Walter Searcy

Walter Searcy has long been a pillar of the African American community in Nashville, as well as a longtime board member of MTA. He recently shared his thoughts on the upcoming transit vote on May 1, including why he was voting for it and encouraging others to do so with him.

Why should the African American community vote for transit on May 1?

There are many reasons, but I’ll just focus on a handful of the most important. African Americans are one of the most transit sensitive populations in our city. Many are extremely cost burdened by transportation, no matter what mode they use. When you couple this with the cost groceries and other necessities, many of us are near or at bankruptcy, needing to rely on subsidies to get by. A good transit system acts as a subsidy for people, alleviating the cost of living for those needing it most. For those of us that have tried to keep their old, beat up hooptie running for years, the cost of continual repairs, gas and parking vastly outweigh what you would pay a year for transit.

The jobs this plan will create are really important for the black community, and I can’t say that enough. It’s not just giving people employment, which it will do by the thousands, but when layered with the required DBE participation in its creation, it offers our community an opportunity for economic progress never seen before in our city.

The enhancement of crosstown bus routes, making rapid bus available for all and the construction of light rail will create true mobility for everyone. You won’t have to go downtown and through Music City Central just to make transfers. You’ll be able get from Bordeaux to Madison, or Antioch to Donelson in a fraction of the time it takes now. This plan is 100 percent not a downtown-centric proposal. Change will happen all over Davidson County.

Finally, this plan is the single most important step we can take for more affordable housing until we get dedicated funding for it. An increase in inventory is enhanced by the plan, particularly in transit oriented development districts. In places like Bordeaux, where there is more sprawl, there will be rehab grants available for existing housing, meaning singly family houses won’t get eliminated.

What benefits would it bring me, my family, or the person beside me in the pew?

I’m a paraplegic and confined to wheelchair. I don’t drive. I have to rely on family, friends, Lyft or Uber, and public transportation. Public transportation is by far the less intrusive and independent option for me, but that’s if it’s available! Right now, there aren’t routes that come through my neighborhood during the day. If I have somewhere to be, I have to pay for a rideshare or inconvenience someone I know. I’m discouraged from taking public transportation.

For families, good transit helps everyone’s schedule. Parents need reliable options besides themselves when it comes to getting their kids home from football or cheerleading practice after school. This is especially true for parents of kids that go to schools outside their zone. This plan puts 76 percent of residents within a half mile of transit.

I worked hard to get this car I have, now you’re telling me to leave it at home?

First off, I’m not telling you that. What I’m saying is I want to give you other options to choose from. We are a car culture, no doubt. But when we get predictable, reliable and clean public transportation, I’m confident people will begin to change the culture. They will start wanting to leave their car at home and use transit to get to work or visit family and friends. And when they start taking public transportation, they will discover a whole new world, interacting with their neighbors and people from all over the city, creating a new community that would have never existed if not for transit. For the shyer types, you can put your headphones on and get work done on the way to school or your job!

What are the true motivations behind the opposition to the transit plan?

I don’t confess to know all the reasons why the opposition is against this plan, but I can tell you that few are more pernicious than what’s at the core of their why they are doing what they’re doing, and that’s racism.

The reality is that the principal funding source for the opposition is very rich and powerful group that spends millions of dollars a year to stop public projects that benefit minority communities, like mass transit.

There is a strong cultural history in our country, including in Nashville, of cities enacting racist and segregationist policies to stop black and brown people from getting good public transportation. This continues today.

In 1905, the black leaders of Nashville, led by Richard Henry Boyd and James C. Napier, came together to form the Union Transportation Company due to Nashville’s Jim Crow laws. The company was created after a boycott by black people over a new law that required them to sit in specific designated areas in our city’s streetcars.

Does that sound familiar? It should.

Nashville’s boycott was the largest urban transportation protest in America before the Montgomery Bus Boycott in the 1950s. Led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the African American community boycotted Montgomery’s racist bus system for the same reason we did here in Nashville 50 years earlier: telling us where we can and can’t go or sit, treating us as second-class citizens.

We are once again at a crossroads. These people may be using new terms and tactics, but their intent is the same, and the consequences just as insidious and harmful to our community.

The other group, I call them the “limousine liberals,” may not believe they are being discriminatory but meanwhile being paid by the above people. The fact is that they are denying opportunities for progress for a community and its people that have historically had double or triple the unemployment rate as the rest of the country, that is more likely to live in sub-standard housing, and that is more likely to get pushed out of a city into the suburbs or further.

Developing a mass transit system can help solve many of these issues.

Finally, all these opposition groups that say they just want a better plan or want to go back to the drawing board are lying to you. Where were they in 2012 for NashvilleNext? What about the years of community input for nMotion? The answer is that they weren’t there. They are only stepping up now because they know we are close to seeing this thing through.

Trust me, these people will disappear on May 2 if they get their way. They do not have our community’s interests at heart.

Why are you voting for transit on May 1?

I’m originally from Chicago, and grew up in a household where my seniors didn’t drive. It was an ordinary occurrence to see them wake up in the wee hours of morning and walk down to the bus stop, get on it to go to work and to get back home. We all took the city bus to work or to school. The only reason my dad took our family station wagon to work was because he had a second job with a parcel postal service!

When I came to Nashville in 1967 to attend college, the bus system was laughable. There was one bus that ran from Jefferson St. to downtown, which at the time had just been desegregated. My first job at Ferro Fiberglass on Spence Lane was a 24 hour operation and your shifts changed periodically. We really had no economic way to get to work using public transportation, especially if you worked the night shift. It made life for me and my peers tougher than it needed to be. It saddens me that today much of that is the same.

We can finally do something about it.

I foresee a day in Nashville where what neighborhood you live in doesn’t determine who you are or what you do. I foresee a day when grandparents won’t want to admit to their grandchildren that they were ever against bringing this plan to the people.

On May 1, I hope our community comes together and votes for transit.