Think back to Measure P. The proposal: a tax levied on sales transactions in Fresno to fund millions each year for parks, arts and recreation. A beautiful suggestion for a town seeking more culture and improvements to its quality of life. Green spaces, trails, youth and adult sports, cultural centers, music and art in public places—we could have it all. The imagination ran wild, the spirit soared, and people in our community came together under the banner of civic aspiration.
Meanwhile, the opposition to Measure P said that parks would fill up with drug addicts and homeless people and that the measure would rob Fresno’s underfunded police department of needed inputs.
Talk about “imagination.”
The No on P campaign bombarded our community with dire prophecies of vice, drugs, crime and homelessness, and they nearly succeeded. In fact, they were initially declared victorious, the Yes on P campaign having failed to cross the two-thirds vote share threshold.
But eventually the courts declared that the measure had passed with a simple majority, and dollars are already being rolled out to build new public spaces throughout our beloved community. A close call, if you ask me. Too close. Measure P should have received 70% or more of the vote, but it didn’t, and the reason for this runs deep.
We have become too cynical and too nihilistic in this town about our shared public life, and these mentalities have mired us in a political and social malaise. Rest assured, our community isn’t the first to grapple with this. Cynicism and nihilism have been wielded against progressive action for generations.
In national politics, they’ve been deployed against major reforms such as the Civil Rights Act and the Affordable Care Act. Locally, it can be seen in action as a weapon against dense zoning and affordable housing. What makes it so effective is that it’s easy to do, and most people can be influenced by it.
You can see it in the comments section of, say, of local Facebook posts:
Measure P to Fund Creation of New Park: “It’ll be full of homeless people”
City Receives Millions from State for Downtown Improvements: “Downtown will never come back. Give up already.”
County Proposes Expanded Rural Transit: “They should focus on crime instead of this”
The curt pessimism is delivered well in just a few words. And yet while in one breath the Facebook downers deride Fresno for lack of culture or commerce, with the next breath they voice opposition to cultural and economic development. “No we can’t” they have learned to say, and they might even call it pragmatism. Nietzsche called it “a will to nothing.”
Cynicism, nihilism, whatever term you prefer, the point is the same—many among our neighbors have learned to feel helpless to improve our community. We’ve accepted a narrative about ourselves, and it’s causing us to stand still, to strive for little and to accept less.
Fresno is in a position today to begin a new age of optimism, to reshape the narrative around the region and to chart a new course for a better future. We are a Valley brimming with talent and big dreams. We have to seize the potential of that talent, and create both a culture and an economy that empowers the pursuit of those dreams.
That starts with your vote. Elections are coming in March of next year, and Fresno’s voters will be presented with a slate of new faces to consider for positions of leadership from City Council to Congress. Our community will bloom with culture and commerce if we elect leaders who have imagination, optimism and recent experience in the working world. A new direction needs new leaders, and voters here will have the opportunity to elect some in a few short months.
We should ask our elected officials to build new public spaces that will improve the quality of life here—markets for commerce, libraries for culture, parks for community and wellness. We deserve abundant and affordable housing. We deserve clean air and daily mountain vistas. We deserve good jobs and good industries that create them.
This is a working-class region. Profits are up, prices are up, executive pay is up, productivity is up, interest rates are up. It’s time for the workers to come up, too. Let’s expect better and demand more. And let’s elect representatives from outside of the political class.
If you share this optimism about our community, then look closely at these newcomers to the local political landscape: Bryce Herrera, candidate for Fresno County Board of Supervisors District 2; Matthew Gillian, candidate for Fresno City Council District 2); and the author, EJ Hinojosa, candidate for Fresno County Board of Supervisors District 3.
All will be on the ballot in March. Together, we can be an antidote to cynicism. The time is now, and tomorrow’s leaders are ready today.