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Barbara's Column
May 2000 #1


Barbara to Marblehead: "I Secede!"
by Barbara Anderson

Diversity

The Salem Evening News
Tuesday, May 9, 2000

"When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bonds which have connected them with another... a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation."

The Declaration of Independence

Therefore, I shall declare my reasons for seceding from the town of Marblehead, as soon as I admit that I haven't worked out all the details yet. I don't have time to wage war, though I do have a battle cry, "no taxation without representation", so I'll have to vote "No" in Proposition 2 override elections because I'll still have to pay Marblehead property taxes or lose my house.

I'll pretend mine go directly for my share of basic police and fire protection and trash pick-up; my road will be plowed anyhow by town equipment on its way past my neighbor's. The surplus tax payments I'll consider a voluntary contribution to the animal shelter.

The name of my new town will be Diversity. I got it from a sign on this side of the bridge from Salem, which shows one black, one white person, with "Marblehead celebrates diversity" printed over them.

Since there are few black people, or for that matter middle-class white people who can now afford to buy a house here, I will provide diversity, and Marblehead can celebrate me. In fact, Chip and I had a wooden sign that reads "Diversity" carved for us at last year's Topsfield Fair because most yards in town don't look like ours; it has dandelions, a clothesline, and a variety of boats and trucks left by friends who need a place to park them.

We are grateful we are not in the historic district, where one's home really belongs to the Hysterical Society, a good idea gone nuts. It once told a citizen who was replacing the aluminum siding on his house with shingles that he had to use clapboard instead, because that was the siding on the "original" home. I would have put the aluminum back on and pretended it never left. As someone once joked, the original settlers might have preferred vinyl had it been available, but they were stuck with wood.

The Zoning Board did recently decide to allow fence posts to be six inches taller than the allowed six foot fences so they no longer have to be sawed off. Things seemed to be looking up for what little is left of property rights.

Then Town Meeting passed a new zoning bylaw that requires "all free-standing exterior mechanical equipment, including propane tanks and air conditioning units, to be visually screened by low fencing or evergreen vegetation". Chip is planting pine trees around our gas grill, while I put a plastic wire fence around the dead air conditioner that we can't take to the dump because of something to do with Al Gore. This fenced trash will be the official monument of the little town of Diversity.

Our motto will be "We seceded where others failed". That is also the motto of the Conch Republic, once the Florida Keys, which seceded from the federal government in 1982 to protest a major traffic jam caused by a border checkpoint set up to catch Cuban refugees. I may apply to the Conch Republic for annexation.

If it's taxes weren't too high, I'd like to join Salem, which doesn't insist it's too "special" for essential items like sewage treatment plants and MacDonald's. But recent Salem News reports on the tax revolt in Danvers make me wish I lived among the taxpayers who overwhelmingly defeated a Prop 2 override and replaced several town meeting members who voted to put it on the ballot. Now there's a community that's beginning to remember its colonial roots; the tax trend may be downwards.

Marblehead's trend is up; town meeting just decided it  needs overrides for basic things like town drains and foolish things like an elevator in its historic old town hall so a few handicapped people can attend art shows. It has an open town meeting which was once filled with wonderfully combative citizens who liked having a voice in town government, but most of them are dead or disillusioned; now fewer than 500 of the 13,094 eligible people attend regularly. Others come when they want something for themselves at someone else's expense. Then they pack it, get their goodies, and never return. Someday someone may call for a non-existent quorum, and a once-democratic tradition will be over.

That someone won't be me. I'm a citizen of Diversity now, and I have my own town meeting, during which I can watch television instead of playing government. My selectmen will be the ghosts of those fishermen who rowed across Salem Harbor to get away from the Puritans and their regulations, my flag will show their oars. And my town song is "Freedom" from Shenandoah, in remembrance of what until recently was the truly historical spirit of Marblehead.

"Freedom is a notion sweepin' the nation, freedom is a full-time occupation, freedom is a body's 'magination, Freedom's in a state of mind, tra la."


Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her syndicated columns appear weekly in the Salem Evening News and the Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in other newspapers.


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