about everyone who left comments on the post felt the same way.
But notably, not ex-city councilor Daniel Benjamin, who was unanimously censured by the City Council last year following his Facebook sharing of a video showing Black Lives Matter protesters being rammed by cars, which led to his resignation.
Below I've shared some comment interchanges on the post between Benjamin, a conservative guy who was endorsed by the Salem Chamber of Commerce when he ran for the City Council in 2014, and liberal people who had a much more compassionate attitude toward the woman who was forced to ride her wheelchair in the street.
The back-and-forth comment conversation says a lot about the political landscape in Salem. This is a liberal-leaning town. I'm confident that most people reject the right-wing view that taxes should be as low as possible, even if they are needed to pay for vital public services. Like, sidewalks.
However, unfortunately the Chamber of Commerce'ish viewpoint expressed by Benjamin still has a lot of influence in Salem. An excessive amount of money and power still is in the hands of the aptly-named Powers That Be.
As you can read below, Benjamin believes that if someone lives in a part of town without sidewalks, and they need to get around in a wheelchair, the solution is simple: move to an area of Salem that does have sidewalks.
Selfish? Yes. Stupid? Yes.
Yet Benjamin isn't alone in favoring public policies that screw over the poor, and bestow even more wealth on the rich. That's the Republican playbook. And believe me, it isn't only guiding conservatives in Washington, D.C. Anyone who closely watches goings-on at the Salem City Hall, as I do, can see the attitude expressed by Benjamin -- need a sidewalk? tough, suck it up -- reflected in local public policy decisions.
Read on for the comment conversation. I highlighted some pertinent liberal views in green, and some of Benjamin's conservative views in red.
Daniel Benjamin Probably shouldn't use it when on foot...or in this case... electric wheelchair.... I can't imagine what's so important that one would risk their life in that manner.
Mary Ann Baclawski This is the only way some people can get to the store for groceries and other necessities.
Daniel Benjamin That is the only street and route to the grocery store?
Susann Kaltwasser No sidewalks anywhere in that area. There is a bus stop at Commercial. So if you want to get anywhere you must walk or ride in the street until you get to Commercial. Know you city...
(Or even better, spend a day in a wheelchair to understand how difficult it is to get around to meet one's basic needs).
From my brief look, it appears as if people can either:
(a) travel on Madrona and Commerical, busy streets with sidewalks but lots of cars turning across them, or
(b) travel on virtually any other road, without sidewalks. And to access option (a), people have to do (b) anyways.
We have a complete network for people who drive. We have very incomplete network for the 30% of Salemites who cannot.
Daniel Benjamin Good thing the last budget Community add more money to sidewalks Construction and repair.
Jennifer Hillman-Magnuson Now imagine you don't have a car, and you are not physically able. Some people have to risk their lives for mundane things like going to the store for food.
Chelsea Safe-Dogs Edwards It is at least 3 miles of no sidewalk and no bus routes before I can get to a bus stop or sidewalk to take me to a grocery store, pharmacy or other necessity.
I am disabled and often cannot walk at all, let alone 3+ miles in terribly unsafe conditions (River Rd S is a super fast thoroughfare) to meet just the basic needs of existing, like food and medicine, let alone doctor visits or quality of life.
In a Capital city this is primitive, archaic and a gross misuse of funds (we certainly do not need another mall or bridge before safe walkways and transportation routes).
Daniel Benjamin Alright I'm not trying to be mean here.... if your environment is so inhospitable perhaps you should change your environment... I agree more sidewalks are definitely needed as well as bus service.... however your needs aren't the only ones that need to be met and regards the sidewalks...
Thank you so much for your wise observations, I will take note and apply that nonsense at first opportunity.
The oversimplification of the struggles within our society is void of compassion, observation and reality. The strategies you employ my internet stranger-friend are a failed attempt at distracting from the reality that the City of Salem and the County of Marion have not done their jobs in providing for all of it's citizens, even the most basic of needs, as this photo presents a compelling case for.
I am finished engaging you, for there is no benefit to what you have to offer, it is only masked xenophobia and hate, neither of which do I choose to feed. Good day to you. May it be blessed with diversity and sidewalks.
Funny how folks say the government needs to spend more wisely so their particular need or cause can get more funding...and you point out the government budget...then they get quite.
I want better streets so I can drive my car with safety and assurance... but somehow now I'm supposed to sacrifice my safety and assurance so other people can have sidewalks... I propose we have a sidewalk tax... that way you can increase the amount of sidewalks that are installed and maintained...any takers?