Election Day has come and gone. We have some new faces on the School Board, and the same old faces in our Supervisor, State Senate, and Delegate positions. Maybe you're happy about the way things turned out, maybe you're disappointed, or maybe you're just glad you won't have to see all those campaign signs overrunning the medians of every road in town.
But no matter which side you're on, it's time for us to move past the rancor and partisan anger of the election, and focus on what we have in common: a desire to make Reston a better place to live.
Election season can be hard on the emotions. Political allegiances can be a lot like sports: if you have a favorite team, you want your team to win, and losing a tough election can feel as bad as losing a big game.
Virginia, with its tradition of off-year state elections, exacerbates the problem, since it's always an election year. It's easy to get wrapped up in partisan fever, and to view the other side as the enemy, to be fought and beaten at all costs.
You don't need me to tell you that partisan rancor has been on the rise throughout the country. And this was a very tough election locally. With control of the State Senate at stake, both sides fought hard and mean to win a narrow edge. In our local State Senate race, we saw an anonymous and very nasty mailing attacking a candidate's sexual preference.
The typically sleepy School Board race was fiercely contested this year, as several parent advocacy groups pushed hard for change, with mixed results. The possibility of higher tolls turned into a political football. And of course, there were all those signs, pretty much anywhere someone could plant them in the ground. All this is more than enough to get anybody's blood pressure up.
But there's a key difference between politics and sports. The Capitals and Penguins don't have to come together and pass the laws that govern us. (And thank goodness; I certainly wouldn't want to listen to Sidney Crosby whining on the floor of the General Assembly.) But politicians do. And staying in permanent campaign mode, where you detest the other side with the passion of a diehard sports fan, is bad for our politics and bad for our country.
What does it mean to get out of "permanent campaign mode"? Well, for starters, I heartily endorse Patch columnist Justine van Engen's call for a return to civility and manners, particularly as it applies to discourse on politics. Perhaps dreaming up creative insults to use on message boards and in comment sections isn't exactly the best use of our time.
But more than that, let's remember our sense of common purpose. We're devoted citizens, and we want to improve the quality of life in Reston, in Virginia, and in the country. We may disagree on how to do that, but that's the beauty of a democracy: we can discuss our ideas, perhaps combine them or compromise where we can, and then vote on what to do. In an era of growing cynicism and disengagement, I'd rather celebrate the fact that people are active in the community, rather than attacking them for having different views than mine.
There are issues out there that need addressing. Too many people are out of work, and they need jobs, and perhaps food and shelter too. Our children need to be well-educated so that they can compete in a global marketplace.
Our natural resources need to be protected against a potential future of scarcity and shortages. Our transportation system needs to be repaired and expanded, to deal with our ever-increasing population.
Our citizens need affordable housing options that allow them to live near where they work. Our elderly and disabled residents need to be able to get around and access stores and doctor's offices. Our community needs to develop new planning and zoning rules to ensure that future development and redevelopment maintains the features we love about Reston.
None of these is a Republican or Democratic issue. If we come up with solutions to improve these issues, everybody wins.
If you agree that these matters are important, I encourage you to roll up your sleeves and get to work. Rather than lobbing insults at someone on the other side of the political fence, have a discussion about where you agree and disagree. Get in touch with your elected officials, and let them know where you stand, and that you're paying attention. Keep an eye out for community meetings on the issues that matter to you, and when they're held, make sure you turn out. (It's very true that in politics, decision are made by those who show up.)
And if you have the time and inclination, get involved in one of the many community organizations dedicated to working on local issues. I would humbly suggest my own Reston Citizens Association as a place to direct your time and talent. RCA is a non-partisan organization, because we realize that building a better future for our community isn't a partisan issue.
If planning and transportation issues are important to you, the Reston 2020 Committee would be happy to have you. If you care about access for citizens with disabilities, the Reston Accessibility Committee could use your help. If you are devoted to the environment and our natural resources, there's a place for you at Sustainable Reston (which began as an RCA committee). And if there are other community issues that interest you, I invite you to contact me about starting your own committee... or to run for a seat on RCA's Board of Directors next summer. We're always looking for new volunteers and new ideas.
So whether you're on the red team or the blue team (or another team, or no team at all), let's take a breath now that the election is over, and let's all join Team Reston. I'll see you at the next community meeting.