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The voters never came, but the deluge did

by Ogi Overman

You could see this was going to be Dead Tuesday a mile away, but I was pumped nonetheless. I’d had the date circled in red for a month or so, and I was ready to do my bit for grassroots democracy.

Tuesday, May 2, was to be a double whammy of a day, the sort that comes around about as often as a solar eclipse falling on the vernal equinox. OK, maybe not that rare, but still something that doesn’t happen every day, or every year even. On this day the primary elections coincided with the Greensboro City Council meeting, and neither was cancelled due to lack of interest, although it was nip and tuck there for awhile on the elections.

Election Day is always special to me, even in years like this one when there are no compelling races or issues to speak of. And even though a low turnout was virtually assured, I reasoned that enough folks would do their civic duty anyway to make my presence at the polls worth the effort.

And it was.

My plan went something like this: That evening the city council was to debate the zoning change that, if passed, will start the process that is sure to turn our neighborhood from a quiet, established, low-density residential area into a bustling, heavily traveled, cookie-cutter, commercial strip mall. Already our neighbor, Linda Wilkinson, who’s heading up the effort to block the zoning change, had collected signatures on a petition from virtually every homeowner in the immediate vicinity, so I decided to take it upon myself to collect a few more from folks living a bit farther away. And what better way to catch a goodly number of them than to set up a table outside the polls on Election Day?

So that Monday Janet went to the store and brought back some poster paper and a rainbow’s worth of magic markers, and I set about lettering them. The best I could come up with was ‘“SAVE GARDEN LAKE DRIVE’” and ‘“Please sign this petition to keep commercial development out of Garden Lake Drive.’” The next morning before heading out to our precinct at Jefferson School, I made a plea on ‘“The Dusty Dunn Show’” (1070 on your AM dial) for anyone concerned with rampant overdevelopment to stop by and sign the petition.

The first couple of hours were pretty bleak. By noon I had a whopping four signatures, and one of those was my newfound friend Annette, who was there handing out flyers for sheriff candidate James Zimmerman. By mid-afternoon I had maybe a dozen names and a nice sunburn on that place where hair used to grow and was about ready to pack it in. But then, almost on cue, folks started trickling in ‘— voters, parents picking up their kids, neighbors, Dusty Dunn listeners, teachers getting off work, more parents coming to kindergarten orientation, poll workers (it’s not like they were swamped inside).

I had originally planned to stay until around 5 and then head downtown with the signatures to present them to the city council. But they granted a request from Mark Isaacson, the lawyer for the developer, to continue the case until June 20, so I held down the fort until almost closing time, just in case we had a last-minute rush of voters.

We didn’t, which meant I actually ended up with more signatures than there were voters at that precinct. Yes, that’s a rather sad statement on our system of democracy, but still I couldn’t help but feel some sense of gratification at the number of folks who were willing to let their feelings be known on this issue. And the thing that was most gratifying was that I didn’t have to beg, shame or cajole any of them into signing (although I was certainly prepared to).

Most were eager to sign, many going out of their way, happy to go on record against both our rather narrow fight and the larger issue of prudent, responsible zoning vs. caving in to the developers for the sake of increasing the tax base. Thanks to the excellent A1 story in the News & Record the prior week and to a much lesser extent my ramblings in this space, on my blog and on Dusty’s show, most were already aware of the situation. (Incidentally, News 2 also did a nice segment that evening in which they interviewed my eloquent neighbor, Alan Bradley.)

But one thing that surprised me a bit was the level of genuine anger by much of the citizenry over either the changing face of New Garden Road or the seeming stranglehold developers have in determining the future of Greensboro and Guilford County.

Folding my card table in the setting sun and reflecting on the day just finished, it was inevitable, I suppose, that a Jackson Browne lyric would pop into my head: ‘“Some of them were angry at the way the Earth was abused by the men who learned how to forge her beauty into power’…’”

Ogi can be reached at ogiman100@yahoo.com, heard each Tuesday at 9:30 a.m. on ‘“The Dusty Dunn Show’” on WGOS 1070 AM, and seen on ‘“Triad Today’” Friday at 6:30 a.m. on ABC 45 and Sunday at 10 p.m. on UPN 48. His blog is backtothegarden-ogi.blogspot.com.

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