Reader’s open letter: ‘There needs to be a conversational, emotional, and cognitive return to the original purpose of this event: The community’
On Monday, we reported local entrepreneur Vera Johnson‘s decision to change the name of the White Center garden tour she is sponsoring July 20th, after WC Jubilee Days asked her to do so, in a way that touched off a Facebook firestorm. Sara Sanford has followed up with an open letter to Jubilee Days organizers and asked if we would publish it. (Note that “today” in her letter refers to Monday.):
Dear David Krause, Greg McCorkle, Michael McGrath, Peter Mort, and Karen Padden,
Seven months after moving to White Center and immediately falling head-over-heels for the neighborhood, I had the opportunity to be one of three co-chairs for the annual Jubilee Days’ Spring Gala. It was truly a labor of love that ultimately gave me and the other volunteers the great gift of meeting vibrant generous community members we might not have encountered otherwise. Vera Johnson was one of these gracious humbling individuals.
In the midst of the chaos that typically accompanies community events and fundraisers, Vera Johnson – a stranger to me until then – found out we were in need of some last-minute miscellany. She and her employee threw together centerpieces and decorations and donated auction items to raise funds for the Jubilee Days event. After giving away her own time and materials, she refused a free ticket to the event and insisted on buying tickets for herself and several friends. I’m fairly sure that in the course of the evening we broke one of her vases and may have lost some decorations. She never cared. She thanked us for all our hard work and went on to run the Garden Tour that had been handed over to her at the last moment. I do not know all the behind-the-scenes that produced this garden tour – but I know the overall community impact was positive, as all events at her nursery have been.
Today, White Center Jubilee Days Board publicly posted a Cease and Desist letter to Vera Johnson on Facebook. They had already sent this letter to her in the mail, and she had received it Friday. She hadn’t even had an entire business day to respond before her name and business had been dragged through the mud by an organization she had assisted in the past. Again, I was not privy to all the behind-the- scenes action on this either – I just know that the overall impact on the community has been nothing but toxic.
As noted in the thread that ensued, there are endless ways to discuss where and how and why this was the poor choice.
There’s the technical/legal side of it all:
Can you really say it’s all ‘fact’ when ambiguous phrases are included such as, “In light of the general dissatisfaction with your handling of the official White Center Garden Tour last year, including both the general poor quality of your event…” – I would be very interested to see your legal calibrations of dissatisfaction. I don’t quite remember receiving a survey regarding my satisfaction with the tour or ever seeing a standards-based assessment that the event was of ‘poor quality’.
The very clear placement of the Jubilee Days logo in the middle of the Garden Tour poster from last year, despite your claim that your logo was smaller and less obvious than others. The insinuation that Peggy Weiss, originator of the Garden Tour (who has since distanced herself from Jubilee Days) did not approve of Vera’s position as a leader, even though she explicitly asked Vera to run the tour this year.
The unreasonable order to not even use the term “White Center” – How is one to now brand events that take place in White Center in proximity to Jubilee Days events and still avoid a WCJD smear campaign? We’ve tried to say Rat City, but some WCJD associates got upset about that too. I would also be very interested to see where “White Center” was copyrighted by the Jubilee Days Board for their explicit use.
There’s also the whole history of actions on the part of the WCJD that have unfortunately done more to divide local businesses than help them. Businesses that fundraised for Jubilee Days have had their driveways blocked and businesses circumstantially shut down during a festival that is supposed to bring stimulus to the community. Business owners have been taken advantage of, ignored, and mistreated by senior board members who were very explicit about wanting their names to stay at the top of all event billing. Items procured for the auction last year were explicitly used to further the personal egos and business interests of board members. Honestly, it was simply a matter of time before something this egregious was going to take place.
I realize this all seems slightly-to-extraordinarily hilarious for those who have not been intimately involved with White Center and its events – Something that might make up the screenplay to a sequel of ‘A Mighty Wind’ – Unincorporated Gardeners go Head-to-Head with Underprivileged Activists! While steeped in absurdity – It all matters.
It matters because unnecessary public Cease and Desist letters make those who do not know the involved parties question the integrity of our community. Such public blaming makes those who haven’t been to White Center or Jubilee Days question how much under-handed deception may be occurring and makes potential consumers hesitant to spend their money here. I can’t go back to last year and know enough about what happened to accurately make statements about how the Garden Tour’s interactions were or were not conducted. I do know that this method of publicly embarrassing a visible, involved community member was at best not necessary and ultimately extremely harmful on a community-wide level. Until this letter was issued this event was by no means ‘competitive’. People who are into garden tours would have gone to both. I would have gone to both. Neighbors would have met more neighbors and would have shared lovely conversations about plants. Skeletons wouldn’t have been taken out of closets and no one would be singing a swan song.
And after the conversation inevitably devolves into the who-volunteered-more-hours than whom Olympics and injured parties stake their claim in the mudpit – I, too, am guilty of vitriolic statements today – There needs to be a conversational, emotional, and cognitive return to the original purpose of this event: The community.
White Center Jubilee Days Board – You have an opportunity to change the direction and return it to the best interests of your community. We are a small, strong, wonderful, sometimes tenuous group of people in White Center. We need each other. Greg, Karen, Mike, Dave, Pete – We need you. And frankly, you need us as well. And that’s a beautiful thing. As a community member and former Jubilee volunteer, I don’t want to see doors closed on future relationships where the hallways of conversation could have been open. Rather than aligning our actions, priorities, and public words along corridors of credit-taking and power-swapping, I would like to see us align our actions in the best interests of the neighborhood. I don’t want to see us indulge in the politics of the broken-hearted.
Honestly, at first I felt this post showed a level of disrespect that did not even deserve to be honored with dialogue. But, we live in a community that deserves to be honored with the talents, skills, and words of all its residents. So, many of us responded – for better or worse. And in turn, many of us are sitting uneasy tonight.
You as White Center leaders get to make a choice between holding on tightly to ego and ownership or searching for clarity and courage. Rather than people saying ‘Everyone for him or herself’ – This could be an opportunity to embrace a community centered around common cause.
Pause. See where people’s gifts and the community’s needs intersect and just make it happen.
If White Center is going to continue to grow, we need to realize how interdependent we are on one another. I look forward to seeing the humanizing values of companionship and humility reoccupy White Center’s spaces. I look forward to seeing choices made in the true spirit of jubilee.
Thank you all for your time.
If you have a letter to be considered for publication, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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