This age of media accessibility has delivered abundant data and public opinion on the topic of an opportunity for Bellingham as well as the entire Northwest. So profound is this opportunity, its advocates and opponents have contributed trainloads of time and energy in expressing their gamut of perspectives. Marches, petition drives, yard signs and meetings rallied the community to take a long, hard look at this opportunity.
Citizen input has been gathered, letters are being counted and tallied. Environmental impact studies are in our future. Amidst a lull, for now, we wait.
When the time comes to re-engage, how will we proceed?
If we reflect on the last few years, what do we notice about how our community engaged in controversial discussion? Pro- and anti-positions were formed. Funds were spent informing people and recruiting support for the positions. Tension developed among neighbors and groups on opposing sides of the issue. After all this, we are a town divided, dispirited, with no better prospects for prosperity than those offered by the Gateway Pacific Terminal or avoiding the Gateway Pacific Terminal.
A fresh approach might look like this: the members of our community might choose to communicate with those who hold opposing views; try to understand the other side as human beings; try to connect, rather than feel irreconcilably divided; and, through dialog, to build a bridge to a constructive outcome. For example:
What benefits does Bellingham want from this opportunity?
What risks could come with it?
How can we get those benefits without depending on this single controversial opportunity?
Possible benefits include long-term local jobs, new infrastructure and corporate contributions to the community -- particularly if they come through a partnership approach, where the Bellingham community would have a say in the decisions.
Possible detriments include negative environmental impact on the general quality of life for people who live and work in Bellingham. A project to rebuild aging infrastructure would be expensive. Effects on waterfront developments and emergency vehicle response times are unknown.
Energy spent in argument and opposition could be spent more creatively and productively by collaborating on achieving the desired, agreed upon benefits, together. Some ideas include:
Address people's needs instead of succumbing to fear;
Provide jobs for trades people who build industrial facilities as well as for folks who build residential and commercial buildings;
Identify opportunities for desirable new development;
Facilitate the transition to solar, wind, and hydrogen sources for power;
Think about forming strategic partnerships;
Explore ideas that include all of society;
Support services that really benefit people through a care economy;
Promote alternatives to fighting among ourselves;
Create something like "Whatcom Creates Jobs" - a community discussion organized along the lines of Whatcom Reads.
Participation from the Bellingham community would further empower this spirit of working together to define and achieve what people want Bellingham to become.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Mialee Jose is co-director of The Stir Center in Bellingham, where she facilitates diverse groups in practicing innovative problem solving. Carola Tossetti is a volunteer at The Stir Center.
The second session of The Coal Train Without Shouting will be held at 6:30 p.m., April 25, at the Bellingham Library lecture room, 210 Central Ave. For more information go online to stirc.org.