While our community, like the rest of the country, has become preoccupied with a bizarre and unnerving presidential election season over the last six months, it is important to take note of the extraordinary political success that the citizens of Chestertown have had during the same timeframe.
Whether it be its victories in postponing a Chester Bridge repair project, an agreement with Shore Health to protect the town during oil remediation work, or most impressively, to convince the State Assembly and the University of Maryland Health System to freeze the downsizing of rural hospitals, including Chestertown’s, and instead launch a statewide study group to recommend long-term solutions to keep inpatient services at these medical centers, town and county folks have seen some extraordinary results on the political front.
In fact, it is a remarkable reminder of what citizen power can do given the will. But is also highlights of one of Chestertown’s most persistent qualities; its capacity for full-scale vigilance.
From colonial times until the present, Chestertown citizens have never hesitated to fight the system to protect their community. Starting with the famed Chestertown Tea Party in the 18th century, and highlighted by the region’s more recent collective efforts to fight off things like nuclear power plants, wind turbines, and industrial waste treatment centers, it is hard to say that the voice of the citizen is not being heard.
These acts of extreme vigilance can only be seen as a powerful, positive strategy. Against all odds, Chestertown and Kent County have consistently prevailed for over 300 years to keep their way of life and their landscape rural.
Undoubtedly, the threats to places like Kent County, whether it be development, environmental, or health care, will continue. And even current successes could easily become undone if indifference becomes the local prevailing mindset. So the need to maintain this remarkable vigilance is critical for this community’s long-term future.
There are few worries that Chestertown will maintain this kind of effort. History gives some reassurance of this, but it also true that communities, like people themselves, can master political skills and increasingly become more effective and organized with each new threat that pops up.
What must also be part of the long-term vigilance is to maintain civility despite the temptation to become mean-spirited. By in large, the region’s successes in getting their way were determined by collecting objective facts, relevant data, and a clear and well-reasoned point of view, not by attacking an individual’s motive, interjecting rumors of conspiracy, or yelling in anger at public meetings. While the town’s “opponents” may indeed have a different point of view, it serves no purpose to demonize and incite.
At a time when our current presidential campaign has become a new low for vulgarity and character assassination, it is all the more important for communities like Chestertown to rise to a higher level of discourse as we enter a new, very sad, era of political toxicity in our country.