The BUSD Election, the unwinding of possibility and what keeps us going
By Ashton Lyle, April 27, 2023
According to the Solano County Registrar of Voters, Ariana Martinez has lost her bid to maintain her appointment to the Benicia Unified School District Board of Trustees. As a former Benicia student, I am left with the sinking feeling that follows the unwinding of possibility. It’s hard to believe that even in this small liberal town on the Bay, there are losses.
I am only 24 years old, but I spent almost 13 years in Benicia, from kindergarten through senior year. I remember the grassroots coalition that came together to prevent Valero’s attempt to import Crude by Rail, which could have resulted in a disaster like we just saw in East Palestine, Ohio. I participated in a march on City Hall with hundreds of Benicia students who refused to let arts funding go without a fight. I know the people of Benicia, and especially its young folks, will turn out when needed.
It’s a reminder that the political process is exhausting. We cannot win every issue on every ballot, and we will continue to feel the sharp sting of disappointment.
The hard truth behind Ariana’s loss is that we failed to pull enough of us together to protect Benicia’s future. It’s a reminder that the political process is exhausting. We cannot win every issue on every ballot, and we will continue to feel the sharp sting of disappointment.
The inevitability of failure in a democracy can wrestle hope from all of us, myself included. In my worst moments, I find the weight of what could have been driving me toward pessimism and passivity. It is the awareness of a better world slipping through our fingers that makes these encounters with political failure so tragic, especially for young people, who have the older generations’ total failure to take responsibility on climate change as their most immediate political experience. In this stalemate, it can be hard to imagine successful activism and civic engagement.
I end up asking myself again and again how I can learn to live with the feeling that our town, state, or country is not progressing but rather sliding backward. For myself, it is essentially a question of sustainability: how do we preserve our activism and even our faith when the results of politics continue to fail us?
This absurd human condition we find ourselves muddled in concerned one of my favorite writers, Albert Camus. It is one of his essays, The Myth of Sisyphus that helps provide a path forward from that valley of cynicism where I have found myself thus far. In this essay, Camus describes Sisyphus, a man undergoing horrific torture as punishment from the ancient Greek gods. Sisyphus labors endlessly, rolling a massive boulder up a hill that he will never summit.
Camus explains that Sisyphus smiles because the process of moving his rock gives him purpose. Sisyphus accepts he will never achieve his goal but comes to love each “struggle towards the heights” as meaningful and essentially distinct from the moment the rock inevitably slips from his grasp and rolls down into the valley. It’s a reminder that the act of striving for a better future is valuable in itself.
We must remember to find meaning in the process of democracy.
We must remember to find meaning in the process of democracy. Valuing the exercise of politics reminds us, as Camus said, that fate is in our own hands. The failures and disappointments will come all on their own, but success arrives solely by rededicating ourselves to the democratic process. Activism will not always overcome the odds, but the disappointments we feel in our town can only be seen as failures because our actions have consequences.
There is always more to be done. Our roads are falling apart, Valero releases toxins into our air — and funds into our elections — but casting our votes and making our voices heard remains essential to creating a better future for our community. Action is needed now more than ever because, to paraphrase John Lewis, democracy is an act, and it is continuously under threat by passivity in the face of those who aim only to advance themselves.
The age-old cure for feelings of helplessness and disappointment is action . . .
If I can urge anything to the young and old of our town it is to use disappointment as motivation to get even more involved in what makes Benicia great. Volunteer or donate to a local nonprofit (such as the Kyle Hyland Foundation), send messages or call potential supporters for a politician you really believe in, and of course stay informed by reading news outlets such as the Benicia Independent. The age-old cure for feelings of helplessness and disappointment is action, and there are plenty of good causes to work for in Benicia.
[BenIndy Contributor Nathalie Christian: This post will serve as our final announcement regarding BUSD election results. I was not eligible to vote in this election, but 4,110 other Benicians were. Of them, 1,060 chose to cast ballots. That’s a voter turnout of 27%. Compare this with the ~60% turnout for our last general election. While the results remain uncertified, Amy Hirsh is the clear winner of the vacant board seat. That said, I’m not sure there were any real winners in this special election, especially when our schools — and the students they serve — suffered most from its massive, unnecessary cost. —N.C.]