Columnist Farah Ameen: No more stopgap measures in Amherst

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Recently, I asked my 7-year-old if she wanted to have a lemonade stand to raise money for Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. “But I want to raise money for Puerto Rico or teen space in Jones Library,” she said.

Though I love my daughter’s activist spirit, I was disappointed — not that she wanted to help hurricane survivors, but because she and I are from Bangladesh. I’d just read about a Rohingya mother whose baby was thrown into a fire. I could not explain the horrors of genocide to my child.

There is no avoiding bad news. Hurricanes, earthquakes, genocide, bombs, deportations — not to mention an incompetent president — are all out of my control. But I know I can take small steps at the local level toward positive change.

My family has been active in our community. My husband served as a Jones Library trustee for several years. I regularly volunteer at our child’s school. Last winter I got involved in the Vote Yes for Amherst campaign, canvassing to move forward on a plan to upgrade our elementary schools that had near-unanimous support of our elected town officials.

Now, instead of working toward affordable preschool options for all, moving toward real integration, and bringing our schools into the 21st century (Americans with Disabilities Act compliance, LEED certification, natural light), committees are back to studying site feasibility and Band-Aid enrollment changes.

Stop taking stopgap measures, Amherst. The only way forward is to change the way our town is governed. We need to ensure our community doesn’t make decisions that benefit only a few.

The current Town Meeting model does not work. A majority of our Town Meeting members are elderly, white and affluent. I don’t doubt that most of them mean well and many cast votes that serve the racially and economically diverse Amherst of today rather than the whiter, wealthier Amherst of 30 years ago.

But overall, Town Meeting is resistant to change and comfortable making decisions without input from most of Amherst. For example, when a group of parents of color with young children in Amherst showed up at Town Meeting last January to voice support for the school plan, none of us was given a chance to speak before the vote was called.

Proponents of the current system of Town Meeting that I hear from are all Town Meeting members themselves. They feel Town Meeting is very representative and want to maintain the status quo.

Let’s vote for a manager-council system that would consist of 13 people taking all our voices into consideration. That would mean no more having to write and call all 24 Town Meeting members in your precinct (prohibitive and ineffective). It would also mean actually getting a response to the fewer letters and calls to council members you would make. A Town Council would be considerably more representative because it would be accountable to all of us.

We don’t have any immediate control over natural disasters, terrorist attacks, racial profiling and the idiot-in-chief. We can, however, influence how we govern and what decisions we make for our town, so the next generation has better options than we do.

Please vote “yes” in March.

Bangladeshi-American writer/editor Farah Ameen and her family moved to Amherst eight years ago from New York City.