Archive for January, 2021

I love social media; I hate social media.

I love a good laugh: What weight does one tele-evangelist have with God? One billigram.

I hate when strangers argue in all capital letters in sentences laced with grammatical errors. It’s your opinion, folks, not you’re opinion!

I love pictures of gigantic dogs doing things yip-yip dogs do…like perching atop the back of a sofa.  

I hate photo-shopped images aimed at providing social commentary.  

I love learning about the giant fish a friend caught.

I hate learning about that same friend’s politics. If I’d wanted to talk politics, I would have gone fishing with him.

You get the idea. If you’ve scrolled, you know of what I speak. In truth, I enjoy reading diverse opinions about the events of our days and relish civil, well-reasoned online discussions.

But still, what are we to do with the close friend, family member or business associate who thinks (and posts) so differently than us?

In these most divisive of times, I offer this triumphant story of bipartisanism that has largely been lost in the rhetoric of distrust and anger that has dominated discourse in our communities for the past two months.

On Nov. 3, Georgia voters approved Constitutional Amendment No. 1. 3.8 million people voted yes—that’s 82 percent of Georgians who cast a vote on this issue, or about 1.4 million more votes than either presidential candidate garnered. Despite our stark differences, on this, it seems, we collectively agreed.

Demonstrators put the finishing touches on the “Scrapitol,” a replica of the state capitol made from 500 scrap tires at Liberty Plaza. The event helped raise awareness of the need for Constitutional Amendment #1 which was adopted by voters overwhelmningly

Georgia River Network and others within the Georgia Water Coalition spent years trying to get this amendment on the ballot. It allows legislators to “dedicate” fees when they pass legislation. “Dedication” is important because it means that if legislators pass a bill that collects money from taxpayers for a specific purpose and those fees are “dedicated,” then that money must be used for that purpose. 

The adopted amendment is the first step to ensuring that fees collected for environmental cleanups and clean community programs are actually used for those purposes.

Why did this measure pass so overwhelmingly? First and foremost, everyone agreed on the facts.

There was no debating the fact that since the 1990s when the state started collecting money from citizens to address hazardous waste sites and illegal tire dumps, more than $200 million of the $500 million collected had been diverted for use elsewhere in the state budget. There was little argument that this “bait and switch” funding was unethical and deceived taxpayers. In fact, there wasn’t a single social media meme alledging foreign interference or touting conspiracy theories of any kind.

In this debate, no one spread lies; no one twisted the facts.

The late Chairman Jay Powell (R-Camilla) speaks before the Georgia Water Coalition about the state’s environmental trust funds. Chairman Powell was a long-time advocate of Amendment #1. He died suddenly in December 2019.

When we know and agree upon the facts, reasoned and fair discussion can be had.

Next, we compromised. Those working for this amendment wanted funds for environmental programs to be put in lockbox and used only for those purposes, but budget writers wanted flexibility to move the money around. This conflict—and this conflict alone–stalled this legislation for years.

When we are willing to compromise, progress, small though it may be, is possible. In a diverse state, with competing perspectives, this is how we govern.

Finally, we worked together. Republican legislators introduced the measure with support from the other side of the aisle. A coalition of interests—both left and right leaning—lobbied heavily for it passage.

When we work together, meaningful change is possible.

But the thrill of the overwhelming support for this amendment was tempered by the divisiveness and disinformation that flowed in the wake of Joe Biden’s razor-thin victory in Georgia.

As I scrolled through my Facebook feed, I saw good friends with whom I have shared many good times, angrily spouting positions diametrically opposed to my own. So many times my anger boiled in response.

My pinky finger hovered over the caps lock button, ready to fire off a pithy missive and then I caught myself. These were the same people who voted for Amendment 1. In fact, they didn’t just vote for it; they put real sweat equity into getting it passed.

When we built the Scrapitol (a replica of the state capital made from 500 scrap tires) on the capitol grounds to raise awareness of the issue, they helped stack the tires. When we rolled a giant tire around the state capital for 24 hours straight, they were there at five in the morning. When we ambushed gubernatorial candidates at campaign events, they were there peppering the candidates with questions about environmental trust funds. When we needed citizens to talk to news media about the issue, they boldy spoke the truth.

Megan Desrosiers of One Hundred Miles and Georgia River Network Paddle Georgia veteran Stan Sewell roll a tire around the Georgia State Capitol in the wee hours of the morning in a stunt that brought attention to the diversion of money from the state’s hazardous waste and solid waste trust funds. A couple dozen volunteers rolled the tire around the capitol for 24 hours.

Without their advocacy, Amendment No. 1 would still be on the capital cutting room floor.

Every time my pinky finger hovers over the caps lock button, I remember this: though we may disagree strongly and often on some issues, on others we find common ground. Burning bridges prevents everyone from crossing the river. Despite our differences, we still have more in common than not. We must learn to live together in community—be it digital or face to face—acknowledging that we need both sides of the political divide to accomplish anything lasting.  

Thus, when we can agree on the facts (and this becomes increasingly difficult with the conspiracy theories and misinformation prevalent in the digital world), when we are willing to compromise and when we work together, we can, in fact, create positive change.

In the midst of our national turmoil, the success of Amendment No. 1 is a beacon of hope. It beat both Biden and Trump by 1.4 million votes.

Remember this, and put that pinky finger at rest. We are in this together. ALL CAPS are not necessary.

Joe Cook

Paddle Georgia Coordinator

Jan. 15, 2021

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