I’ve been talking a lot recently about how much more progress we could make, as a community, if we stopped bickering about the things we disagree on and started taking proactive action on subjects where there is consensus. What does a grassroots groundswell actually look like in Santa Fe? Well, we saw one culminate just last summer.
I spoke with Thomas Rivera of the Chainbreaker Collective, a member-run group that has been around since 2004. "We have about 400 dues-paying members here in Santa Fe," Rivera explains, "the bulk of whom are low income people and people of color, mostly residing in Hopewell-Mann neighborhood and the Airport Road corridor."
Chainbreaker's longest running and most well-known initiative has been the Bicycle Resource Center, which, in its 12 years, has provided over 2,000 bikes to people in the community who cannot afford cars. For the past several years, the group has primarily focused on public policy regarding transportation, being integrally involved in fighting the regularly proposed cuts to Santa Fe's already bare-bones transit system. Rivera says, "Transit is always at the top of the list for cuts, and that's something we're going to do our best to make sure doesn't happen, because it would devastate our community."
"The reason we need more transit service is because people can't afford to live in areas that are walkable and bikeable," he adds, "so we're getting pushed farther and farther out to the outskirts of town. And what that does is it locks people into car dependency."
Primarily, transportation boils down to an economic issue.
"[Within walking distance of these areas] you're not going to find a job, you're not going to find access to healthy food, you're not going to find sidewalks," Rivera explains. "We had to fight tooth and nail just to get the first phase of one park in the Airport Road corridor. Just one."
Their greatest victory to date was last July, when a yearlong campaign resulted in the City Council unanimously adopting a resolution based on a Residents' Bill of Rights drafted by the group.
"Our members were saying, 'How do we address this as a whole?'" Rivera remembers. "How do we deal with larger environmental justice issues? How do we talk about housing, urban planning—and how do we talk about it from a people's perspective and not an outsider planning/policy perspective?"
Developed with the input of hundreds of members of the group and the community they serve, the Bill of Rights established five pillars of value around which they would like to see Santa Fe's development progress.
But what effect can one nonbinding resolution have on the direction of a town with such firmly entrenched economic and political interests? The values expressed in the bill, including affordability, sustainability and community control, sound like great ideas we can all get behind, but what's to stop the politicians and greedheads from ignoring them and conducting business as usual? Rivera has an interesting take: This is only the beginning.
"First of all," he claims, "it opens a conversation in a way that hasn't happened before. It also gives us the ability as a community to hold our elected officials accountable."
Moving forward, City Council have to back up their lip service with action that follows the tenets they voted for. And we must all be vigilant to see that they do.
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