The TASC List: A noisy road show
The continuing dialogue swirling around the Miller-Driscoll renovation project could serve as a laboratory for misuse of language and abuse of communication. In fact, even calling it a dialogue stretches the imagination.
Participants have sometimes indulged in the most reprehensible of insulting and provocative commentary. They have at times distorted the facts, subverted the truth, exaggerated the implications and consequences of future effects, and mocked, misled, belittled, and marginalized.
Letters and columns in the press and social media have crossed the boundaries of courtesy, civility, and good taste to provide an unwelcome, unwashed (as in editing) and unwholesome forum. Perhaps the interplay offered some amusement or misguided interest to a few readers, but it surely offended a much larger group. Many have grown tired of the tedium presented in this theater of cross talk.
One can argue or debate about cost per square foot, escalation of project cost over time, student enrollment numbers, voter turnout, or comparative school district outcomes. But these are simply numbers. They are merely representations of tangible things, trending factors, demographic differences, or aggregated statistical indicators. They are not the things themselves, but are abstractions and shorthand notations for the real and solid, the human and the physically constructed elements that underlie. And they are subject to how people understand them, evaluate them on a personal basis, or find them likely to justify their own prejudices and predilections.
So what can be said about the fourteen hundred signatures on the two Sensible Wilton petitions? Do they represent positions on the numerical and abstract elements above? Or something else?
Having participated in the collection process and spoken to about 300 signers, there is a single signal to emerge from their efforts. Most wanted Wilton to know they were unhappy with a number of historical developments and decisions that have directly affected their financial condition. This renovation project was simply the latest. They did not believe that they were being heard. Now, through this convenient opportunity, they hoped for change.
They felt that discussions and pronouncements on the project were mostly noisy remnants of sometimes noisier calculations, by often self-serving advocates and interests. The truth was lost in a clutter of exaggeration and pronouncement.
Here’s what’s not noisy. It’s the absolutely factual story of one woman who came to sign a petition on a cold afternoon at Comstock. She said that earlier in the day she was conflicted about venturing out in the weather to reach the petition site. While she was at home on the phone with a friend discussing her decision, a picture suddenly fell from the wall to the floor behind her. It was of her late husband, known throughout Wilton as a staunch advocate for speaking out, and with continued courage in the face of opposition, unafraid to present his opinion when he thought the town was taking the wrong approach. Surprisingly, the picture sustained no damage. Predictably, she proceeded to Comstock.
The fourteen hundred signatures are a coherent signal from across the community. They represent every demographic and every corner of the town. The signers want, more than a debating roadshow, and dueling letters and comments, something different. Something apart from being told by teams of “experts” how important their dollars are to local well-being or future “must haves.” They want a voice in the process before decisions are locked in. They want to be heard, and understood.
TASC stands for Toward A Stronger Community. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.