What Ballot Measures Taught Me About My Town
Like many millennials, my partner and I entered adulthood with crippling student debt and the inability to find jobs despite our college degrees. Instead, we both worked multiple low-wage jobs merely to be living paycheck-to-paycheck. At 26, he finally landed a job in his field as an engineer. I had moved to Florida after college, but this job happened to be in my home state of Massachusetts, so my now-husband and I made the decision to move in with my parents in attempts to get a grip on our student loans and be able to afford to purchase a home.
It was a long three years at my parent’s house, years which I’m sure my parents would be equally unwilling to re-live, but eventually, I also found an okay-paying job, and we had saved our downpayment. Last year we bought a house in a town that is consistently rated as one of the safest towns in the entire county. While we didn’t (and still don’t) have kids, it also had great schools and over a dozen parks. We felt lucky to be able to afford such a great area.
And all-in-all, it is an enjoyable area. I go out for a run almost daily and never feel at-risk, I live right next to a major city with incredible vegan food, and most of the elected representatives are Democrats. We could live with this!
2020 is the first election year that we are residents here. Hillary Clinton won here in 2016, albeit by a smaller margin than the overall state, and I have no reason to doubt Joe Biden’s margin of victory will be even larger. This was important as neither of us wants to live in a pro-Trump area.
However, we have two ballot questions on the town-level that are extremely concerning, causing me to question the progressiveness of where we chose to settle.
The first of the ballot measures is to raise property taxes to build a new police station. I couldn’t believe it when the town meeting approved this measure for the ballot last month. It is 2020, and we are in the middle of dealing with a racial reckoning on police brutality. Was this majority-white town just ignorant, or is it filled with racists?
I believe that we need to completely re-invent policing, starting with greatly reducing their funding, not increasing it! If the measure was to build a new Fire Station — sure, let’s do it! A community center? Yes! Mental Health services? Take my increased property taxes! But police? Now?
I was perplexed. I still don’t know much about this town; half of the time I have been living here has been spent in a pandemic lockdown, which not exactly the time to get-to-know the community. But I didn’t want to believe that we were now stuck in a pool of white supremacy until we could afford to move elsewhere.
Once this measure was approved to be put on the ballot, I started noticing lawn signs for candidates and ballot measures going up across town. The pro-Democrat ones started with our congressional representative, then Biden, and then “Support Our Police.” This had to the minority, right?
To the internet! I started looking at what the people I do know in this town were saying. I also started checking social media groups more often than I typically do. I couldn’t believe what I saw. People I know vote blue were attacking others who said they did not support increased police funding. The comments sections basically said, “OUR POLICE ARE GREAT” over and over. I even saw one fight over the lack of diversity in the police department, where the argument was that we need more diversity, and the counterargument was that there have been three woman officers on the force…in the last fifty years. That’s what these people celebrated as diversity! Three females in fifty years! I have also never seen an officer that isn’t white, and I live within walking distance of the station, so I see a lot of cops. You know that reputation Massachusetts has for being fairly progressive but also very racist? I now believe it.
But all was not lost! There was another ballot question. This one is to increase taxes for the town to buy more public and historic lands to convert to protected areas and build more low-income housing. Good! I’m happy to pay a bit more in property taxes to allow others to enjoy the good schools, plenty of parks, and a sense of safety.
To be fair, the question itself encompasses various project funding; however, the overwhelming majority of complaints I see are coming from the low-income housing part. What does the internet have to say about this one? ‘We can’t afford more property taxes for dog parks!’ ‘Absolutely not!’ ‘There’s no more open space to build housing!’ ‘Yes for the police station, no for this!’
I am white. I haven’t experienced police suspicion by merely existing. I wasn’t questioned about my ability to contribute to the mortgage payment because I only make a fraction of what my husband does. When we were house shopping, neither my husband nor myself bothered to check what percentage of the town was white (it’s over 70%). But 2019 was an eternity away from today. I might very well have voted for a new police station last year. I may have been able to be convinced that we don’t need more housing. But 2020 is a different year. I am awake to the fact that I have expressed unintentionally racist behaviors my entire life, and I am working hard to grow from that. I wish my town were also awake to the realities we need to grapple with.
I’ll admit, without in-person tabling or canvassing, it’s hard to know where the majority of town voters stand on these issues. Maybe the outspoken ones on social media are the same ones with the yard signs? Perhaps that is a small percentage of people who just happen to be most visible? Is it possible that I am entirely wrong, and most of the people I now call neighbors are socially aware and anti-racist? Of course. Do I think that is the case? No. Am I hoping that I am wrong? Absolutely.