I'm a proud citizen activist. Like many other progressives in this town, I do my best to -- no big surprise -- bring about progress in Salem.
This takes optimism, positivity, a conviction that people working together can overcome obstacles to change. Every day I have fresh ideas about what needs to be done to make Salem a better place: more livable, vibrant, equitable, environmentally responsible.
Given my buoyant attitude toward citizen activism, it surprises me when I hear someone say, "Brian, you shouldn't be so negative."
And it isn't just me. My colleagues in Salem Community Vision sometimes are tarnished with the Don't be so negative brush. Which also doesn't make sense, given how positive they also are about changing Salem for the better.
Here's what I think is going on.
Conservatives don't like change. That's why "conserve" is part of the name of their political philosophy while "progress" is part of the name of my political philosophy. So conservatives often view opposition to keeping things the same as negativity.
For example, I and many others oppose the unneeded, unwanted, and unpaid-for Salem River Crossing, a.k.a. the Third Bridge. With good reason we call it the Billion Dollar Boondoggle. Sure, this sounds negative. But our motivation actually is positive.
We want Salem to have a strong downtown. We want taxpayer money to be spent wisely on Salem projects. We want people to be able to bike and walk all over town on safe multi-use paths. We want Salem to do its part to reduce greenhouse gas emissions so global warming doesn't threaten human civilization.
Stopping the Third Bridge, a continuation of Salem's excessive bowing at the altar of hydraulic autoism, will help a lot to achieve these positive goals.
Likewise, I've opposed both the first-try and second-try police facility bond measures because I and others believe that Salem can do better than either the old $82 million plan voters rejected last November or the current $62 million plan on the May 2017 ballot.
If you see somebody headed in the wrong direction, it isn't negative to tell them "This is a better way to go." Yet for some reason conservatives like to accuse progressives like me of being negative when all we're doing is urging Salem to take a better path.
Citizen activism necessarily is a blend of preventing bad things from happening while encouraging good things to happen. Of course, reasonable people are going to disagree on what constitutes "bad" and "good." This is the nature of politics: one side views a proposal as marvelous, another side views it as horrible.
I've rarely, if ever, heard a progressive complain about conservatives being too negative.
What we don't like are conservative policies, not conservative negativity. We progressives recognize that there are two sides to every political question. Just because people disagree doesn't mean one side is negative and the other is positive. As noted above, every "Stop!" implies a concomitant "Go!"
Stopping what you believe shouldn't happen opens the door to what you believe should happen.
So let's stop saying to citizen activists, "Don't be so negative."
I've never met a negative citizen activist. Every person I know in Salem who is working for change -- whether progressive or conservative -- has a positive vision in mind of what this town can become.
Just because someone disagrees with your vision doesn't mean they are negative, since they're positive about their vision. Positive and negative are like yin and yang, complementary qualities that blend into each other, not diametric opposites.