Friday, February 28, 2014

Who's Against Democracy?

When a high-profile controversy flaps in the breeze, unresolved for a decade, it can take on a life of its own. So it has been for Richmond’s dilemma concerning where minor league baseball should be played. 

For many Richmonders the baseball stadium issue has become frustrating in a way unlike any other they can remember. It hasn't been difficult to get the idea that a few hungry developers have been intimidating local officials to acquiesce to their wishes. 

When the stadium brouhaha started 10 years ago, for me, the thing that stood out was the talk about professional baseball coming from folks who seemed to know little about it. Gradually that morphed into how wrongheaded the baseball in the Bottom concept was, from a practicality standpoint. Maybe John McEnroe said it best, "You cannot be serious!

Then it got to be more about Shockoe Bottom’s remarkable history; I grew up in this town and recent revelations about the slave market have amazed me. I've come to understand that what was buried in Shockoe Bottom after the Civil War was deliberately covered up. It's turned out to be another layer of denial. How in good conscience can we go on averting our eyes from what really happened in those slave jails? From how many there were?

Now, for me, it’s come down to being about democracy, too. Maybe that's the trump card in this game.

You see, on this issue I’ve become convinced the local politicians aren’t speaking for the people that voted them into office. And, they know it. It's hardly unfair to say the PR team pushing the scheme to shoehorn a stadium into the Bottom isn't speaking for anything but money -- quick money. Nor do I think most voters can identify with the sort of full-time activists who not only oppose baseball in the Bottom, they oppose everything any government does and relentlessly spew derision at any convenient politician.

The combination of all those voices, all trying to speak over one another, has become a numbing cacophony. It has become a pestering wall of noise in our lives. Given that, when it comes to the stadium issue, who is now speaking for John Q. Public? 

A binding referendum would speak for those who care enough to vote. Put it on the ballot and let all the campaigners push for their side as hard as they like. Only such a referendum on whether to build a stadium in Shockoe Bottom, or not, can settle this matter in a satisfying way.

With a referendum on the ballot the school children in Richmond would have a splendid opportunity to learn a civics lesson about what it really takes to keep a democracy working properly.

Generally speaking, politicians don't like referendums that come up from citizens' groups. In Richmond they've made it hard to do. Nonetheless, while it won't be easy to get the question on the ballot in November, it can be done. In Virginia citizens can write laws. It will take a serious petition-signing campaign to drive a stake into the heart of baseball in the Bottom. But it can be done.

And, if the baseball in the Bottom forces swell up and get the majority of the votes, I won't like it, but the will of the people is a righteous thing. Moreover, I'm not scared.

OK. Who's against democracy? 

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