“The issue is with the state, you know, not doing things like providing people with a basic income, right? If folks had $2,000 a month at the [start of the pandemic] . . . I think we need to recognize that it’s about state failure more than it is about individual dismissing of things at this point.” — Maryse Mitchell-Brody, “How to Survive the End of the World” podcast, April 1, 2020

Nate: Becca, what are you thinking about this week? I’m thinking about masks, cars and what Rockland might look like a year from now, or 10 years from now. In terms of masks, the Rockland City Council will consider some sort of legislation mandating mask usage on July 6 (the day before this column is printed), so we don’t necessarily need to discuss it at length here, but I do wish mask usage were more widespread. That said, I’m also hesitant to require mask usage literally at all times outside whenever one goes for a walk.

Becca: Require them and provide them! Many of the people who aren’t wearing face coverings do it as a political statement, and while I respect the desire for bodily autonomy, the issue here is that one’s “personal choice” can rob other people of their health, or lives. Especially with more tourists around, we should all be wearing masks and physical distancing. As to enforcement, the burden absolutely should not be on underpaid retail workers. Also, I’m concerned that the people who get in trouble for not wearing them could be those who the police are already more prone to hassling.

Nate: What do you think Rockland will look like in a year? I’m so excited and pleased that we have ripped off the Band-Aid and started thinking about how we can reconfigure and reclaim our streetscapes. I’m also quite trepidatious because I think it very likely that COVID-19 will get worse in the winter and that public health and people’s livelihoods will continue to suffer. Plus, of course, we will see the results of a momentous election!

Becca: How Rockland looks in a year depends on how much you (yeah, it’s all on you) can create substantive policies—around policing, housing, recovery, public spaces, domestic violence, internet, food, school, climate action, wages, etc. Rockland is still on the precipice of wholescale gentrification, and council and state representatives need to be intervening more. In a year, we might be in a really bad place related to our dependence on global capitalism, which can’t all be fixed locally. I’m also worried.

Nate: Did you see that Habitat for Humanity purchased a 10.4-acre parcel of land on Talbot Avenue and plans to build homes there? I was very encouraged to see that. And the City Council is working through various ordinance amendments to make it easier to build housing in Rockland. The process is slow but the progress is real. One constant difficulty we face (along with many other communities) is that we lack the money to either build infrastructure or create large new programs to address social ills. I think you and I both agree that rich people need to pay more taxes, but I think that’s difficult to achieve on a local level since people can simply move elsewhere.

Becca: Let me challenge you on this. Rich people want to be here. And many rich people want to give their money to good things and they want to live in a community that isn’t so unfair. I also think the Habitat for Humanity expansion is exciting. Overall, we need to encourage more multi-unit homes and retrofitting, which are generally much better for the environment. And Rockland needs to do everything it can to maintain affordable, healthy year-round rentals, and set up a fund/landbank so poorer people can own homes and apartments.

Nate: You make an excellent point: rich people live here because they like living here, not because it’s a cheap place to live. Okay, let’s talk about specific ways to get more money out of the rich. The state severely constrains our taxing authority, so we can’t impose much in the way of local taxes. What about fees for services? Living wage? Voluntary contributions?

Becca: Yes to all of those, but I don’t agree, ever, with simply accepting what the state has imposed. I recommend either passing policies anyway, or enacting RSU 13 School Board member Doug Curtis Jr.’s idea: take a big yellow school bus up to the State House and rally for better school funding (and I would argue for more direct taxation flexibility). If the state and feds aren’t going to do enough about the pandemic and wealth inequality, we need to do it municipality by municipality. But I know you’re exhausted. Me too.