If you remember the previous effort to remove Onteora’s Indian mascot, you are aware that it split the community wide open, bringing old resentments to the fore (oldtimers versus newcomers, Olive versus Shandaken versus Woodstock, us versus them) with many hurling charged epithets of racism, elitism, political correctness and the like. Yes, there were threats and vandalism involved, and the fragile bonds our communities share received fresh wounds that take long periods to heal.
It’s not only the Mascot issue that has caused this split in the past. The large parcel controversy that actively affected property taxes, mostly in Olive, was just as big a blowup, maybe bigger. Periodically these painful issues cause us to turn against one another, and it’s unproductive, because as insulated as we can be as communities, we are also intertwined and co-dependent.
And now isn’t the time, as we hear about yet another mass shooting in our country, this one in San Bernadino, California, to be ripping and tearing at one another. It feels as if the basic fabric of our existence as a nation is being threatened as Americans turn on Americans; as we argue about who exactly is an American and what rights we have as such. As politicians seek to divide us by whipping us into a fearful frenzy to advance their own ends; as we lose all perspective of what freedom actually means, the right to do as we please, as long as it does not infringe on another. Yes, these things have complicated definitions, simple as they may sound. Discussions of them go deep and philosophical divides occur. But when we start shooting at one another, its all over.
I don’t know about you, but right just now, I’m not ready to get involved in another huge shouting war with my neighbors over this mascot issue. Sure, I have my own feelings on the issue and if necessary will express them here.
But the last time this came up, it was finally settled with a simple vote of district residents. Indian Mascot, yes or no. The Onteora community voted, 15 years ago to keep it. It’s reasonable to revisit the issue a decade and a half later, if the question keeps coming up.
We don’t advocate for referenda on every question, especially not when it’s the job of our elected representatives to make those choices. But in a case like this, sure, why not? It could either be a vote of district residents, who pay the taxes, many of whom are alumni of Onteora; or let the students do it themselves, it’s their school, give them a say in something around there. Get enough signatures on a petition to show that its a serious question, have a forum to express opinions, and have a vote. And then live with the result for a while. It beats getting furious at everybody.