a story about how people with differing views can still find common ground…
It seemed like the right time to tell the story of how I first met Yvonne. For years, I have been very active in local city policies, serving on the Government Relations Committee of the Chamber of Commerce, helping protest the commercial add on tax, fighting to lower parking meter rates until the multi space meters were installed, serving on various city committees, including the one that pushed for allowing 3 hour parking at our meters. I also now head the Old Town Boutique District, serve on a committee attempting to set up a business improvement district and have provided countless hours of time to new businesses seeking help or advice on how to start a business here in town.
Yet most of these activities weren’t super visible to many of you, and so I felt safe from any negativity that can result when a business owner stands up and takes a side on an issue (yes, even on parking issues can cause controversy!) A quick read through my bio on our website will reveal that I am what can be called “liberal” but I think of myself as progressive. This has obvious implications on national political issues but also plays out in what I advocate for within our city limits as well. It is scary to be open about this when you own a business.
And so when I was asked to speak at a city meeting by the outreach firm for EYA and their Robinson Terminal South development project, I was nervous. This would be the first time that I stood in a public meeting to speak on an issue that was potentially very charged. Waterfront development in our city is hotly contested, and while I am certain that the vast majority of my stitcher community has little or no opinion on it, those who do have a very strong one.
But I decided that as a resident and business owner, my voice could and should be heard on the issue. I went to the Board of Architecture Review meeting with my talking points prepared (I am still really nervous about speaking in public). When I arrived, the only seats were on a bench towards the back. I sat with another business owner, and we reviewed our notes and nervously prepared ourselves. It was then that I looked down our row to see a woman knitting a white wool thing (it was large, so maybe a blanket). So I took out my knitting, knowing it would help identify who I was and nervously hoping that she and I weren’t both about to speak on the same issue.
When it was my turn, I went up to the podium and spoke in support of the project. Shortly after, this other knitter took her place at the podium and spoke passionately AGAINST the project. She was Yvonne Callahan, (now president of the Old Town Civic Association). I was mortified. I shot off an email to staff asking if she was a customer. Sure enough, she was. And so, here I was crossing over the fence from “neutral” to having a voice, and this was potentially going to cause me to lose this customer.
A few weeks later, I showed up to the first Old Town Area Parking Study Workgroup meeting. I sat down at my place at the table and took out my knitting. A few moments later, Yvonne arrived and sat next to me. She leaned over and asked, “Are you going to knit through these meetings? Because I was planning on it!” And so, Yvonne and I chatted about yarn and our projects before the meeting started. I don’t know if Yvonne remembered that we had seen each other a few weeks earlier. And we certainly didn’t agree on everything regarding parking policy, but we worked together on that committee. And I’d like to think that having her resident voice and my business voice together made for a better set of recommendations to the city. And we absolutely had complete respect for each other. We needed both sides of the issue to really come up with the best solution for all impacted by our recommendations.
Why am I writing about this? Because I like to think that our shop is a safe “third space.” While we have a hugely diverse community, everyone can sit down and agree that yarn is kinda awesome. I hear the most amazing stories in our lounge. And I see, every day, conservatives and liberals sit on sofas and have in depth conversations about the most important issues in here – yarn and patterns and stitches and the soothing and powerful impact that stitching has had on all of our lives. Yvonne and I have come to find out that we agree on many topics involving city politics and even national politics, but our paths could have taken a completely different turn. We are now friends and colleagues on a variety of issues impacting this city, and I’d like to think that we are the two working most to bring together “the residents” and “the businesses” on a host of issues. Our common love of knitting helped us to find the things that we could agree on and to have more productive conversations on the things that we don’t. Remember that string can bind us in many ways, and that we are all connected by this one very powerful activity.
I look forward to seeing you soon,