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My husband is running for mayor. People keep asking me how it’s going. And I keep wondering if they really want to hear the answer.
The fact is, it’s going. In every single direction, every single day, and most evenings. And it isn’t easy.
Some Background Information
From the mouth of a mostly uninformed average resident, me, I give you what I knew of small town politics before I invited any of this into my living room.
Clemmons is a village of about 20,000 residents. It has a mayor and five council members who meet twice a month to make governmental decisions about super important small town stuff: management of leaf and limb pick up, recycling, street lights and road upkeep, where to put the new library, the putting up and taking down Christmas lights and American flags during holiday seasons, cutting ribbons for new businesses, setting and balancing the budget every year.
I don’t actually think we even have any parades.
This year, an off year in terms of elections, the mayor seat is open, and three council members are up for re-election. One of these council members has been serving for the last 26 or so years, and if I’m honest with you, up until this year, I didn’t know a damn thing about who she is or what she’s done.
Also, I didn’t vote in 2015, the last time one of these small town elections took place.
In fact, only 1500 out of 20,000 people did vote. And that is the reality of small town politics.
A whole bunch of decisions are being made on a biweekly basis, and the majority of the citizens are taking for granted that the people in charge of these decisions are actually doing what is best for the good of the whole.
This is where you and I get to be surprised that small town politics is not the innocent well-oiled machine we all naively assume it is.
The Current Issue
Certainly, it is not the only issue, but the primary concern of this year’s election has to do with a plan to build a median down the middle of the main road in our town. The reason? Some say safety. Others say efficiency.
What’s not being said: “Whatever, we don’t have to pay for it. At least it is something.”
In September of last year, our council approved a plan to go ahead and slap down a median, which would be built in 2025, and more than partially funded by NCDOT.
I don’t know how many average residents knew this plan existed. I certainly didn’t.
Until several small businesses along that main road started making it public. Because they are against it. Because a median would likely kill their business.
As knowledge of the plan became more widespread, several citizens also voiced disagreement, in the form of petitions and a Facebook page that grows by the day, citing that, yes, traffic is indeed a problem, but a median would only make things worse.
Not everyone holds this belief. But several do.
As for where I stand? I don’t want this median. I want something. But I don’t want this median.
It Started with Some Signs
John’s decision to run for mayor was made neither lightly nor quickly.
I had two conditions. One, I wasn’t erasing anything on my social media or my blog. Two, I wouldn’t allow us to pretend to be something we are not in the name of votes, or popularity, or, dare I say it, silence.
John agreed, and got to work. He and the three candidates running for council seats are all opposed to the median.
They, along with an independent political action committee who wants to stop the median, went out one night after dinner, several weeks ago, and spent a number of hours putting their political signs up and down the road in question.
The next morning, I went out to see how it looked.
Every single sign stating “Stop the Median” had been removed before 9am.
It only escalated from there. Several of the new council candidates were noticing their signs being stolen from area businesses and even residential properties.
John had received permission from every business owner before placing signs on their property, but then he noticed his own signs being stolen.
He was able to let this roll off his back a lot easier than me. “I have a lot more signs, I’ll just replace them,” was his casual response.
“Screw that! Those things are $3 a piece and we paid for them! I want them back!” was mine.
I’m nothing if not fiscally conservative.
But here’s the sentiment that is a little harder to convey. Three-dollar-sign-stealing aside, the real blow here was knowledge of the fact that someone doesn’t like us. Someone doesn’t like us enough to go out and do something illegal in order to make that point.
It is a weird feeling, to realize that someone who doesn’t even know my husband could possibly care enough to hate him. Or, at the very least, to send that public message.
It Continued in Writing
So the sign stealing could be seen as small and petty. But things started heating up in a more intellectual realm as well.
Because in addition to some campaign signs and car magnets, my husband, the attorney, the writer, the fact-checker, and the definition of Type-A, created a website.
There, he took to writing about what is not very widely publicized in small town politics. He started explaining more than a few of the decisions that have been made over the last couple years, not just about the median, but about sidewalks, and business growth, and money.
