Last night the citizens of Fayetteville Arkansas repealed Ordinance 119. Dubbed the "Keep Fayetteville Fair Ordinance" by those that support the underlying message of non-discrimination that the ordinance affords, the ordinance was a very dividing initiative. My timeline on Facebook was full of friends tagging me, though I live 30 minutes away in Siloam Springs, and encouraging others to consider that discrimination by businesses isn't okay. Sure, there was more in the ordinance, but the opposition and the supporters honed in on the impact of the ordinance on Veterans and LGTBQ identified individuals. From the Keep Fayetteville Fair Site:
In 2014, no one should be fired from their job, denied housing, or kicked out of a restaurant simply because of their race, gender, religion or sexual orientation. Those actions would be inconsistent with our values and our faith, which teaches us we are all God’s children and that everyone should be treated with respect.
As the clock ticked closer to nine I watched something painful happen to the City of Fayetteville.
The repeal passed and the opposition, "Keep Fayetteville Free" won the vote.
It turns out that Fayetteville's voters sent a strong message last night: Free is more important than Fair.
My timeline filled with expressions of resentment, anger, sadness, and utter shock. One of my friends posted, "What the hell happened to my Fayetteville. The one that is diverse and loves people, thanks a lot for the repeal!" This morning, still, my newsfeed is full of people vowing to fight the repeal and get the nondiscrimination ordinance in place if.it.is.the.last.thing.they.do! Person after person is crying, "WHAT HAPPENED TO MY FAYETTEVILLE. THIS IS NOT MY FAYETTEVILLE." I am proud of my friends and acquaintances. I am proud that so many people I know from Fayetteville are hurt and worked up over this. I think there are two important lessons in last night.
Your Fayetteville is an illusion
Lesson 1 Losing Your Perception Distortion
Because Fayetteville is a college town, many residents tend to look toward the population attached with the university and say, "look how diverse we are!" The reality is much different. Fayetteville, like most cities in Arkansas, still has a significant amount of geographically identifiable segregation amongst other problems. Perception Distortion is when we look around at the self created audiences we have and say, "well, none of the people I know are like that." Perception Distortion isn't always intentional. We are drawn to those we share values with, who make us comfortable, and who perpetuate the realities we want to embrace. Often times, though, when something like the repeal of Ordinance 119 happens reality creates cracks in our perceived worlds and on the other side is something that leaves us shocked. Why? Because we had convinced ourselves something was very different because the people around us kept us comfortable.
Did you think the helicopters that circled North Fayetteville late the night the news about Ferguson broke were just testing their engines? Talk to minorities in your community. Ask a person of color if Fayetteville feels fair and if they feel like they have no obstacles in obtaining representation in the community. My friend, who lives in Fayetteville, sent me a text last night: "These people freaking out about WHAT KIND OF FAYETTEVILLE is this are cracking me up. Black folks have known what kind of town it is for awhile now... ya heard!"
Lesson 2 You Can't Expect Real Progress based on ONLY Reactionary Motivation
Vigilance, y'all. If you are under the impression that a couple of weeks or months of active campaigning can turn a tide you are smoking some sweet hash that y'all recently tried to get legalized. Open a window and lets talk about social change strategies. Not all reactionary motivation is bad. BUT. IF the majority of citizens are leaning on reactionary motivation to be what changes your town then you are gonna experience last night over and over again. Here is why: reactionary motivation fizzles out. It is couched in your Fight or Flight Reflex and we can't sustain that posture of living without burning out. What is necessary is a dedication to constant progress toward the ideals you want to see reflected in your community. It is hard and necessary work. The Duggar Basecamp does this well. They only shop at certain places and only support certain folks. They put their dollars where their values are. I am certainly not saying that we become fundamentalist, (unless we are going to become fundamentalist in being awesome...) but I AM saying that the times we want to shrug and not do the work could be the difference. Sustainable change requires both the momentary reactionary motivations and the sustained motivations. My homies Hannah and Laura are amazing examples of people who use BOTH forms of motivation to make a difference. They should hold workshops
I need Fayetteville to be awesome. The changes I am working toward in Siloam Springs can happen easier and faster if Fayetteville, and the surrounding town, are awesome. I am invested in the changes that need to happen in Fayetteville because they directly impact my family and my community. I believe you can do it, y'all. I'll help. As hard as last night was for so many of the people I love (and for me!) I think it is one of those disguised gifts. Many of us shook off our illusions and were faced with the reality that maybe we have farther to go... and you do... we all do.