Letters to the editor

Asheville’s slippery downtown slope

Reading the comments about the Saturday feedings at Prichard Park [“Feeding the Fire,” May 31 Xpress], I felt horror at the reality of class privilege in our society and disgust towards the derogatory comments made about my fellow human beings. One emotion I distinctly did not experience, however, was shock. Asheville has been heading down an ill-fated road for some time in regards to class-consciousness, and this is a perfect example.

Stephen West’s comments seem born from the most obvious selfishness. His comparison of our disadvantaged population to soulless human clones is telling. I can only imagine that from his condo on high, these people, with their myriad life experiences and hardships, all look the same. Perhaps it is just more comfortable to simplify the underprivileged as lazy and drunk, instead of investigating his own participation in the widening economic gap in this country (not to mention the quickly skyrocketing cost of living in Asheville). His lack of compassion is staggering, but he seems to be in good company.

Judy Swan asks the homeless to “Please leave the park for those who would like to enjoy it.” I am sure that the very people she would see run out of the park are enjoying it far more than she could even begin to imagine. What exactly is it that makes their pleasure less valuable than that of any other city resident or tourist? I understand she is frustrated that people are defecating in inappropriate places. I, too, am frustrated that the poor sometimes don’t have a pot to piss in. My frustration, however, is not directed towards people who are trying to tend to their needs in the most dignified way available. It is aimed towards the city of Asheville, which cannot provide one single public bathroom.

The order to relocate the breakfasts on account of a public safety hazard is laughable, at best. As anyone who has spent a weekend night in Asheville can attest, there are plenty of events at Prichard Park where the numbers are in the (prominently intoxicated) hundreds. The move is a thinly veiled attempt to hide the poor from the public eye.

Adam Ripley’s intentions are to provide relief and respect to those less fortunate than himself. For Terry Bellamy to accuse him of “dividing our community” is deflective, hateful and false. This community has been divided for some time on issues regarding business interests versus human interests, and as we continue to court more high-income residents and tourists, I only expect such debates to multiply. So please, Ms. Bellamy, don’t shoot the messenger.

— Elyse Manning

In the company of champions

Thank you for the article, “Local Ministers to Receive Civil Liberties Award[May 31 Xpress], informing your readership about the meeting/program of the WNC chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union honoring Howard Hanger, Joe Hoffman and Mark Ward for their significant stand for marriage equality for same-gender/same-sex partners. The Asheville area is fortunate to have three religious leaders who value equality before the law to the extent of putting their professional and economic futures at risk. For their courage, the ACLU of WNC awarded them the Evan R. Mahaney Champion of Civil Liberties Award for 2006.

One error appeared in the Xpress article, however, which deserves correction, out of respect for Evan Mahaney and his widow, Marsha Lockwood. The award, initiated in 2003, was not presented to Evan “posthumously.” It was given to him while he was still very much alive — for his years of activism for civil liberties.

Evan resuscitated the WNC chapter shortly after moving to Asheville from Texas, and in the words of Frank Goldsmith, he was “The spark plug of this chapter in sickness and in health, as well as its conscience when we threatened to stray from absolute civil libertarian purity and get too pragmatic.” He had been active in the ACLU both in Seattle and in Texas, where he worked for years as a journalist. He was a staunch backer of women’s reproductive rights, writing op-eds and leading counter-protests against anti-choice and anti-sex-ed protesters.

Although “retired” in Asheville, Evan made important contributions to FIRE (the Fund for Investigative Reporting and Editing) — a nonprofit that promotes locally based reporting, freedom of speech and access to public information. He also taught at the College for Seniors at UNCA’s Center for Creative Retirement where, among other activities, he led a chautauqua-type series on the Bill of Rights. He was one of our area’s experts on the PATRIOT Act right up until his death in the fall of 2004.

At the time of his award in 2003, the former executive director of the state ACLU, Deborah Ross, observed: “Evan is a civil libertarian’s civil libertarian. He has dedicated his life to using and defending the First Amendment and embodies its teachings.”

Such a truncated bio only begins to suggest the figure behind the Champion of Civil Liberties Award that went to Howard Hanger, Joe Hoffman and Mark Ward. We are sure that Evan would be honored to be in their midst.

— Karen L. VanEman, Chair
WNC Chapter, ACLU

Editor’s note: We regret our mistake, and we appreciate this fuller description of the award’s namesake.

