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South Nyack — Democracy At Work

by Michael Hogan, South Nyack Trustee

“……that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth” (Lincoln, Gettysburg 1863).  After the hell we have been through for the past four years, and the challenges that will probably continue into the near future, it is time to reflect on these words.  What do these words mean to us?  

In my long life in education, government, and politics and as a parent I have seen a lot and learned a lot. We are a divided nation like at no time since that Civil War where nearly one million soldiers died in the struggle to preserve our democracy. We continue to have huge problems facing us. We need to come together to solve those problems.

Why are we so divided? In my humble estimation it is because fewer and fewer people are involved in their governance (and few us of really study our American history).  Governance has become more and more complex as our society has become more complex.  And because it has become so complex and far reaching, involving healthcare, transportation, schooling, public safety, communications, the climate etc., more often than not people say “let someone else do it …I’m too busy.”  As a consequence, we don’t know how our government works. 

1916 Erie Railway, Nyack Station, Railroad Avenue, Nyack, Rockland County, NY. Source: Library of Congress.
1916 Erie Railway, Nyack Station at Railroad Avenue in South Nyack. Source: Library of Congress.

When we are not involved, and when things go wrong we blame, we accuse, and we attack.

Who do we blame and accuse?  The people in government, the “professional politicians” we like to call them. But because we are divorced from them, we are critical of them. And we, the uninvolved and uniformed – become easy prey for misinformation.   

I could go on but here is my point: in the Village of South Nyack, the current question of village dissolution is an excellent example of this phenomenon.  I’m not going to argue the pros and cons of dissolution here.  I do, however, want to say something positive about the process.  Dozens, even scores of people have been and will be Involved in the discussion and decision making process.  And as I thought about it early this morning, I thought, this is actually wonderful.

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One serious disadvantage of “dissolving” as a village is that we give up our right to govern ourselves. The continuing consolidation of governments in order to make them more “efficient” and “cheaper” has the serious negative side effect of making it more difficult (i.e., more challenging and more intimidating) to become civically involved.  When we lose hyper-local government (a village), we lose a critical training ground for folks to learn how things work and become involved.

When residents are involved with local village issues and government, they learn about how government works.  Some of them will join committees, become activists on other issues, support candidates for office, possibly become candidates for office themselves, and help ensure we have a government of the people, by the people and for the people.  In short, democracy.  

South Nyack Village Hall. Sketch by ©Bill Batson.

South Nyack As Hamlet:
To Be Or Not to Be?

On Dec 17, voters in South Nyack will weigh in on whether their village should be dissolved and become an unincorporated hamlet of Orangetown. Advocates say it will reduce property taxes; opponents say residents will lose control of local zoning. The citizen’s initiative which lead to this referendum was sparked by concerns about the sale of Nyack College.

Read more: CGR’s S. Nyack Dissolution Report: 10 Important Takeaways.

Have a point of view about the Dec 17 vote you would like to share? Submit your opinion articles to max@NyackNewsAndViews.com.

Without this “training ground” we will continue to have less involvement, and more alienation, more division, and more conflict.  We run the risk our democracy will continue to disintegrate.   I for one do not want to see this happen.

Michael Hogan is a South Nyack Village Trustee

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