Ashland shrugged

On Oct. 10, a group of editors made final corrections to the first of a four-part series looking at problems between city staff and city councilors. The final debate, as it so often is, centered around the headline, which simply said, "State of the City, Part 1."

Too bland, lacks a verb, fails to offer specific information and other complaints were lobbied.

As usual, the alternative suggestions were found lacking. Then one editor made a simple suggestion: "Ashland Shrugged."

A chorus of approval arose in support for the play on words on the capitalistic classic "Atlas Shrugged." But the same editor who offered the suggestion, also voiced disapproval.

"It's too loaded for this town. That book is hated by people in this town. It slants the article."

He was right, of course. We didn't want to make an editorial statement with the headline of an important investigative report. The idea lingered, but we fell back on the safe and sure. "State of the City" hit the streets that day.

In an eerie coincidence, Oct. 10 was also the 50th anniversary of the publication of "Atlas Shrugged," the story of the collapse of society when the capitalists simply withdraw from public life and move to a place nobody can find them &

a place where ambition and productivity and success are no longer disparaged by the socialist sentiment that drives the real world.

The ironic pairing of Ashland to "Atlas" makes for a nifty sound bite to encapsulate the city's problems.

The problem with such a provocative sound bite is that it preys on the emotional polarizations within the community. "Atlas Shrugged" is fiction. Ashland Shrugged is all real and is not easy to explain.

Of course, the comparison has a grain of truth. Many people in Ashland are convinced that the economy as we know it won't sustain itself over time. They have a strong belief that Peak Oil &

a time in the future that oil will become so scarce as to severely altar transportation as we know it &

is coming sooner than expected and that locally sustainable economies will be the only ones that survive. For example, the tourist market as we know it could crash completely, because nobody will be able to afford gas to drive down for the weekend.

This type of philosophy taken at the extremes smacks of the socialist-driven ethos that leads to ruin in "Atlas Shrugged."

It also instills anger and fear among the many people who depend on a degree of normalcy and consistency to make a living.

But the problem cannot be boiled down to capitalists vs. socialists. True, we have two divided factions vying for control of the city and the right to set the vision for the future. One, known as the progressives, does want significant change from the norm. The other, more traditionalist by nature, believes Ashland simply needs to correct itself and return to more common sense when governing.

But those strongly on "one side" or the other are far fewer than those of similar mindset with similar goals. The more we move beyond stereotypes and choosing sides, the more hope for a future of Ashland that encompasses some of both groups is possible.

Ashland hasn't shrugged, at least not yet. It likely won't any time soon. Things aren't that bleak. But Ashland does need a clear vision for the future, one that a critical mass of residents can embrace. And it needs compromising &

open leaders who will do the hard work of setting that vision, winning a broad base of approval and allowing staff the latitude to implement it.

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