#MCS Following the Media – 2/10/11

The Beginning of the End of the 30% Doctrine

Yesterday finally happened. I say that because what happened yesterday wasn’t particularly surprising. Many of us have been waiting on it for over a week. Now that it has happened, there’s just one more set of cards to put on the table…the voters. After the vote we’ll see how all those cards stack up against the law in court.

It’s been hard to stay focused on this thing. Honestly, it’s been getting harder to write about it. I feel like I’ve done this topic to death.

Neither side has changed their rhetoric that much. The slight changes that have been made have happened as the ball got passed from one person to another on the anti side.

First Pickler and the SCS board, who acted astonished that MCS would question their motives after 10 years of seeking SSD status with no input from MCS until a study paid for jointly by the two districts showed the devastation that SSD would cause, which SCS chose to ignore or minimize. Then Mark Norris and Curry Todd, both of whom have sponsored SSD status legislation before, who at first would sought to stop or alter a referendum, failing to find the law on their side, they settled for cutting as much of Memphis as possible out of the transition and opening up the Pandora’s Box that started this whole thing, Special School Districts, in the process.

While there’s been a lot of jockeying for position, there has been one fundamental issue at hand: the idea that 30% should not decide the fate of 70%. That’s how this whole thing got started, first with the seeking of SSD, then as they sought to change the rules of the referendum, and even now as they’ve changed the rules governing transfer of administration. Throughout this process, the one thing that has been consistent is that 30% has been jockeying to keep a position of “enhanced self-determination” over the 70%.

Folks, this isn’t the way a republican democracy is supposed to work. Last time I checked it was majority rule. But for as long as I’ve lived in Shelby County, coming up on 7 years now, the 30% has consistently tried to run roughshod over the 70%. This pattern cannot stand any longer.

I’m in no position to look back historically and fully understand why or how it got this way. Since my time back in school, I’ve used every paper I could to try to explore one level or another of the political and societal back-story that makes Shelby County what it is today and I’ve still got more questions than answers.

I’ve studied the 1990-1996 process that made the City Council districts the way they are today. I’ve read about the process to adopt a home rule charter in County government back in the 1980’s, a charter which expressly prohibits consolidation. I’ve even written about the educational system in Shelby County and sought peer reviewed research to help find ways to raise achievement levels through a variety of programs that have tried and tested across the country.

Through all of this research, I’ve found one consistent thread – if you’re poor and/or black, you’ve gotten the shaft, sometimes even at the hands of “your own” representatives. If you’re anything else, even middle or working class, you’ve been told over and over again that there can be no progress until “those people” whomever those unfortunate people happen to be at the time, fix their problems.

Over time these problems have not only persisted, but worsened. The idea of bootstraps that people should lift themselves up by, has turned into chin-straps that has hardened the positions of those who feel they have no responsibility to help “those people”. There is this belief that the 30% must soldier on to protect their interests instead of widening the net by actively advocating for the betterment of the community.

It is a self-fulfilling prophecy. While there is a vibrant community of people who work selflessly to help those who are in need there is also a strong sense of deferred responsibility. This deferred responsibility is the lens through which the 30% sees the world.

The people who hold these beliefs aren’t just the folks who happen to live in the 30% that makes up suburban Shelby County. In fact, characterizing folks that live outside of Memphis in that way is beyond unfair. No, the 30% lives and breathes among all of us in every artificial, societally driven division that exists.

There are plenty of these 30%ers that live in Memphis, just as there are plenty that live in the county. 30%ers are black and white, rich and poor. They come from all walks of life and regardless of their standing in the societal pecking order, they all have the same world-view…deferred responsibility. They have to fix their problems before I’ll help them.

Some help, huh?

In order to end this 30% doctrine that has dominated our political and civil society for far too long, we have to resolve to end the grip that they have had on all aspects of our lives. Doing that means not only challenging conventional wisdom, but the institutions that maintain those outmoded ideas.

I understand the challenge. No political or judicial process people’s world-view. As our nation has seen, since the integration of the military and Brown v. Board of Education in the 50’s, through the civil rights reforms of the 60’s, and the slow but steady chipping away of those rights and reforms ever since. All you can do is seek to do what’s right and help those who have been left behind in the process. Changes in perception may come, but they are up to the individual.

So while I support the efforts to remove the barriers that have sustained this cold war that has been raging between the urban and suburban, the predominantly poor and the wealthy, or white and black… however you see the divisions, I have no illusions that this will be a panacea that has us all holding hands and singing kum bah yah.

There will always be some who reject any change, even when that change may open new opportunities. There will always be those who will long for the past, even when they’ve romanticized that past to the point of a fairy tale.

At the end of the day, we are all just people. People who live together – in this place, at this time, and in many cases, not by our choosing on any of those counts. I chose to move to, live in, and ultimately stay in Memphis, and I believe it is our job, as Memphians, Shelby Countians, Mid-Southerners, and Tennesseans to make the best of it for as many of us as we can. To have faith in our ability to do so and to find strength in our resolve to make a better home for everyone.

It’s time that the 70% enhances our self-determination, and show the community just how serious we are. Early voting starts Wednesday. If you want to take control of your future, here’s an opportunity to start.

Don’t disappoint me Memphis. There are 400,000 registered voters in the City, and personally, I want to hear from all of you. Lets show them what 70% looks like.

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City Council Accepts MCS Charter Surrender
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