I often get push back from a few urban residents and business owners, whenever I speak at events and propose the idea of widened sidewalks, increased tree canopy, and raised, marked, and/or buffered bicycle lanes. My campaign is not merely in support of a changing streetscape, but for an evolution in how we coexist.
A mixed-use sidewalk in Lisbon, Portugal – comfortably accommodating pedestrians and bicyclists alike.
The resistance to my proposals is almost always borne of an innate fear of change. There exists in many of us an unconscious aversion to change, perhaps founded on a sense, however mistaken, that the status quo is always safer. Let’s be clear: it is only safer for those who benefit from that structure, and that structure is always perilous if it sits on unstable foundations. The pillars of fear, untruth, greed, and violence are made of the weakest mortar.
While it is true that the “evil we know” may be more predictable than an unknown and unquantifiable alternative, our evolution is based on a drive to innovate and disrupt. How do we reconcile these instincts that seem so diametrically opposed? We must become living testaments to the notion that oil and water can coexist. It seems a silly suggestion, until you look around at the turmoil that is escalating in otherwise developed communities.

So long as we respond to the “other” with fear and aggression we will never advance our society. We won’t evolve. We must, therefore, offer proposals for change and improvement that are tenable. Proposals tend to work best when they offer opportunity and options.

  • It might be something as relatively innocuous as getting a town to accept a plastic bag ban; offer them compelling and creative alternatives, such as reusable bags branded with their favorite store. The consumer gets a quality freebie, and the store gets the best sort of marketing possible: free grass-roots brand evangelism!),
  • convincing your community to finally accept that urban infrastructures require multimodal transportation options, and the streetscape is no longer the exclusive domain of the single-driver combustion fuel vehicle, but rather a vital part of our urban landscape that must be shared and managed with thoughtful consideration for all (develop a well-planned and comprehensive network of multimodal transport options, including pedestrian, bicycle, and public; ensure these options function efficiently and are well-signed; enforce the law for *all* stakeholders; and provide follow-up metrics to prove the merits of the model: social, safety, environmental, and economic);
  • or encouraging society to accept and adapt to the often complicated but unavoidable complexities and nuisances of the present world in which we live, with a view to improving the future *together*, as opposed to yearning for a yesteryear that only existed for an entitled few.

How do privileged individuals such as myself support positive change, without injecting our own ignorance or arrogance? How do POC, women, the disabled, and other underrepresented constituencies secure their overdue rights, without feeling that they must do it all alone? Societies do not advance by fragmentation. Lasting change works best when we are all invested. How do we acknowledge the nuances that comprise every individual, so we each feel empowered and represented? How do we, ourselves, practice this inclusivity when we’ve perhaps never had to exist in a constant state of powerlessness and underrepresentation?

The questions will be many, and embedded with complexity. I worry that the portal to a stronger society, which can only be unlocked by the many keys of a truly enlightened and unified community, will remain locked longer than we hope. I fear we’ll struggle: pushing angrily against each other, instead of standing shoulder-to-shoulder, confronting the obstacle together.

I don’t have the answers. Our politicians believe they are supposed to provide solutions, and we reinforce that sense with our demands and complaints. Perhaps our political system and its representatives are only supposed to provide thoughtfully crafted legislation and infrastructure. Then, We The People, are obliged to manifest the sustainable solutions that will advance our society, through our daily actions and interactions. Whatever the best option may be, it will not be discovered, let alone developed or deployed, unless we work together. At this juncture, this may seem an unrealistic and possibly untenable option. Do you have a better option? One which recognizes the humanity in each of us? One which respects and supports our equality, even though it may not yet be realized? One which refutes hate, social fragmentation, oppression, and exclusion? If we are only willing to listen to or read opinions that conform to our pre-existing beliefs and values, the status quo will be maintained, until it falls apart – a victim of its own internal frictional forces.

The challenge is in putting that change into action in a way that recognizes the urgency of the need, the diversity of given circumstances, and the enormity of the baggage we each bring to this journey.  How do we bring about positive change – inclusively, enthusiastically, intelligently, sustainably, meaningfully, realistically?

Following hot on the heels of the recent Massachusetts special election, well-known Chicago author and political humorist Jeremy McGuire has contributed the following:

Open Letter to Both my Liberal and Conservative Friends.


To my Conservative friends, You may be feeling right plucky over Scott Brown’s victory in the Massachusetts special election to fill Edward Kennedy’s Senate seat. Don’t. In the long run, it changes nothing. The conservative function is and always has been one of restraint, of keeping the status quo, of caution. You are what Joseph Campbell calls “the holdfasts.” That said, you must understand that you have chosen to be on the wrong side of history most of the time. You will not win. I know this because you never have. It is not your destiny. There are few progressive social leaps that we as a species have made that were not initially opposed by conservatives, but embraced and defended by them within one or two generations. The arc of history leans toward change, toward progress, toward tolerance, and understanding, decidedly away from the status quo.

