Why should Asheville’s leaders copy so many other leaders across the nation in following the worst examples? We want to keep Asheville weird, and what could be weirder than a city council meeting spontaneously breaking into song and dance with media-prescribed enemies holding hands in magical world of love and happiness? It could go viral and start a trend. Getting the whole room to sing and shake hands to the Oak Ridge Boys’ “Touch a Hand, Make a Friend,” or Diana Ross’ “Reach out and Touch,” could have worked. Or maybe somebody could have pulled up the YouTube and shared the highly-recommended “Eating Twinkies with God.” The possibilities for sharing a message of love that transcends all colors, genders, and political parties are endless. But nobody went there.
It’s easy to sit here as the perceived oppressor, all white-skinned and conservative, and tell everybody else, like children, to be good. It is another to replicate that great moment in Asheville history when master planner David Dixon was confronted by members of the local black community who rose up and told him they were sick and tired of urban renewal paving over their neighborhoods. Dixon was totally blind-sided, but he felt the gravity of the situation and made a midcourse correction. Similarly, when personally attacked at Tuesday’s meeting, instead of punching back, Councilor Julie Mayfield admirably turned the other cheek – not for another punch, but for another chance to listen.
Now, this article could have been written properly, covering commentary and decisions in the awful he-said-she-said fashion; but that would not have been wise. People were hurt, and when people hurt, they often say things that are hurtful to others, and so on, and so on. Repeating the commentary without caveat ran the risk of reducing yours truly to a tool for another iteration of the hate cycle. And nobody enjoys being played.
There was ample room to go on the defensive with “I told you so’s,” restatement of principles, and haymaking; but rubbing salt in open wounds solves nothing. So, ignoring any damaged facts and logic; this article is going to take the humane route of printing some words that were said and encouraging the reader to ask why brothers and sisters with the same Heavenly Father feel compelled to frame issues in terms of us-versus-them.
The First Conflict –
Members of city council had decided to disburse $158,000 from the public treasury this coming year, in a competitive process to local nonprofits. Then, council decided to increase the amount to $200,000 while rolling some programs into permanent line items elsewhere in the city budget. Still, the needs were great. One person complaining about the dilemma, Nicole Hinebaugh, described council’s help as “throwing drops of water at a huge ocean of issues.”
Another speaker, Nicole Townsend, explained the difficulty. “I come from a people who never learned how to cross t’s or dot i’s because they were too busy running from crossed t’s that burned. I am angry. I am hurt, and I can no longer sit back and play the role of respectable Negro. While I am not ignorant to the fact that the city funds initiatives that are led by community members with the goal to enhance the black community in Asheville, I am taken aback by what seems to be a lack of real support.
“I would love nothing more than for the proposed $1 million [Asheville Police Department] budget increase to be funding the black community, but I know that money alone cannot fix our problems. The City of Asheville must prioritize the lives and well-being of black folks [who] have suffered under the hand of urban renewal and gentrification. We asked during the Civil Rights movement, we asked with the Black Panthers, and we’ve been asking every single day since the slaughtering of Jerry Williams.
“We need those in positions of power to be educating themselves with mandates such as Black Lives Matter, which states: We need a restorative justice system that allows for collective, loving, and courageous work to take place for the freedom and justice of black people and, by extension, all people. This is done by intentionally building nurturing communities that have bonded together through beautiful struggle that is restorative, not depleting.
“We need to be committed to embracing and making space for our trans brothers and sisters to participate and lead while dismantling cisgendered privilege. We must commit to building and affirming black spaces for black women that [are] free from sexism, misogyny, and male-centeredness. We must disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure required in order to support one another and extend families and villages that collectively care for one another; especially our children.
“Caring for our children is bigger than APD giving them ice cream and playing basketball games with them. We must be committed. We must be committed to make spaces family-friendly and dismantle the patriarchal practice that requires mothers to work double-shifts to participate in justice work. And last, but certainly not least, we must stop pretending that Asheville is a Southern Utopia, for it is here that black and brown bodies are pushed out of their homes to make room for overpriced rentals, highways, restaurants, and breweries.
“It is here that our police are harassing and intimidating people. It is here that black joy can only be found in small pockets that are [indecipherable] communities that will soon see sick and disgusting results of white supremacy, white privilege, and capitalism. If you, City Council, don’t do something, existing while black in Asheville will be a contradiction, because we are leaving.”
Councilor Keith Young offered words of consolation. He assured those offended that they had friends on council who were mindful of their challenges and what they were trying to do; and that all members have good hearts whether they come across that way or not. To make up for comments one speaker, Libby Kyles, perceived as a personal slight, he offered a genuine personal compliment for her dedication and hard work.
The Second Conflict –
Mayor Esther Manheimer explained why council was not to blame. “I do think it’s important for people to understand that there is a strategy, from the top down, to force the cuts on nonprofits from the federal and state level, to push these decisions and funding burdens onto local government. That is not an accident.” After talking about Mountain Housing Opportunities’ predicament specifically, she continued, “It forces us to have this discussion about who’s better and what’s better to fund, which is the intention. The intention is to create tension so that you’re disappointed with these funding decisions. I think ultimately if the whole plan works, you’re supposed to vote in all those Republicans.”
Councilor Cecil Bothwell then expanded. “It’s very specifically the intent of the federal government under its current rulership and Raleigh government under their majority to force as many costs onto the cities as possible to force us to choose to either cut services or raise taxes. And then ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council), which funds Republican campaigns all over the country, is starting to fund city campaigns, and they will bring candidates in to accuse us of either cutting services or raising taxes in order to take over city governments. It’s a very specific goal they have in mind.”
The partisan conflict was also part of the conversation about the results of a survey gauging interest in a municipal referendum on district elections. Manheimer said she had just spoken with Senator Chuck Edwards. His threatened bill to force district elections had been introduced the day before, but it was certain to change in any of many ways moving through the legislature. Manheimer said she had been working with City Attorney Robin Currin to anticipate and prepare for changes. In the end, council agreed to charge Currin and City Manager Gary Jackson with developing a request for proposals for an independent commission to help draft the ordinance that would be adopted or rejected via referendum.
While on the subject of the general assembly, Manheimer said Representative Chuck McGrady had introduced two bills pertaining to water and sewer districts. The first, rather innocuous, was merely housekeeping for the management of the Cane Creek Sewage System. A second bill, imposing Sullivan-like restrictions on water system revenues statewide, would not have changed much in Asheville; but McGrady decided to file a placeholder bill instead.
A friend once told the story of a rocking horse. He and his siblings all fell off their first time. One brother stayed on the ground and cried, the other kicked the horse, and the narrator, of course, got back on. Rejection, especially, by Asheville City Council, is not the end of the world. Motivational speaker Jay Shetty told of the different ways a potato, eggs, and coffee beans respond to boiling and said, “In life, things happen around us. Things happen to us. But what truly matters is what happens within us. Which one are you?”