Transit Truths: Seeing Beyond the Latest Makeover

jeff obafemi carr Photo by Bralyn Stokes Photography

By jeff obafemi carr

I love it when you see a tactic change.

For the last several weeks, the powerful forces of Nashville’s outwardly “progressive” government have been hard at work to make window-dressing policy shifts that are designed to lull us into believing there has a been a paradigm-shift in local politics. Mayor Briley has proposed turning the controversial Ft. Negley Site into a public park to honor the African-Americans who built it, expressed support for General Hospital, and boosted the profile of African-American faces in shifting and hiring staff.

Yet, the Transit Referendum is still on the table.

The largest capital project in the city’s history, which is based in a regressive sales tax that punishes the poor, the elderly, those on a fixed income, and business owners, is still being advanced—particularly to our communities—as something we should be “for.” Every commercial, every marketing event, every single thing has been carefully designed to imprint that word in our subconscious, with the hope that as long as we don’t get the details of what this plan really is, we’ll just go pull the lever for what we’ve been programmed to choose.

I’m so glad that times have changed.

We now have social media, email, pdf readers, and cell phones. The old tactics are easily exposed, and when you have a massive political machine at work, it’s hard to keep information from seeping out from between its many moving parts.

For example, while the new rounds of targeted,“talking heads” commercials assault our senses, and internet banner ads encircle articles like mine (if you’re online, take a glance around, you can’t miss ‘em), Twitter once in a while reveals a poignant truth: this $9 Billion Dollar tax plan, which doesn’t repair one road, bottleneck, or pothole, is not about relieving the congestion we all face. To quote a famous hip-hop song:

“It’s all about the Benjamins, baby.”

An unnamed African-American mayoral assistant, in the middle of a passionate rant, made everything crystal clear when he revealed that this “Transit Plan” is, and I quote, “THE largest economic stimulus package in the history of Nashville.”

An economic stimulus package.

And he’s absolutely right—and thankfully, you’re beginning to see it clearly now.

If you remember correctly, over the last few weeks, the Mayor’s Office, the well-funded Citizens For Greater Mobility, the Chamber of Commerce and their stable of African-American consultants, have been sponsoring marketing rallies under the guise of “Transit Talks.” If you also remember, I long ago offered to join the conversation to represent the full costs and concerns so many people are having. It fell on deaf ears—until now.

Now, the powerful downtown interests who will benefit from governmental contract awards should this be voted in have changed their strategy dramatically. After weeks of unexpected blowback from people in diverse communities of color that questioned their motives and their stats; that stood up to put issues like Affordable Housing and Gentrification on the table, the approach had to change. They determined they were badly in need of a makeover.

Now, the mostly white, wealthy, connected elements of political leadership have stepped to the back, dusted off the old school black faces, shaved and prepped them, and pushed them to the forefront of the issue to deliver a “kinder, gentler approach” to engaging us.

It’s fun to watch, from a dramatist’s perspective, but it’s also patently revealing to note that people in the so-called “progressive” mainstream think that just by taking old food out of the dumpster, air-brushing it with fresh color, and adding some garnishment, they can actually get us to eat—and pay for—something that will harm us, without even looking at the menu first.

It won’t work this time.

This time, we see through it all, and no amount of bouncy houses, barbecues, giveaways, yard signs, backflips, new haircuts, re-purposed motivational quotes, and smiling faces will lead people to vote against their self-interests. Now, people are considering the facts:


• This Transit Tax will give us the highest sales tax in the nation, without solving congestion.

• Downtown gets 70 percent of the money ($150 million per mile). Our neighborhoods get the bus and the bills.

• Elders in our communities will not suddenly be content with giving up their cars and riding the bus, especially since our bus ridership is already in a steady decline.

• To be successful, Nashville needs a regional plan, with buy in from the state and region. Surrounding county mayors just endorsed this plan—but did not commit one dime to make it happen. That’s easy to do.

• Not one single penny of a plan that will cost the average family of four $43,608 over the life of the open-ended tax collection period will go to fix bridges, city streets, potholes, or bottlenecks—the things that plague us the most.

Next time you encounter one of the “new and improved” spokespeople, just ask them if the above facts are true or false, note the response you get, and then govern yourself accordingly. I’m sure they’ve been trained to be friendly, but don’t be surprised if those smiles turn to frowns when you tell them that—in the interest of ourselves and our children—you are squarely voting “Against” on May 1st.

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