It was some time back in the late 80's or early 90's when I found myself working with a friend at the home of an elderly lady - one of his regular yard work customers. My friend and I were both self-employed at the time, and would occasionally request the other's services when an especially big or complicated job would present itself.
At some point on this particular day, the lady of the house came up to me and said, "I know who you are. You're one of those troublemakers!"
The woman's comment certainly took me somewhat by surprise, especially since I'm not ordinarily considered by others in the community as being one who causes trouble. At the time, I was raising a child by myself and was working for a living instead of going on welfare. Furthermore, my own residential customers considered me to be impeccably honest and would regularly give me access to their houses and refrigerators when they were not at home. Still, I knew the source of the lady's misconceptions about me; it was the Northwest Arkansas Times, which at the time, had been running news stories and editorials that described various activists (myself included) as "aginers" and extremists.
Yes, I was labeled extreme by both the city administration and the editorial board of the local newspaper. I was on the outer fringes because one day, while sitting on my front porch reading The Scarlet Letter, a vehicle went by spraying a foul chemical as it went down the the street; this, without regard to my or anyone else's health or the small mimosa tree that I had been nurturing just a few feet from my front yard. I clearly remember having to evacuate my front porch and retreating to the back yard as each breath I took made me progressively more nauseous. When I set out with a group of people to put a stop to this reckless spraying that the city was engaged in, I became an extremist. When I became politically active and started talking about the relationship between unbridled growth and potential increases in the crime rate as well as the need for the city to adopt sustainable policies, my reputation as a troublemaker was solidified.
Those were the good old days alright! It was a time during which deeply caring about one's environment and community could get you labeled as an extremist - a person that any self-respecting member of the community ought to stay clear of - whose opinions they should never listen to.
Quite frankly, I thought that those days were long past. I had hoped that our local newspaper had long ago moved beyond the character-denigrating assaults of the old days. Then, an editorial appeared in the November 16 issue of the Times that was entitled "In the balance Coody is Fayetteville's best choice. The editorial not surprisingly, endorses Mayor Dan Coody's bid for a third term as Fayetteville's highest elected official. It's not the paper's endorsement of Mr. Coody that bothers me as much as the way in which the editorial board described those supporting Mayor Dan's opponent, Lioneld Jordan.
The Northwest Arkansas Times put it this way: "Many of Jordan's core backers are former Coody supporters upset that Coody hasn't been the extreme liberal leader they wanted."
After reading that statement I came to the realization that there must be some comprising that newspaper's editorial board who still do not get it. If these people actually spent time getting to know area activists and listening to them instead of denigrating their character, they might have learned that the disconnect from Mayor Coody has nothing to do with his compromises or not being extreme enough. Rather, it has everything to do with the way in which he uses people and their issues, only later to throw them away like an old shoe, or to violate agreements with them when it's convenient. A perfect case in point occurred several years ago when Mayor Coody, after the Chamber of Commerce and the environmental community each compromised to support the recommendations made by the Mayor's Task Force on Wilson Springs, and after the recommendations were adopted by the City Council, decided to sell those wetlands to a developer behind every one's back. Talk about a slap in the face!
The Times editorial went on to say, "Most residents, however, want and need elected representatives - especially mayors - who take the people's vote on election day as permission to advance the causes they campaigned on. They have their own lives and want government that is accessible when they want to talk, but don't want to battle the city's fringe forces for control. With Jordan in office, the extreme will have a far, far more active role in dictating Fayetteville's direction."
Now, we're not only extremists, but we've become the fringe forces as well! Does the author of this article actually believe that we so-called extremists don't have jobs and other responsibilities to take care of as other people do? We show up and participate because we care enough to do so. This is a right that every citizen of Fayetteville can and ought to exercise. Perhaps the writer of this editorial should consider the mess that our country has gotten into within just eight years. How did this happen? Perhaps it's because "we the people" trusted the politicians in Washington, D.C. along with what is now considered by many to be a criminal regime to run rampant over our Constitution, the environment and the sovereignty of other nations. The Bush Administration and their corporate cronies did just as the Times editorial suggests; they took "the people's vote on election day as permission to advance the causes they campaigned on."
Of course, they didn't really campaign on many of these issues. Instead, they fed "we the people" lie after lie while they ran our country, its constitution, and its stated principals right into the ground. Far too many non extremists trusted the government, and they got hell in return. So too, should the Northwest Arkansas Times editorial board keep in mind the words of another who was called an extremist during his time. I am referring to Thomas Jefferson, one of the founders of our country, who once said that "the price of liberty is eternal vigilance."
It is a sad day in Fayetteville, now that our local newspaper has once again, lowered itself to devaluing the character and opinions of certain members of the community due to their political opinions. It's a sad day when one picks up the paper to once again see him/herself labeled as an extremist in the very newspaper that he or she buys or subscribes to.
The pontificating author of the above-mentioned editorial might do well to consider that it has always been the so-called "extremists" that have moved our country forward. During various times in our history it was the abolitionists of the nineteenth century who fought against slavery and later, the women who worked with determination in order to win the right to vote that were called and treated as extremists. More recently, it was Martin Luther King, who marched for the rights of his people and for world-wide justice that was considered to be extremist. He paid the ultimate price for being a part of the so-called fringe. Yet, because of the efforts of people such as these, many women and African Americans were able to cast their ballots two weeks ago in order to elect our first African-American president.
On election night, as I listened to Barak Obama's acceptance speech, I gazed upon the countless happy faces - faces of all colors bursting with pride in their country and fellow Americans. These were celebrating an historic event - a turning point in our history. I say thank God for the extremists! Where would we be without them?