Living the kind life

For goodness sake, Cecil! The Kindness Campaign was not “killed by a brutal Asheville” [“The Unkindest Cut of All,” June 7 Xpress]. (Neither was it, as Spirit in the Smokies rather wishfully declared, “wildly successful.”) More likely, we were a struggling little group of newcomers to Asheville (none of the three part-time staff had lived here more than three years, and neither had unpaid director Barry Weinhold). We were trying to transplant into this unique community a campaign that had worked in Colorado Springs 10 years ago. We didn’t have a usable office; the staff didn’t work enough as a team, but stuck to our separate projects; we were in a learning curve. Who knows? We might have collectively “found our stride” within a few months, had Barry’s health concerns not prompted him to retire.

Benign bromides? “A war without an enemy”? Perhaps part of our challenge was the lack of a clear enough, co-created vision of what a kinder Asheville might look like, [to] excite people about getting involved. Not ambitious enough? If anything, we were too ambitious, thinking we could do all those special events, raise enough money to pay for four staff, and get our Kind & Safe Schools Initiative into schools all over WNC and even in other states.

As volunteer coordinator, I did not succeed in putting together the solid volunteer committees that might have built the support base to sustain our work. That said, I’d like to acknowledge the many volunteers who participated in Kindness Week, the Interfaith Celebration of Kindness, Make a Difference Day, Interfaith Dialogue Dinners, Conversations on Kindness, World Kindness Day, countless festivals and grocery-store tablings, and most recently a “Stories of Kindness” puppet show — created with the kids from the YWCA thanks to the help of six campaign volunteers.

I am grateful for the gifts to the campaign, large and small, from a number of area businesses. I am also personally grateful for the opportunity the campaign gave me to learn my way around Asheville and network with the media. And I appreciate the support I received for developing my Kind Communication classes. (The next series starts June 20 at the Mediation Center. For information, call me at 252-3054 or visit the MAIN Web site’s calendar [www.main.nc.us].)

I’d say that the seeds have been planted. Now, we can look to see what new forms kindness may take in our community. Maybe it’s time to stop talking about kindness and just start living it!

— Cathy Holt

Ringling sets the gold standard

I am a former employee of Ringling Bros. I worked with the red and also blue units till 1984. I had a blast going places. Every town was interesting. That is why I am writing to you about your story [“The Elephant in the Room,” May 31 Xpress].

Not once did I see any elephants abused, nor did I see one electric prod used on them.

I hate to burst Ms. Armstrong’s bubble, but Ringling Bros. sets the standard when it comes to care. I think the former workers who were on shows are trying to backstab the [circus] because the former employees might’ve done something that was against the rules.

I stand by [manager] Bryan Newman, because I, too, can see two happy elephants on the show. Animal handlers now have to go through training, which is positive, and Ringling Bros. does set the standard when it comes to caring. If I went back to work with the show, it would be with elephants. I love them to death.

On the so-called “citations” — once more, Ms. Armstrong is wrong. Also, the younger elephants are not taken away from their mothers. They stay with them 24-7. And there are no electrical wires on the [lion] cages. I worked for one trainer, and I was taught the right way to care for animals. There are no “feed bags.” I don’t know where Ms. Armstrong gets her information, but she has it wrong.

Ringling gets a great pat on the shoulder from Jack Hanna, director emeritus of the Columbus Zoo, on their Web site (Ringling.com). The Elephant Conservation page there shows that Ringling is doing it the best when it comes to breeding, conservation and saving the Asian elephant.

It’s time for Leslie Armstrong to start picking on something other than Ringling.

— John Curry

Circus is no laughing matter

Thank you for a more balanced view of the circus than I’m used to seeing [“The Elephant in the Room,” May 31 Xpress]. As a recent transplant from the Knoxville area, I have had the misfortune of seeing Ringling Bros. come to town far too often. (I wonder why you promoted the circus times at the end of the article while leaving out the Saturday afternoon protest.)

I was disturbed by Brian Newman’s quote that the circus is an “opportunity to escape … and experience the release of laughter.” That may be true for some humans, but for the animals, there is no such reprieve. Well known and documented among animal rights groups is the case of Kenny, the baby elephant who some years ago was forced to perform while injured. He died as a result. In fact, PETA [People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals] and other national groups have compiled a list of over 100 violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act by Ringling Bros — [not] terribly surprising, coming from a business that considers animals “resources.”

Therein lies the fundamental problem with animal-based circuses: the assumption that animals’ worth can only be measured by what they contribute to human societies. Their value cannot be measured as if they were nothing more than unfeeling lumps of gold or silver. Their value, like that of humans, lies simply in the very fact of their existence. Just because we don’t understand or know or see what purpose animals may serve in the bigger picture does not mean we have the right to do with them what we wish. And whether animals “contribute” or not, as judged by humans, they have the right to live free of torture and imposed agony, especially for “entertainment” or financial gain.

