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.
I think it's way simpler than this. If you always write to oppose things, you sound negative, even if you aren't. The solution to this problem, if it is a problem, is to find one good thing to write about for every oppositional piece you write. Try it? Christine
Posted by: Christine Chute | April 17, 2017 at 08:07 AM
Great post! Thanks Brian. I'd like to add that few people in Salem understand the events that brought us to the present moment of our civic history in which the tide has turned from the conservative to the progressive direction. We had a progressive City government led by Mike Swaim that was ousted by the Salem Area Chamber of Commerce and its developer and realtor allies (read the article about political donations by Larry Tokarski in the last Salem Weekly if you want an eye-opener on this). That happened about 15 years ago. We have had a conservative City government ever since that has seen their main job as pandering to special interests. That began to change with the election of Tom Andersen in 2014 and the formation of Progressive Salem in 2015. Four more progressives have been elected since then, thanks to Progressive Salem, to make a new progressive majority. So having had to say 'no' to bad policy for 15 years, I hope that soon we can say 'yes' to lot of good policy coming from our new City Council majority.
Posted by: Jim Scheppke | April 17, 2017 at 10:06 AM
A few things that occur to me after reading this entry and comments. Speaking from a long-time, former-Democrat perspective I need to counter the mis-statement that all conservatives don't like change. It is such a dishonest entry point to any argument by progressives. "Progress" is a subjective concept and progress simply for the sake of change should be recognized for what it is by informed citizens - an underhanded attempt to replace the status quo because that status quo is fundamentally hated by progressives. So you all pick up a chisel with your battle cry of progress and proceed to hit conservatives on the head with it. You really shouldn't be surprised when you are accused of being "negative". (And for the record I do not identify as a conservative.)
Personally I hope you continue your vocal "negativity" as that screams who you are just as loudly as a MAGA red cap. I always know just who NOT to vote for.
Posted by: F.J. Theurkauf | May 04, 2017 at 02:09 PM