It turns out I’m not the only one in this family who is somewhat good with words.
Things started getting dirty.
Jabs in the local newspaper, for one. Then there is the ongoing and impolite though sometimes full attack-mode Facebook commentary, directed at John and other anti-median candidates.
If you’ve never been a victim of Facebook trolling, you should know that even things said by complete strangers have an almost embarrassing ability to cut very deeply. And, I am positively astounded by the number of people, most of them strangers, who can manage to present themselves as both victim and attacker in the same breath.
Apparently we live in a world where we can no longer agree to disagree. Disagreement equals attack, and everything is suddenly very emotional and very personal.
It also doesn’t feel especially good to be judged by these same strangers with their inexperienced opinions of my husband’s “lack” of experience, or his youth, and the fact that because he was not born in Clemmons, he cannot be trusted.
I very wrongly assumed we had all graduated from middle school.
Surprise kids. You might grow up, but you never fully outrun middle school bullshit.
Perhaps not ironically, smack dab in the middle of all this, my 5th grader comes home with the word “duplicity” on her vocabulary list for the week. Duplicity: deceitfulness in speech or conduct, as by speaking or acting in two different ways to different people concerning the same matter; double-dealing.
The number one thing I announced from the outset that we would personally avoid. And likewise, the as yet undefined standard that I was holding everyone else to. The standard that doesn’t exist anymore.
It turns out I wasn’t supposed to be surprised by this.
Political rhetoric. Double-speak. He said, she said, nobody said, nobody did.
I was surprised by this. I still am. Because like so many of my neighbors, I have been living in relative harmony with my town, and I have been assuming that the friendliness and non-fakery we’ve experienced from most people, is in fact, completely normal.
Since when did we as a society lose the ability to stand up for what we think is right, even if if others disagree?
At this point, median or no median, it isn’t personal, but if you are in favor and you are facing a crowd who is not, have the courage to simply state your position and stand by it. And if you take back your original opinion in light of new information, simply state that you were wrong and are willing to make things right.
But that doesn’t happen anywhere, does it? The actual taking of responsibility for actions. Words. Beliefs.
I’m not claiming to be perfect. Obviously. But one thing even my own kids can all tell you, if I come to believe I’ve done something dumb, or screwed something up, I’m going to admit it and move on. And if I don’t think I’m wrong, I’m going to fight for what I believe is right, OR, not fight. But then I understand I have no right to complain when nothing changes.
The End is in Sight
I’ve been told by more than one experienced person that all of this ugliness will magically disappear come Wednesday morning, the day after the election booths close.
John is confident that no matter what happens, he’s going to move forward next week the same person he is right now.
But I can’t help but have this looming feeling of distrust and that bitter taste of reality mixed with a little disappointment left in the back of my mouth. Disappointment in humanity, maybe. Disappointment in a system that should work and should be civil and should be treated as a privilege, but isn’t any more.
18,500 people in Clemmons couldn’t even be bothered to vote in 2015, and I was one of them. I’m embarrassed to admit that even I can do better.
But a pretty big part of me is still saying, It doesn’t have to be like this.
So. Claire. How is it going?
For a while there, I was tired. My spirit was weary.
The king of our castle, who still holds his full time job by the way, and has managed to eek out my Dadderday despite the number of plates he has been juggling through all of this, is working overtime, emotionally holding three times the load he is used to, and carting our children around with him, whenever he can.
My marriage and my family are under a stupid amount of stress that we signed up for, and I think maybe average people are unaware that this is what it is like.
But maybe I’ve come full circle.
Because I’m also hopeful. And I’m encouraged. There is still an even greater number of people who are speaking words of truth, love, support, prayer, and encouragement over me and my family every day.
The town that I know and love is still here. The people who have become family to us have stepped up, again, and again, and again. And, despite my weariness of the election, I really do have full faith that no matter what happens on Tuesday, we’re going to wake up on Wednesday the same people we are today.
By that I mean, exactly as awesome as we always have been.