Last week I was part of a panel discussion, hosted by the Washtenaw County Sheriff, comprised of local government leaders. Sheriff Jerry Clayton and I took on our current roles at the same time and have, over the years, worked together to address not just public safety but also social justice issues since it is the latter that inspires the work we do in our official capacities. As such, it was no surprise that a majority of the panel discussion revolved around how the Great Pandemic is highlighting the existing socio-economic and racial divisions in our communities.
However, the biggest take-away for me was not just the fact that we all acknowledged this but, rather, the discussion that Sherriff Clayton and I had about the historic opportunity the current pandemic provides us to rectify inequities. It is incumbent upon those of us you have entrusted with working on your behalf, to not just speak up but also to outline a vision for a future that is more equitable and sustainable.
While for many this is a time of inaction because we are quarantined and practicing social distancing, this is also a historic time of action. It is a time when we are finding new ways to conduct our day-to-day work and meet our daily needs, so why not also use it as a time to find non-traditional methods to allocate public resources in a manner that is more equitable and sustainable?
The challenge of answering that question lies in the fact that there is little to no incentive for those in positions of power to do so. It is much easier to use individual access to resources and power to benefit those within your own network. It takes a lot of courage, boldness, vision, and, yes, audacity at the individual level to define new ways of doing things, especially when it goes against the mainstream and established methods of resource allocation.
From my limited perspective, I have maintained that it requires those in power to be willing to lose that power for the sake of advocating for positive change. Whether, at the micro-level, by way of promoting pedestrian-friendly mixed-use destinations within a suburban landscape or, at a macro level, by pushing for federal legislation to designate broadband as a public utility so we may allow for full information access for everyone, regardless of socio-economics or race.
However, for us to use this moment as a rallying call to action to promote positive change, it is essential for our larger community members to support us in taking those bold and courageous steps that go against the mainstream. It requires you, those we serve, to study the issues more in-depth and support us in efforts to institute new measures such as relying on carbon emission studies to make land use decisions that are both equitable and sustainable, not one or the other.
Even though for many it may feel, these days, that there is plenty of time, we are actually way behind in addressing the many environmental and social justice issues that deeply divide our communities and nation in the 21st century. So, as I’ve long advocated for, let’s use this moment to think about what we can rather than what we cannot do to provide for respectful, inclusive, and sustainable equity. I know we will, as we have since 2009, continue striving for the same in Pittsfield Township.
Mandy Grewal, Ph.D.