Friday, January 14, 2011

Recovering optimism

Beginning in the mid-1990s, I volunteered to write a monthly "Community Viewpoint" column for the Amador Ledger Dispatch. I tried to write columns that were interesting, well-reasoned and thought-provoking, even as they expressed a clear point of view.

Since my photo was published with the columns, people would sometimes come up to me in the grocery store and say things like, "I don't always agree with you, but your column made me think." That was pretty satisfying. It kept me writing.

About a month ago, someone actually recognized me in a restaurant based on his memory of those old columns. That pleased me for a couple of reasons. It meant that something I had done was memorable, at least to someone. And maybe it also meant that all these years later, I don't look that much older (highly doubtful).

Of course, there were people who hated what I wrote, too. I often thought it was more about what they thought I represented or who they thought I was than the actual column content. Sometimes that was borne out in their comments, and I'd wonder "Did you actually read the words?"

After more than five years, I stopped writing the columns. I was super busy. And I was so upset by local politics that every time I sat down to write, I found myself producing columns that were more along the lines of angry diatribe than thought-provoking pieces that included at least some solutions and options. I was finding it difficult to say anything positive or hopeful. So I stopped.

That's where I've been lately, too. I have been so disheartened by the actions of some local politicians, the newspaper, certain "journalists," and some people in the community that I've found it really hard to write much that wasn't just an angry or cynical rant. When there's so much hate and vitriol floating around, it's hard not to be poisoned by it. At times, I've even found myself wondering, "Is it worth living in a community where people don't want to work together, where elected officials seem to be motivated by hate and anger, not a positive vision?" So that's one reason I haven't been posting very much in this space.

But lately, I have started to regain a little of my hope. I represent the Foothill Conservancy in a collaboration called the Amador-Calaveras Consensus Group. It includes federal, state and local agencies; nonprofit conservation and community groups; folks from the MiWuk community; forest-based business owners; and interested individuals. They're dedicated to reducing fire risk in the area while restoring landscapes, putting people to work, creating new jobs and businesses, and creating sustainable economic activity.

The group received an award from the US Forest Service Regional Forester late last year. Recently, it has been working to secure more funding that could lay the groundwork for self-sustaining private efforts later. When crunch time comes, the people in this group really work hard to get things done.

The other day, I watched an online video of a remarkable woman, Marjora Carter. In it, she talks of locally based, grassroots economic development as providing "hometown security." She said, "We are the key to our own recovery," in describing the many efforts underway to build small, sustainable local businesses in cities and rural areas alike. It's a perfect fit with the ACCG's work.

And last night, I was over in West Point, where the amazing Blue Mountain Coalition for Youth and Families has created a vibrant, active going youth center in a very economically depressed place. I can't wait to see their new literary journal.

It's easy to get buried in the things that are wrong in Amador County. But in 2011, I'm going to do my best to spend more time focusing on positive efforts like those of the ACCG and others who are truly working to do good things for people, the community, and the environment. Today, at least, I'm feeling a little more optimistic.