I lived in Northern Ireland from the time I was born until I was 24 years old. My hometown is Belfast, the epicenter of what came to be called The Troubles.
Our local politics were the politics of conflict, with two sides who had come to hate each other. One side would try to constantly thwart the other, politically, legally, and in every other way they could. There were lots of legitimate grievances, enough that many people on both sides could feel justifiably wronged. Violence – war – ensued.
Thankfully, the town of Quartzsite hasn’t seen much in the way of violence in connection to its conflict, and the conflict itself is not as severe. But everything else that I just said about Northern Ireland is true about Quartzsite. There are two (or more) sides who hate each other, try to thwart each other legally and politically, and who have legitimate grievances now.
A local realtor tried to document his various interactions with his political opponents at Town Hall using a video camera. In response, he was arrested for 14 counts, which were later thrown out in court. A local man was arrested multiple times for disorderly conduct, which he beat in court. A newspaper publisher and her husband allege harassment and had multiple court cases of her own. Quartzsite police officers were fired after complaining about some of these methods. A man was elected mayor but cannot take his rightful seat because a technicality is being used against him in a manner that most observers see as a ploy against a political opponent.
Just like the people in Northern Ireland, these people have legitimate grievances. And some of their opponents have grievances too.
In 1997, U.S. Senator George Mitchell was hired as an independent envoy to help broker a way forward for Northern Ireland. He was successful. My homeland is now a changed place because the people signed on to his vision. Investment is back, because business thrives in stable places. The population is growing, because more people want to live there. The political process is more productive, because the process is now working for the people.
Last week, an administrator called Laura Bruno was hired as an Interim Town Manager to help broker a way forward for the Town of Quartzsite. She has every potential to be successful in her mission. Quartzsite can be a changed place, if the people get behind her. Investment can return, the population of locals and winter visitors can grow, and the political process can begin to work for the people.
But there’s a caveat.
There is one thing that will not, and cannot, happen. It did not and could not happen in Northern Ireland and will not and cannot happen in Quartzsite. And that is to resolve and amend and redress and fix every single grievance that exists on one side or the other.
These legitimate grievances are rightfully held, and people are justified to feel that they have been wronged. But an integral part of moving out of the politics of conflict and into a process that works for the people is that – sometimes – legitimate grievances will not be resolved, amended or redressed.
Sometimes they will. There are legal remedies for some of the grievances held by some of the people in Quartzsite, and those legal remedies should be pursued when and where appropriate.
But in many cases, the most effective energies expended are those directed toward fixing the problem so that it cannot happen again. Like a gallon of milk with a hole in the bottom, the most effective energies expended are those directed at patching the hole so that more milk can’t leak, rather than spending too much time worrying about the milk that’s already been spilt.
As a keen observer of the town, I think Quartzsite has a rather unique opportunity now to move past the politics of conflict and into local processes that work for the people. When people in Northern Ireland embraced George Mitchell, despite their legitimate grievances, it worked. I hope it can work in Quartzsite with Laura Bruno in similar fashion.
Time to seat the rightful mayor and give Bruno and the new Council a chance to ‘right the ship’.