A holiday postcard from Vancouver WA
Vancouver sits on the edge of something
In Vancouver this year, we had our fair share of election year jitters. The pre-election tension was palpable: people found it hard to contain themselves oftentimes, whether their leanings are secular and progressive, or other-worldly and oil-driven. But make no mistake--this is a conservative enclave. Clark Co. as a whole voted down the line for everything conservative on Nov. 2, not just Bush, but many of the local elections, and in the senate race it was about dead-even between Patty Murray and republican George Nethercutt. Nethercutt's entire campaign was based upon a comment Murray made about Osama bin-Laden, which apparently endeared him to many voters up here.
This is no rural backwater either, at least parts of Vancouver. Some of the neighborhoods are of well-placed folks with a big stake in the nation's regression. In east Vancouver, (where the author lives), just a brief review of the volume and nature of the auto traffic on Mill Plain Blvd. betrays the impressive wealth of the residents. The road supports a shining, glittering flotilla of brand new cars, as well as the delivery trucks that carry their goods, and dump trucks that lay the foundations of their new homes.
How well do I know these people? I know them a little bit, and I can guess about the rest. The first school I went to in Vancouver was a jr. high-school called Wy 'East, (which is an Indian word for Mt. Hood) and I was struck by the grown-upness of my new classmates. It was a kind of culture shock for me, coming from a small town, and mercifully my stay at that school was short. Part of the difference was just geography--these new kids, (or most of them) didn't chew Copenhagen and ride dirt bikes and swig MD 20/20 like my friends in the small town I came from. My high-school years were spent at Fort Vancouver, which I mostly found to be a more diverse and tolerant landscape, although life there was no picnic either.
Many years later I found myself at another school in east Vancouver, Mt. View HS, where I briefly had a janitor's job. From my view, the school had a country-club type feel, a definite contrast even from my own high-school in the lowlands. Though all schools share a low-budget feel to them, it seems. It's that feeling that makes so many parents cringe when theyre forced to make an appearance. This is something I noticed a lot: parents of students at the school, with a look on their face like "what the hell am I doing in this hell-hole?" That's a prejudice that I too shared sometimes, although my job something to do with it too.
Schools may not be the best place to take the pulse of a community, being as they are the incubators of ideas and truths for kids, but not the upholders of these ideas (or laws). Which raises an interesting question: who are the upholders of the social mores and truths which govern these wealthy conservative enclaves? Is it the voters?
Call it a triumph of democracy, but the voters of Clark Co. struck down a ballot measure that would have created a .3 cents per dollar sales tax that would have gone to C-Tran, the local bus system. The .3 cents per dollar is 3 cents per ten dollars, and confusion over this point actually contributed to the measure's defeat, according to one of the county commissioners. Many citizens though .3 cents per dollar is 3 cents per dollar. Without funding from this slight tax increase, C-Tran is now forced to cut operations in half, and raise rates. Half of employees are due to be laid off next September, and many routes cancelled.
All of this was in spite of the valiant efforts of a handful of people who went out and publicly promoted the measure by holding signs, for instance at the Mill Plain Blvd./Chkalov Rd. intersection. With that kind of (apparent) popular support, the measure seemed destined to pass.
But it was more than just a misunderstanding of cost. It seems to be a genuine pronouncement of a philosophy, or at least a knee-jerk reaction to what many conservative citizens may see as a threat to their way of life. It's the same reason that the effort to bring a MAX-like train from Portland has failed in the past.
The results from Election Day are the unheralded announcement of a national siege. In physical terms, many people will be immobilised for various reasons, (in Clark Co., literally) and many more will find themselves immobilised by hunger, sickness, fear or grief--all things which will surely be promoted and perpetuated by the Republican overlords. It's this phenomenon that swept Clark Co. like a hurricane.
So Vancouver continues to be a mystery and an enigma. Vancouver still pines for the heyday of the Kaiser shipyards, and the war-fueled growth that lasted well into the 1950's. It's romantic, in a way.
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