Here in Massachusetts, come election day we’re going to vote on Question 1, a ballot initiative that proposes to eliminate the state income tax. Opponents include everyone from business people like the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce (“it’s irresponsible”) and union leaders, cops and hippies, the Republican leaders in the Massachusetts House and Senate (“it goes too far”) and Democratic lawmakers. Even so, it could pass. The same ballot initiative appeared in 2002, and got 45% of the vote.
Tonight, I went to a meeting here in New Bedford to begin to organize against Question 1. It was a real mix of people: people of all skin colors from dark brown to pale white like me; people of all ages from self-professed elders to teenagers; people dressed in everything from suits to baggy hiphop pants. I said hi to the people I know, and then the speakers started up. Nurses, cops, teachers, the county DA, people in the non-profit world, human services people, all spoke at this meeting, telling us to vote against Question 1. Some of them spoke well, but basically all they were all preaching to the choir.
Then a firefighter stood up. “I’ve lived in New Bedford for 55 years,” he said. He spoke briefly about why Question 1 would be bad for the fire department. Then he went off in a different vein. “Over the years, in my house up at —— St. — it’s a matter of public record where I live, you can look it up because I’m registered to vote [laughter] — over the years, I’ve put up lawn signs every once in a while. But not much, not often. Then a couple of years ago, I put up a lawn sign in front of my house for my friend Scott Lang, when he was running for mayor. And people, neighbors, they came up to me — are you really going to vote for Scott Lang? — I’d be out in front of my house — tell me why you’re going to vote for him? All these people asking me. And you can do the same thing. The people in this room tonight, you’re the kind of people who are out there picking up trash, being good neighbors, shoveling snow off the sidewalk so the elderly woman down the street can walk — you’re the kind of people who your neighbors respect. When you put a lawn sign outside your house, people are going to pay attention to it.” Then he pointed out the lawn signs at the back of the room, and he was done.
I was standing next to Jose. We turned and looked at each other. “He was good,” said Jose. “Yeah,” I said. Then it was pretty much over. People began to drift out. Lots of people picked up lawn signs; those of us who are apartment dwellers got smaller signs we can put in windows. As I picked up my sign for our front window (“Protect Education. Vote No on Question 1. It’s a reckless idea.”) and headed back home to eat a late dinner, I decided the firefighter was right — the people at that meeting are the kind of people who shovel sidewalks and pick up trash and understand that tax money goes towards helping other people — in short, they’re good neighbors, the kind of people you want to live next door to.