Monday Night Mainstream Philosophy

By: Bill Whaley
28 October, 2017

Strong at Heart presents “On Taos Time: A Discussion About Our Past, Present and Future.” The event is scheduled for Oct. 30 from 5:30 to 8 p.m. in the Old County Courthouse Mural Room on Taos Plaza. Free food and childcare will be provided, according to a press release.

The promoters of “Strong at Heart” represent municipal “mainstreet” philosophy, a philosophy of rural regeneration that fits neither the character nor the reality of living Taos, an organic community rooted in history, including the history of violence. This uneasy but intense polis resists hierarchy and “social norms.” As Emerson said in Self-Reliance, “The virtue in most request is conformity. Self-reliance is its aversion. It loves not realities and creators, but names and customs. Whoso would be a [Taoseno], must be a nonconformist.”

The journalist in me wants to attend the “Strong at Heart” presentation on Monday night. The Taoseno in me, however, resists. Recent articles and editorials in The Taos News, the downtowntaos web site featuring faces and cliché-ridden generalities, the list of so-called leadership team, call it self-interest rightly understood, suggest superficial representation and well-intentioned motives, serving the status quo at Town Hall.

Apparently Taos just won 3rd place in the world wide competition for best Christmas vacation, behind only Prague and Vienna, and is the sole representative on New Mexico and the USA on the U.S. News and World Report list. Taos appears to shine forth from its idiosyncratic world as unique, or as my friend says as its own “special place.”

Though the biggest source of revenue, tourism and second home migration, can be nourished, national trends and travel habits beyond local control affect the exchange of dollars for services and chance to check out the eternal beauty and historical living culture. After all, we just won third place…in the world.

This week’s excellent weekly spilled ink about Farmington, New Mexico and the attempted (?) revival of the downtown community through a kind of “mainstreet” program. Joined by other representative media in New Mexico, who represent their own economic interests in “growth,” these entities offer tourists bait, promote the growth of “art and culture” districts in empty storefronts: you know, espresso shops, craft beer joints, and art galleries and historic sites in emulation of places like Santa Fe and Taos. Say What?

The downtowntaos web site, home to Strong at Heart, is virtually empty of proclaimed survey results, explanation of methodology, and specifics regarding what the people want in terms of future Taos. The images of anonymous smiling faces holding up illegible hand drawn signs include mebbe one or two native vecinos (including Anglos). Apparently the polled meeting-goers support family values, small town life, want change and development but not too much or better jobs and enjoy the outdoors while throwing a bone to the legacy of the Native American and Spanish culture.

Since the incumbent mayor, despite the lawful requirements, does not live in the Town of Taos and his manager ignores the principles and promises of “transparency,” resident voters are suspicious. Accordingly, former mayoral supporters point to the failed back-door deals with Smith’s and the un-built Holiday Inn, or the publicly funded but incomplete renovation of the Don Fernando Hotel. The Town Council itself routinely violates its own ordinances by simply ignoring them i.e. restrictions against closing the Plaza, violations of procurement code, and public meetings.

You can’t have an honest discussion when the leaders of the community dissemble and the public is left with the impression that “Strong at Heart” is a publicity vehicle for the mayor’s re-election. The organizations in support of “Strong at Heart” like The Taos News and Holy Cross Hospital seem to represent self-interest. The Hospital, a tax supported institution, has raised rates on Taos medicare patients, who flee to Espanola for better care and jobs in the health field. We say Physician, heal thyself.

In front of me I have copies of various “feel good” projects: “Vision 2020” (1999), a 2009 “resource team assessment” for “Taos Arts and Cultural District,” and the 2012 “Taos Arts and Cultural District Plan,” the latter a thorough study with an action plan, representing the cumulative efforts of hundreds of citizens at Bataan Hall charettes (old National Guard Armory on Civic Plaza Drive). Other studies, programs, and examples of well-intentioned plans exist but remain shelved and mostly unread, due to a lack of political will re: public interest by elected officials.

Perhaps the leaders of the “Strong at Heart” movement have reached out to the native residents as they have to newcomers, who enjoy going to meetings. Perhaps I’ll be surprised by the presence of absent landlords and absentee business owners or their proxies at the meeting Monday night in the old County Courthouse courtroom, built and memorialized with frescoes (not murals) by WPA funds. Perhaps this Pendejo will be surprised by the vision and recognition of funky Taos as a vital and roiling complex community of subcultures and living example of local and timeless history, recorded in the literature and spoken of in oral tales among native and local residents.

Though the current occupiers of Town Hall may attempt to “re-colonize” Taos, Taosenos, not unlike the Afghanis or Vietnamese, will prevail in the long run. I am frequently reminded of Hamlet: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt in your [mainstreet] philosophy.”

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