Some Things Don’t Belong on the Ballot, and the ‘Forgotten Folks’

By Phineas J. Stone

Boston is a place where pure democracy is celebrated.

The Town Meeting.

The pomp and circumstance of the polls and polling places.

The connections one gets when going out to decide the fate of the community with other members of the community, no matter where it is one’s views fall.

But there is a certain instability about the idea of deciding major issues with a ballot question – most question for which people coming to vote – especially on a presidential year – are ill-informed to decide. That’s not because they don’t have the ability to understand the issues, but they simply don’t have the time to do the research required to legislate important matters like cage-free eggs or, most importantly, legalizing marijuana. There’s just no time in modern life to look at every angle and to foresee any unintended consequences. Most people just make a spur of the moment decision, I believe.

All that is why we elect and hire state legislators, but with all the courage of the Lion from the Wizard of Oz, they have ducked out of the room on major issues that require bills and not ballot questions.

We have always had the ability to put a question on the ballot; it’s in our state Constitution.

Nowadays, though, the ballot question culture is about a select few people who want their way, and with quiet footsteps, make major changes to Boston’s social or financial world.

This is going to be the case with legalized marijuana.

There are a select few people who are happy today that Question 4 passed and they likely haven’t thought about what it will bring – especially to our neighborhoods where young people are often on the edge. The folks who pushed for marijuana will likely never have to deal with the pains and problems you people will face with the normalizing of a drug that has very negative consequences.

This was the case with decriminalization of marijuana. No one was going to jail before that ballot question for amounts of marijuana lower than trafficking weight. However, the push was on and Tuesday night’s victory was the end they were ultimately pursuing.

Ask any school administrator or after-school program director what the attitudes of young people were to marijuana after that. The common refrain is to compare it to alcohol. There’s no comparison.

This is a problem of lack of consideration; adults just want what they want.

It’s a very arrogant time, and I’ve written that before.

Many people in comfortable situations will cheer the result of Question 4, envisioning themselves in a hip cafe on Newbury Street smoking high quality reefer and talking about big plans in the morning that will likely only give way to a Cheez-It binge by the afternoon.

I don’t get the war against sobriety; I’m right down the line with Mayor Walsh on this issue.

I worry about our kids, and the message this sends to them. I worry that it will inevitably get into their hands more readily, and no one can tell me that students aspiring to get out of a tough draw in life will benefit from a legal daily toke.

State legislators hate ballot questions deciding major issues; I’ve heard them tell me that, almost on every issue that has been decided on the ballot.

Maybe it’s time to make it harder. This was a major policy change in our city, and it came and went without much debate or thought.


  • • •


The narrative of the “forgotten man” in the national election is one I’ve been thinking and talking about for a long time. Many of us in the neighborhoods around here talk about it in terms like gentrification.

There are so many people in the category these days – whether they are young men of color in the cities, former factory workers in the rust belt, coal miners or the so-called rural vote.

To now, people who aren’t “forgotten” have been content to “work hard” for these people, without taking any time to listen to them and figure out what would help them.

Lots of hugs, lots of sympathy, maybe some budget line items – but no understanding.

This goes as much for young men in our cities who are marginalized as much as it goes for the rural, non-college educated white male. Ironically, both are in the same boat.

They are forgotten, left out, and it’s time for those in higher places to re-think their posture and approach towards these folks.

There are a lot of forgotten men and women around here who worked in closed or scaled-down factories like Westinghouse, Cabot, rag shops in Chelsea or Gillette in South Boston. We are lucky in Boston, because construction jobs have absorbed those former workers.

It’s not the case in a place like Ohio or Pennsylvania. I spent quite a bit of time in Ohio in the 1990s, and my friend’s father worked in an industrial shovel plant in central Ohio. He was a highly specialized welder who had worked the night shift for 25 years at the factory to provide a living for his family.

In the early 1990s one day, my friend and I met his father down at The Shovel, the watering hole that catered to those workers. It was packed, and something had happened. Men were fighting back tears – hardened men who didn’t cry for much and mostly played darts, drank beer and said the f-word a lot.

They had all been laid off; NAFTA had passed earlier that year, and the factory had decided that day to move to Mexico. It was over for all those guys. None of them had college degrees, and none of them were going to go back to school to learn new skills. They had good, valuable skills, but no one wanted them any longer in Ohio.

They were just forgotten, ignored and had nowhere to go.

Some 25 years later, we now know they have never forgotten that day.


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