You know who you are. If I’m talking to you, you know how I feel. I know how you feel. This is like a mini version of the week after Donald Trump got elected. Oh, Canada! And then, “Oh, no! I don’t have a job in Canada.”
So let’s take care of some business first. All those of us who wanted to see Scott Griggs elected mayor last Saturday and who hoped to see Philip Kingston reelected to the City Council, those of us who were hoping for the great green dawn of the new Dallas, we need to take off our helmets, tip our spears toward the victors and say, “Good fight.” They won. They won big.
The outcomes of the mayoral election and the council election in District 14 in East Dallas, taken together, represent a big victory for the old guard in Dallas and a painful drubbing for the new. But when we’re done feeling sorry for ourselves (I’m not done yet, so don’t feel you have to rush), then we need to be serious.
The three most visible progressive leaders in Dallas over the last decade have been Angela Hunt, Griggs and Kingston, all lawyers, all young, now all to be referred to as former City Council members, alas. Let’s pause and think what that means in terms of the long arc of history.
The victor in Saturday’s mayoral election, Eric Johnson, is a good person, very bright and accomplished, also a lawyer, also young. But his principal behind-the-scenes sponsor in the election was Ray Hunt of Hunt Consolidated Inc., an old-school fossil fuel baron. This is still the old Dallas in some important degree, so there are still lots of people in town who think fossil fuels are great, fossil fuel barons are great, materialism and consumerism are great. Let’s pave the oceans with plastic and just be rich.
None of that is where the long arc of history is leading us, and we do need to put ourselves and our city in that larger context. In that longer perspective, the old guard in Dallas may have been on the right side of the vote Saturday, but the three former council members are on the right side of history.
And, hey, I shouldn’t make age-specific cultural references, but I grew up looking at baseball great Mickey Mantle grinning from my box of Wheaties breakfast cereal every morning with a bat in both hands: I actually keep this on my iPhone so it writes itself out automatically if I type “mm (space)”: “Mickey Mantle, home runs: 536. Mickey Mantle, strike-outs, 1,710.” Everybody strikes out. You keep swinging.
Last week VOX Media did a story on an effort in Congress to out the powerful national trade associations in Washington that are leading this country and the world to climate catastrophe. The targets are like names from a box of Wheaties: the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, the Farm Bureau, the National Federation of Independent Businesses and the American Petroleum Institute. All have been targeted as super-rich, super-powerful lobbies working to suppress climate-change knowledge, stave off real remedies and ultimately bring life to an end on the planet. Excuse me for being divisive but … life to an end? That’s not divisive?
The long arc points where it does because it must. The survival and the well-being of the Earth both depend on the kind of profound moral change that’s never going to come from a fossil fuel baron. VOX did another story last week on an initiative by New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to redefine the entire purpose of her nation. Instead of measuring New Zealand’s success in terms of gross national product (consumption), Ardern has released the nation’s first “well-being budget” based on 61 indicators from improving mental health and reducing child poverty to water quality.
The New Zealand well-being initiative poses a question that the rest of the world will have to answer at some point, including our own city. What is all of this for? Why are we here? What are we trying to accomplish? What’s important in this life and in this world?
Monday, Dallas Morning News columnist Sharon Grigsby had a piece in the paper that I tried mightily and unsuccessfully to ignore, under the headline “Eric Johnson’s win in Dallas mayoral race was a referendum on nasty politics.” Certainly this last election had its seamy moments, but no one was seamier or nastier than Grigsby’s own newspaper. They started off the campaign season by trying to paint Griggs as a felon who assaults women, based on an incident at City Hall.
The paper’s editorial page backed off and went silent on the charge only after the Observer published audio recordings of police interviews with witnesses, including the alleged victim, all of whom said they had seen no assault. The Dallas Morning News received the same recordings after we did. They could have published a story based on the exculpatory evidence. They published not one word. That’s nasty. And, again, please excuse me for being divisive by bringing it up.
While we’re on the subject of divisiveness, I can’t resist mentioning something about the grand, new alliance of interests Grigsby thought she saw at Mayor-elect Eric Johnson’s victory party. The alliance she saw was of the more-than-comfortable fossil fuel barons and their minions with old-school African American leaders from the far side of the river. It is exactly the same alliance we’ve always had, the one that made us one of the most segregated, inequitable cities in the nation.
The reason Grigsby’s alliance always fails to bring the city any true well-being and offers only vanity-driven boondoggle projects instead is that well-being isn’t that easy. It isn’t smug, self-satisfied and shallow. The arc doesn’t come from there.
Last week Huff Post did a story on a modern-day miracle in India, a nation whose past has been savagely rent by religious and ethnic factionalism and intolerance. The story was about Sintu Bagui, a trans woman raised in a red-light district in West Bengal by a mother who was a prostitute. I confess when I started reading the story I was interested in finding out how such a person in such a place even survives into adulthood. But she didn’t merely survive. She is now a judge.
These awe-inspiring stories of courage and human dignity don’t come from rich, comfortable places. They come from the tough shadow-lands of human existence where the beauty of the human spirit shines through the gloom. These are exactly the kind of places that Hunt, Griggs and Kingston defended in this city, the same places their victorious opponents cleverly avoided.
This is not going to be a cakewalk for the old guard. There are new faces on the City Council who will represent progressive thinking every bit as well and as vigorously as their predecessors did.
The old guard won Saturday. Big-time. No taking that away from them. But they did not win the city. And they will not win history.
In the meantime, it’s worth taking a moment to show our respect and our gratitude to the three former council members who brought us this far. It wasn’t easy, and you know what? Like most of the history that makes any real difference, it was quite divisive. In fact, I’m looking forward to some more divisiveness. I promise to do my part.
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