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    Alexander: Let’s lose toxic politics and collaborate

    Collaboration and unity isn’t a slogan but a practice. In this era of toxic divisions and discourse fueled by endless election cycles, national media and the politicization of everything, we often lose sight of the skills we have to work with folks who don’t agree with us.

    It is easy to throw our hands up in the air and say it can’t be done as the anger and outrage in communities is palpable. The pain folks are experiencing includes inflation, energy, food and housing costs, the economic and social disruption caused by coronavirus shutdowns. Social media tunes up every crisis folks are grappling with into an “outrage addiction” where we blame those different than us for our problems round the clock.

    With little fanfare local government, small business and community leaders prove they can partner, work across party lines and deliver results. At this year’s LI Smart Growth Summit over 140 speakers from the 1,000 in attendance reported on just some examples of collaboration.

    Town supervisors and mayors shared how they have produced over 20,000 units of multifamily housing over the last decade and a half. Far more than estimated by Manhattan planners and with over 10,000 units being planned now with local communities.

    Our new congressional delegation working with these local town and village leaders have an opportunity to bring federal resources to Long Island for infrastructure, housing and human needs.

    Chambers, BIDs, mayors and community residents worked together through the pandemic to promote downtowns, lead a record number of “shop local” campaigns and brought grants and loans to local businesses hit hard by coronavirus restrictions.

    Local governments, AARP members and walkability advocates collaborated to redesign dozens of dangerous roadways in communities where safety for pedestrians and bicyclists, young and older are at risk. Senator Schumer and federal agencies are stepping in with plans and funding to assist.

    Environmentalists, businesses, government and a majority of voters collaborated to pass an environmental bond act that will bring millions of dollars to Long Island for water projects and sewers among other things. In recent years wastewater infrastructure projects have been planned and built with local leaders creating consensus project by project.

    Human service providers, local volunteers and churches work with government, donors and private foundations to stock food pantries that are in historic need while also dealing with a rising demand for drug, alcohol and mental health services.

    Clean energy advocates, utilities and contractors are working together to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while keeping costs in line for residents and businesses.

    State senators from both parties spoke about collaboration as a Long Island 9 to fight for local communities. This comes where in recent years our region has a shrinking voice in Albany and controversial issues like congestion pricing, casinos and threats to local zoning are being pushed.

    These are just a few examples of folks working together across party lines. Regular people do it every day in just about every occupation, family, community and social settings.

    Many can’t even hear of these examples and other unifying work being done. Like grappling with drugs, alcohol, gambling or any other addiction our collective “outrage addiction” leaves us blind to the opportunities to chart a new course.

    When we give in to that urge to demonize differences, we lose sight not only of the good that has been done, the opportunities in front of us but also the inherent worth of every individual.

    By practicing collaboration that brings policies and projects in the public interest, we can rebuild trust that has been in short supply particularly with large institutions.

    As we wrap up this year and approach our work in 2023, we can kick our outrage out of the car crash of extremism and stop rubbernecking. Instead use our skills to collaborate, find solutions and bring public and private resources to local communities.

    We need to suspend our belief that politically divided leaders, neighbors and friends can’t work together – we can and should.

     

     Eric Alexander is director of Vision Long Island and founder of LI Main Street Alliance

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