Sunday, January 22, 2006

A Revolutionary in Tory Town

Last summer Ed Feldman submitted this piece for publication in the Chestnut Hill Local. It achieved that goal, but since then has wandered around from place to place until it landed in our in-box a few days ago. It is a timely reminder that change is messy; that disrupting the self-satisfied lives of the powers that be can bring complaint; that the changes needed for the Chestnut Hill Community Association have been simmering for some time now.

It isn't a pretty time in Chestnut Hill. But, to lean on an old cliche, "We're mad as hell and we're not going to take it any more."

And now, an Ed Feldman reprise:

I got angry. After 10 years in the land of quiet desperation. After 10 years in the land of enforced tastefulness. After 10 years of well-practiced caring smiles. Of “We need people like you on the board” and “You’re a breath of fresh air.” I should have been tipped off by the phrase “people like you.” It is an accepted fact of British Colonial rule that, in order to carry out the cruelest of dictates, an even, dispassionate manner of speech is necessary. And order must be maintained. By the few. In an orderly fashion. This is the way it operates up here in Tory Town. Because in the middle of the city that created the idea of revolution and modern democracy, a fiefdom has flourished. A group of people so obsessed with their own power, yet so secure in it, protected by a combination of inbreeding and Roberts Rules of Order, that Tom Delay is envious.

The mechanism is perfect. The people who crave control get it, and the rest of us wait and get informed of their actions by their newspaper. And it was through the reportage of this journal that I came to my anger, my epiphany. Three weeks ago on page one was a small fact that triggered my outrage and a subsequent outburst at the July Chestnut Hill Community Association board meeting. The CHCA is a corporation! I must be the second dumbest Ivy-Leaguer in the country. Of course, why else would they call it a board? This explains everything. It’s the Big Bank Theory of Chestnut Hill governance. That’s why the meetings are run like corporate meetings, instead of like town meetings, that quintessential Democratic American institution. And that’s why new business is always at the end of those meetings when everyone is tired and wants to go home. The better to stifle dissent — or new ideas. That’s why the board is bent on acquiring and controlling real estate.

That’s why McDonald’s is here. That’s why the biggest obstacle to Chestnut Hill’s growth, the Bowman Properties real estate empire, remains unchallenged and unaddressed.

McDonald’s is a corporation. And Bowman Properties is a corporation. And those kind of people respect one another. And accommodate one another. And the less powerful corporate entities fear and defer to the larger ones. So if the money promised to the Hill by the Golden Arches through Maurice McCarthy was never given (I asked about it at every meeting while I was a board member), don’t be pushy, they’re a corporation! But if some poor schmuck wants to put the “wrong colors” on his store, send an emissary down immediately.

When I quit the board because watching the process was causing the synapses devoted to democracy in my brain to atrophy (and causing me to fall asleep), I thought I could, like so many others of you, relax. Safe in the knowledge that, with all the largest properties already given to chain stores offering crap made by indentured workers and sold by non-union labor without the slightest community protest, what else could our community corporation effect of consequence. And the answer is - the Water Tower Recreation Center. Of course! It’s the largest property they can own!

And let there be no mistake, the board will own it. They will decide how to run it, they will decide how many interlocking members (another corporate control strategy) and committees will be needed before any program, activity, play, sport or color combination can be implemented, or even planned.

Now I know the democratic counter to this rant: “If we [he] want[s] to change things, we [he] should run for the board.” Allow me to reverse that. What kind of person wants to give up any night to make changes to a neighborhood so clean, so landscaped, so well serviced, and so wealthy, that any caring person would turn their efforts elsewhere, where blight, poverty and desperation cry out for help? Someone so obsessed with their own “personal environment” that they can’t stop touching it, fussing with it, adjusting it, controlling it. The ritual behavior witnessed by psychiatrists through one-way mirrors has its community “govern-mental” version on display the last Thursday of every month.

The real answer is to remake CHCA meetings into freewheeling town meetings, where anyone can say what they want, in the best tradition of America. If the residents of the best-behaved neighborhood in America can’t be trusted with freedom of speech, who can? But that won’t happen. They won’t let it. Control abhors freedom as the atmosphere does a vacuum. So while the board does its best to turn our neighborhood into the first municipally located gated community, complete with 30 banks and a rec center run by Politburo, I’ll be ruining their meetings. Hope to see ya there. You’ll recognize me; I’ll be the one having fun with government.

Ed Feldman
Ed is a former CHCA board member. He is a resident of Chestnut Hill.


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