Here we are once again at the threshold of a New Year, still wringing out from the sogginess of 2018 and wondering if we dare take off our waders before crossing over to 2019. January invites us to take a deep breath — which may be a gasp if your holiday credit card bills look like mine — and to recalibrate, at least for a brief second. We take measure of last year’s feats and failures and wash it all down with beer-stewed collards and Hoppin John, then hop-to setting new goals, starting the head-banging resolution cycle all over again.
Because, damn it, this year’s going to be different. Promise. Swear. I can just feel it. Oprah says so. As did my fortune cookie from China East.
There’s a difference, however, between making a resolution and finding resolve. Attend a City Council meeting and you’ll see what I mean. Most every meeting begins with a nice honorary “resolution” recognizing an outstanding citizen or city worker, or National (fill in the blank) Week, which means an official “hear ye hear ye” proclamation gets read, a long string of wordy “whereases” followed by a, “therefore, be it resolved….”
Occasionally the resolutions are not just honorary fluff, but supposedly serious business. To wit, the now nine-year-old City of Charleston Resolution to Adopt a Complete Streets Policy, which affirms that whereas the city more or less recognizes that bicycles and pedestrians are viable modes of transportation, goes on to say, therefore, that “the City shall ensure that accommodations for travel by bike, foot, transit…is a regular part of the permitting process….”
And more recently, last summer’s “Resolution Recognizing, Denouncing and Apologizing on Behalf of the City of Charleston for the City’s Role in Regulating, Supporting and Fostering Slavery….” That one took just 11 whereases to come clean from centuries of “inhumane working conditions…physical confinement and mistreatment…humiliating and brutalizing (slaves) through sexual exploitation…” and on and on until we get to the ninth whereas—a high-five that recites a few more recent city ordinances that “promote racial tolerance.”
As monumental as that resolution may have been, it’s still a lulling litany of whereas, whereas, and whereas, whereas the reader gets a little blurry-eyed and lulled into boredom with the whole thing or, worse, thinks it might really mean something.
Which clearly, at least in the case of the Complete Streets resolution, is not the case.
In the nine years since the Complete Streets resolution passed, we’ve seen little progress on its claims. In fact, we’ve become one of the most dangerous places in the state and the country to be a bicyclist or pedestrian, thanks to appalling mortality rates and equally appalling complacency on behalf of City Council’s West Ashley contingent. Here’s hoping the apology resolution has better traction.
My point is a resolution is an exercise in jargon, even if a well-meaning one. Perhaps we might be better served this New Year by finding resolve rather than making resolutions. Whether personal ones, whereas I will exercise and meditate every damn day or else, or municipal ones, whereas the Council clerk prints fancy words under a fancy seal, Tecklenburg signs it, then on to the next agenda item.
Resolve is both a verb and a noun, and my hope for our city and region, and for me personally, is to embrace the verb. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, “resolve” means to “settle or find a solution to a problem or contentious matter;” “cause something to heal or subside;” “to decide firmly on a course of action.” Resolve is a far cry from “whereas” bullshit. It doesn’t waste time on proclamations, but rolls up its sleeves and digs in.
My wishes for sharpening Charleston’s New Year’s resolve? Maybe start by taking that dusty 2008 Complete Streets policy seriously. Immediately, and finally, quit making excuses and find a solution to make the Ashley River crossing something other than a death march for anyone not in a car. Treat that and other bike/ped/transit improvements as an integral part of a comprehensive strategy to mitigate climate-change-induced flooding (yes, emulate the Dutch, but recognize that they understand that bikes are as much a part of the solution as dikes).
Maybe resolve to live up to that still fresh, much-belated public apology, and work “to heal or subside” the ongoing inequities of opportunity and resources between primarily white high-performing schools and primarily black under-performing schools. Ditto for housing and health care access, on and on. Sure, let’s do something about the shameful message that the Calhoun and other monuments give, but first resolve the blatant message sent every time a child walks into a classroom with too many kids, too few books, and a too-overwhelmed teacher.
Whereas, my friends, there’s a flood of issues that need more resolve, let’s keep those waders handy and dive in.
Stephanie Hunt is on the board of Charleston Moves.