Hi everybody. My name is Donald Martin and I am a candidate for an At Large seat on Holland City Council. The election takes place this Tuesday, November 5th. Polls open from 7a to 8p. I have a few closing thoughts regarding the long road travelled by this campaign to share with you.
I filed to run as a candidate for Holland City Council on March 15, 2013. In the eight months since, it has been a joy to organize a campaign of friends, neighbors, and volunteers who share the conviction that present day Hollanders deserve the best possible representation in City Council right now. That we deserve open ears and willing partners on Council to accept the challenges that exist today in our city. Right now and into the changing future. As the campaign evolved, we learned that the community’s desires matched our own: to keep moving Holland forward — into a new quality of life based on present conditions, into an environment where new ideas thrive from new experiences, and into a working relationship of new and different perspectives. In other words, our campaign functioned so well because it focussed on the most important element of public service: the public.
Our campaign was not funded by billionaires living outside of the city. It is supported by YOU. By Hollanders of all incomes, colors and creeds, political affiliation and neighborhoods who deserve and desire the best possible representation. It is you all who continually affirmed the core value of our campaign which is to carry into City Hall the voices of the migrant worker, the single parent, the homeless, the unemployed and underemployed, the former gang member, the high school student, the LGBT couple, the small independent business owner, and the family who wishes for more from their community.
Like many others, I received a post card this weekend with a headline in bold capital letters — “THIS IS HOLLAND MICHIGAN” — over a series of quotes about various points of success: that we are America’s second happiest city, one of America’s prettiest cities, and that we enjoy below average unemployment. Those are all wonderful headlines and we deserve to celebrate them. However, we also owe it to our residents to ask questions that go beyond the headlines. Our unemployment rate may sit below the national average but it is still unacceptably high — so, what is City government’s plan to connect residents who want to work with jobs that pay a liveable wage? Our city may be a happy one, but did the surveyors contact the parents worried that their children will fall prey to gangs? Did they contact the gay person fired from their job because its City government enables legalized bigotry? Holland is a beautiful city, no doubt, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder and far too many of our neighbors struggle with homelessness, neglect, and vulnerability. The people responsible for sending that post card offered us a narrow, limited version of Holland that — while encouraging the reader to feel good — manages to ignore the full scope of Holland’s present day reality. For me, the postcard represents the opposite of leadership. It represents ideology. And our city cannot meet its challenges if we continues to overlook our challenges as unpleasant or unworthy.
We wanted to hear those challenges directly from the people, regardless of how unpleasant they may be. So our campaign has knocked on thousands of doors and called thousands of numbers. And it has not always been easy. Rain falls, wind howls, and snow appears as if out of a fairy tale. Yet we hit the streets — and everyone who participated in this campaign has my unending admiration and appreciation. You know what made the total experience worth more than any temporary discomfort? The respect we received from the people. They repeatedly expressed their appreciation for our asking them, on the doorsteps or phones, about their experiences and opinions. That mutual respect for the public was the fuel for the engine of our campaign of direct voter contact. We could have relied on passive contact such as yard signs, paid advertisements in the newspaper, and impersonal mass mailings (“dear registered voter”). We instead chose to write thousands of hand-written notes, speak to people face-to-face conversation, and call them in person. We did this because Hollanders deserve the opportunity to engage directly with us, to hear our message, and to have our complete attention. Only then can they then share their stories of challenge and triumph. Fancy yard signs, mass mailings and newspaper advertisements are directly contrary to the values of our campaign because they steal resources away from where they are needed most — the poor, the homeless, the hungry, the sheltered, and the marginalized.
In a recent NPR interview, I pointed out that my campaign is something of a novelty. I knew that the first openly gay person to run for elected office in Holland would attract all sorts of distractions and hand-wringing. And you know what? I’m fine with that. What I am not fine with — and what nobody should accept — is Holland’s challenged incumbents refusal to participate in civil civic events. I am not fine with a challenged incumbent refusing to be interviewed by the media. I am not fine with challenged incumbents using their narrow religious convictions as a scapegoat for their personal endorsement of bigotry. I am not fine with challenged incumbents arrogantly referring to themselves as the best thing that’s happened to our city.
So, let the powerful families throw around their money and wring their hands. Let “the team” as they call themselves speak half of the truth to a narrow section of the city. While they turned themselves in circles, we have brought the best possible message to the people. We did it for you, Holland. We did it for the person who feels that their voice is too small for the powerful to notice, so that they will say “wow, if he can do that in Holland then I can do anything.” Yes. Yes you can.
Regardless of what happens tomorrow, we are here. We live in Holland. We play in Holland. We work in Holland.
Tomorrow Tuesday, November 5th is Election Day. Please vote. Polls open from 7a to 8p. Call the City Clerk at 616-355.1302 for information or questions.
I’ll see you soon.