It was the influential clergyman and educator Endicott Peabody who said “Things in life will not always run smoothly. Sometimes we will be rising toward the heights – then all will seem to reverse itself and start downward. The great fact to remember is that the trend of civilization itself is forever upward, that a line drawn through the middle of the peaks and the valleys of the centuries always has an upward trend.”

The most obvious examples of your being left behind by history are the abolition of slavery, votes for women, and the dissolution of Jim Crow and the passage of the Civil Rights act of 1964.

What was acceptable, and even embraced a little more than a hundred years ago, colonialism and wars of conquest, are now no longer acceptable. Oh, and there was this little thing called the War for American Independence from England. Yep. Conservatives opposed that one, too. They were called Tories then. Yet now conservatives celebrate Washington, Jefferson, Adams and Franklin as if they were kindred spirits, when in actuality, they would have had them hanged. (Note: All of these gentlemen considered themselves Liberals. Maddening, ain’t it?)

Now, I’m not being critical, those are just the facts, a pattern that is readily discernible to anyone who can step back far enough from the immediate issues and events to see it.
Oh, you may gain ascendancy for short periods, and by that I mean 20 or thirty years, particularly if the people are persuaded that there is much to be afraid of, but it is never lasting. Fear is so fleeting that it cannot sustain your power. Do not allow those ephemeral victories to lull you into a sense of entitlement. You saw what that got you in the last election, right?

So, let’s just accept the fact that you have chosen a role in politics that will never be ultimately victorious. Look around at the social issues that are most prominent now. I mean universal health care, full civil rights for all gays, equality of pay and the like. You won’t win those either. The world moves forward; it does not stay still nor does it move backward. Frustrating? You betcha. But there it is.

So, should you just fold your tent and go hide in the woods somewhere? Absolutely not! Remember, your position is the “hold-back” one. What are you holding back? Why, the Liberals, of course.

Okay, my Liberal friends, now it’s your turn.

Do not gloat. Were it not for the Conservatives, you would run hell-bent-for-leather toward the edge of any number of cliffs, secure in the belief that you could fly! We have seen time and again the good-hearted but wrong-headed policies that have had unintended consequences.
Step back and consider what the term liberal means. Webster says it means “tolerant, open-minded and generous.” That’s as good a definition as I can find. That means you must be tolerant of opposing opinions. You have not often been so. I speak, of course of the late “Political Correctness” which was the very opposite of what a liberal stands for.

In the Seventies, many radical groups began calling themselves liberals. They were not, but true Liberals did not call them on it and so the terms “radical” and “liberal” got confused, by everybody, not just the right.

The most egregious example is the matter of the state’s attitude toward religion. We do not and never have wanted the state to mandate any one religion and so we erect an “impenetrable wall” between the state and religion. However, that was never meant to imply intolerance toward all religion, which in its finest moments enlightens and ennobles us, transporting us from the mundane and profane world into the realms of the sublime (I said in its finest moments!).

The first part of the First Amendment reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” What does that mean? It means I have the right to pray and display religious items wherever I want. Anywhere. Any time. The Government can’t say squat. Get real. Nowhere does it say that religious expression can be or should be banned. It states exactly the opposite. A Supreme Court ruling that prohibited schools from mandating the prayer of one religion over all others was intended to foster tolerance but has had the exact opposite effect.

If you are indeed liberal, you should not object to nativity scenes on public land; public land belongs to all of the public, even the religious.

However, Conservatives, don’t start preening! Those who wish to express their freedom of religion on public land should note that Wiccans have an equal right to put up display celebrating the Winter Solstice! Are you ready for that?

Okay, that’s an extreme example of unintended consequences. There are others. In any case, you Liberals should be grateful for the Conservatives. If it is true that they have pretty consistently grown to embrace programs they initially opposed, it is also true that without their opposition, you would accomplish very little of any import. Creativity requires obstacles to get over, under, around and through. Without those obstacles, your ideas would never be shaped, sharpened and honed. Conservatives force you to prove your points and in so doing help you make your points.

Lets face it. Both Liberals and Conservatives have been in the past rather intolerant and disrespectful of each others positions. That cannot last. It is an untenable stance and the Republic suffers from it. Both Liberals and Conservatives need to embrace their root principles and expel those who use those terms to practice intolerance, bullheadedness, and downright hatred. Hatefulness, intolerance and disrespect have never accomplished anything except reinforcing those negative qualities to no purpose. A destructive cycle. Don’t allow extremists to assume the names of Conservative or Liberal.

To my Conservative and Liberal friends: Get rid of your nut-jobs.

Jeremy Mcguire is an author/illustrator, humorist and social commentator.