Editor’s Note: Barack Obama was inaugurated as President of the United States, elected on a platform of change, on Jan. 20, 2009. He took the oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution as the country confronted its gravest set of circumstances in at least a generation.
A year into the Obama presidency, the Gazette invited leaders in their fields to write about the changes still needed, nationally as well as locally.
In his spine-tingling speech to the Democratic National Convention in 2004 and later as presidential candidate in 2008, Barack Obama articulated what has always been my core belief: that we are all in it together. “There are no blue states or red states,” he said. “Just the United States of America.” He promised an end to partisanship at home and to unilateralism abroad.
That promise hasn’t been kept. And although I don’t entirely blame Obama, who has met intransigent resistance to his every attempt at bipartisanship in Washington, and clenched fists in response to his open hand abroad, I do believe that the change we need will remain beyond reach until we accept that the age of the ornery, individualistic, Darwinistic America is over. For like it or not, we are in it together. On this beautiful, Balkanized little Island, in these could-be-a-lot-more United States, and on this shrinking, warming, increasingly crowded and war-ravaged planet. We are in it, alas, even with those who do not believe in “we” — those whose arid, death-seeking extremism barely has room for “I” — whose radius of humanity has narrowed so much that they can extinguish themselves along with their countless innocent victims. We are in it, too, with those who can vote against universal health care and decent spending on public schools because their notion of “we” is so exclusive it cannot encompass those with different skin, accent or income.
But let’s start right here, with that small “we” that is the year-round, voting population of the Vineyard. How can it be sensible for us not to have a common program for waste disposal and recycling? It’s wonderful that we have five towns with five separate characters, but surely we can come together on basics like trash handling. How confounding it is for our seasonal renters to learn that the cardboard that was willingly picked up in the town they stayed in last summer will be left to litter the sidewalk outside this year’s rental. Other islands such as Nantucket and Lord Howe have long enjoyed the carbon-saving benefits of an islandwide composting facility while we continue to expend massive amounts of fuel trucking and shipping this potentially valuable resource off Island to be incinerated, and bringing back expensive plastic bags full of commercial compost to fertilize our gardens and farms. Why should our every horizon be industrialized by a ra ndom scatter of private, untested windmills, thrown up by well-meaning but perhaps less well informed homeowners, when an Islandwide wind energy policy could lead to the selection of the most efficient site to place a cluster of windmills from which the whole Island might benefit.
Geraldine Brooks, a journalist and author, lives in Vineyard Haven year-round. Her last book was People of the Book.