The Broom: real activism for real people

Not that we spend much time reading local “blogs” – call us old fashioned, but we prefer to know who’s addressing us – but we did enjoy a recent exchange among readers of what’s said to be one of the more popular local online sites.

“Never underestimate the power of annoyed and disgusted voters,” a reader intoned, in the midst of a heated – and, of course, completely anonymous – debate over environmental degradations supposedly fostered by City Hall.

“What power?” another rejoined, in a moment of self-awareness unusual for the forum. “The power to sit at your computer and gripe?”

We thought about that exchange as we thumbed through the new issue of the (nee Scotch) Broom, the newsletter of the Association of Bainbridge Communities and the collective voice of island environmentalists for a quarter-century.

As befits an “anniversary edition,” the issue looks back at ABC’s many battles – over a polluted Eagle Harbor, political “home rule,” wetlands degradation on High School Road, the massive Port Blakely development plan of the 1990s, roadside spraying, cleanup of the Vincent Road dump, tree and well-water protection, the list goes on. Visually, it charts the Broom’s evolution from a humble typewritten sheet to an attractive venue for local graphic artists.

More than anything, it recalls the names and faces of the hundreds of contributors who over the years have put their stamp not just on the publication, but on the Bainbridge community.

And that’s what always made the Broom substantial. While they cut their teeth long before there was an internet to hide behind, the ABC crowd would never have been content to repose at the keyboard and pound out whiny diatribes about City Hall – the Broom has always been backed by kick-ass activism, the operative word being “active.” Charles Schmid, Lois Andrus, Elane Hellmuth, Vince Mattson, the Smiths of Seaborn Road – they’ve been the ones in the gallery at City Council meetings, waiting their turn to speak out while less-committed citizens were snoring in front of the 10 o’clock news. If you don’t know by heart Schmid’s home address – One-Oh-Six-Seven-Seven Manitou Park Boulevard, dutifully recited each time Charles takes the podium for public comment – you haven’t been to enough council meetings.

Bringing islanders together for constructive action has been the Broom’s raison d’etre. The earliest editions from 1981 celebrate the formation of neighborhood groups in Manzanita and South Bainbridge, outfits that became key players in monumental land-use decisions later on.

A single signed letter is worth a hundred anonymous rants on some blog, and a single concerned citizen willing to show up and voice their opinion at City Hall is worth still more. That’s what the Broom represents – getting citizens out of their homes and into the public sphere – setting a standard by which today’s simulactivists and blog-o-bitchers don’t even register.

This editorial page has had its differences with Schmid and Co. when we’ve felt their idealism strayed from good sense. But while the Broom has in recent years seen a bit of editorial drift – prone to sweeping rhetorical indictments like, “Growth: Is this what we want?” without positing alternative visions – it remains the essential journal of island preservationism. It’s the voice of the best kind of local activism: news and views that your neighbors are willing to put their names and faces behind.

But that just underscores what the Broom’s editors have understood all along: that “virtual” and “community” don’t belong in the same sentence.

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