Several years ago, a friend and I had the opportunity to observe (behind the scenes) some tigers used by Ringling Bros. Caged, these animals awaited their turns to go on-stage. One trailer had several animals crammed together; in another, a large white tiger paced. To say the condition of the magnificent, powerful animals was heartbreaking is an understatement. I remember most the white tiger’s ceaseless pacing — three or four steps in one direction, then turn, then three or four steps in the opposite direction. He would undoubtedly have paced more, but the cage was not much larger than he. … I hope he has died a quick, painless death, but I am inclined to think his life of sadness and pain will end in agony: agony of humiliation, of undeserved jail time, of the wild yearning for freedom. And all so we can forget our troubles for a little while and laugh.

— Wendy Kobylarz

Back the bike petition

I would like to offer some further observations on the recent bicycle safety issues generated in response to Jackie Snyder’s letter [“Bicyclists Should Stop Being Selfish,” May 17 Xpress].

Yesterday morning, I watched a man in a wheelchair traveling down Hendersonville Road. Recent developers had paid a “fee in lieu of” sidewalk (a convenient way to disregard pedestrians and the handicapped; city takes money, and citizens can’t walk their streets). Trying to get to the bus stop, this man had to wheel himself through the slow lane of 45-plus-mph traffic. Judging from the unnerving honking, this upset some drivers. I wonder how Jackie would feel about this gentleman’s predicament? Incidentally, bikes are outlawed from all existing sidewalks. Quite a pickle we’ve created, eh?

The real problem we are facing is the lack of effort this city has put into its planning around pedestrian and bicycle traffic. We are not going to stop walking or riding our bikes. Tourists come here and they want to walk. I see them running for dear life down in Biltmore village, trying to get from place to place.

I know the people of this city favor higher air quality, care about their own health and support people who are doing what they can to see these things manifest. We have the option to alleviate the tension that exists between drivers and cyclists/pedestrians, as well as continue to be the unique and interesting East Coast town that draws so many tourists annually. So what is stopping us?

I want everyone involved with this debate to know there are citizens trying to make change. There is a petition being circulated that is supported by [City Council members] Bryan Freeborn and Brownie Newman, the Canary Coalition, Western North Carolina Alliance and Appalachian Voices. I urge all the concerned bicyclists and drivers of automobiles — especially those like Jackie — to take positive action and get this thing signed by as many people as they know.

The cover letter states that the petition “will be presented to our city, state, and federal government leaders to help make our streets safe for cyclists, pedestrians and other non-automotive travelers and commuters.”

You may access and print the petition and cover letter at www.biowheels.com/Home/Article.asp?ArticleID=332. (This site also gives you links to all Asheville City Council members.) Please collect as many petition signatures as possible, and send the completed petitions to: Bike Petition, c/o BW-A, 76 Biltmore Ave., Asheville, NC 28801.

— Amber Martz

I liked it like that

Asheville is a place where many come to relocate and live, as they like the small-community atmosphere, along with the mountains and scenery. I also constantly hear people state that it’s a nice, safe place, and it is different from where they once lived — or perhaps everywhere they have lived. I find it funny, because they bring the same attitudes to this area, instead of leaving those where they were and starting a new life like they said they wanted to do.

So now they are here: running red lights, car full of kids, on the phone driving as fast as they can, running late [and] running you off the road because you’re going the speed limit and you’re not late. Or, waiting in a supermarket line to pay for your food or whatnots, [you] hear someone behind you huffing and puffing all this rude[ness] and profanity at you or the cashier because they want to run in and out and don’t want to wait in line.

You see mountains being landscaped and houses being built everywhere that are worth over $500,000, where they level everything around them all because they want a view of the mountains. How about those who think Asheville was a small, hick town with no money before they moved here, and so now they [have] brought money to this town and they are the reason Asheville is changing?

These are just a few of the things I have seen or heard, and I find it funny because I am not originally from Asheville — however, I like it as it was. I love Asheville because people are allowed to be who they are. It’s not about your status, how much money you have etc. It’s a place to come, be who you are and allow others to be who they are. Asheville is a place that is about change — however, a change for the positive for everyone, not just the rich or those who are in a hurry so they feel they have the right to run a red light or [run] you off the road.

You came here for a change, so how about allowing the change to happen, and leave all that other stuff back where you came from? After all, isn’t that the reason you came here?

— William Snedden

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