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G-Sync: Voices Carry

In September 2008, just weeks away from a series of months that the news would often refer to as the worst financial crisis outside of the Great Depression, Rapid Growth debuted a new events-focused module to our site: G-Sync.

In those early days leading up to our launch of G-Sync, I coined the name because of its mission to sync up signature events with the diversifying populace of our region. A giddy sense of optimism took over. It would be short-lived.

During those early days, our city, along with much of the country, was facing a financial crisis. Unlike the headline-grabbing publications that littered the newsstands and filled our computer screens, we found ourselves in a unique and difficult spot. We were the cheerleaders of the region -- the ones who were reminding you of the good, the fresh, and the undiscovered or uncovered.

We also developed another audience that saw us as the Vapid Growth folks, accusing us of only seeing the city through rose-colored glasses. By default, the entertainment guy -- moi -- was a Holly Golightly socialite on the scene. (Far from it.)

While I was only a Lifestyle Editor charged to cover the arts and cultural scene of our region, what was happening in the world of business, banking, and finance was barreling down on the arts as a ripple effect like that of a typhoon after an ocean-centered earthquake.

If you have been around the arts long enough, then you know that when push comes to shove, the arts are often the first to go, even with all the data on how the arts enrich and build a city, as well as create jobs. White-knuckled, we braced for the storm.

We survived the hardships beginning in 2008 and afterwards by building new models by which we could come together as a community, whether it was families with means, foundations with vision, or a renewed push from our area arts writers who pleaded that the best way to sustain an organization was to be a patron through memberships or by just plopping down the admission fees necessary to enter.   

It was during this period that Rapid Growth would begin a tradition in G-Sync where we would kick off our events list in a way to paint a picture of the whole. It would go on to become a break out section as a result and thus, G-Sync. The editorial plus event coverage was born.

So why this nostalgic trip now?

While we have spent the past four years looking at our city and how we operate, we find ourselves on the eve of another important election.

And by important, I mean that each election seems to hold even greater stakes than the one before it. The knowledge of our city shared here in the pages of Rapid Growth does, in a very unique way, serve as a function to help one sort out or begin to create dialogue around a topic. To be honest, the arts are often where a topic or theme in society is worked out.

While it is true we do not advocate here on our pages for any particular candidate or party, we have made it clear over the years of coverage around diverse topics and events that some of the best opportunities for any real impact are local.

This is why over the past few years we have dared to dip our toe in the water of local ballot measures. We’ve discussed local transportation, streamlined government services to make us smarter, and even asked our community of readers to think on the life-changing (and difficult) ones like Decriminalize Grand Rapids. On that particular issue, with all due respect to Chief Belk and Attorney Forsyth, they are getting it wrong. With each sound byte, they’ve evoked past arguments that are no longer our present reality.

This might be a good time to say that we could not have done it without you. We have noticed your feedback over the years delivered via letters and cocktail chatter, or observed you just doing good works. We celebrated your boldness in the events and stories shared via G-Sync.

But this is not about fishing for a compliment, but my way of saying, “Let’s reflect for a moment together.”

The election on Nov. 6 is one none of us should take lightly. Nor am I here to tell you to go to the polls and vote straight ticket. That always seemed a bit odd to me. A Prix Fix menu seems to always have an item that I want to jettison from my list.

Voting in an election is an honor.  

It may seem a bit overly patriotic to say it like that, but as you delve into the history of the American people and the struggle to be heard, voting rights are something we should never take for granted.

As our city begins to expand with more diversity, it is important to remember that our democracy depends on our voices and involvement. This is, again not to say you must vote, but that before you say you won’t, to give pause and think about what, “I don’t vote because it doesn’t matter,” really means.

When we do not cast a vote, we are not lending our voice. Sure, there are other methods, and if you had a lot of money or privilege, I am sure you would find another avenue to create something that matters.

But it is still one person, one vote.

When we vote, we are lending our voice. And when our voices band together, we get loud. And when we get loud, our collective voices carry.

There is still time to get up to speed on the various ballot measures facing our state and local government.

American author and World War II veteran Kurt Vonnegut is famous for Slaughterhouse-Five, a novel referring to his time spent in Dresden.

But while taking a much deserved break from the 24/7 news cycle to read another Vonnegut novel, Palm Sunday, I discovered a section from a commencement speech he delivered at the Hobart and William Smith College in 1974.

“Bertrand Russell declared that, in case he met God, he would say to Him, ‘Sir, you did not give us enough information.’ I would add to that, 'All the same, Sir, I’m not persuaded that we did the best we could with the information we had. Toward the end there, anyway, we had tons of information.'"

I think this is when I put the book down and just stared out the window. In 1974, he saw his present as advanced, even with most access to information unavailable or difficult to obtain. Today, information is so prevalent that within a few keystrokes, we can get to an answer if we have the right, credible sources.

My goal here is to encourage you to look over your ballot in advance and to not enter the booth as a low-information voter randomly choosing names that look good in print, but could be disastrous post-election for the things you and many others care about in our city. According to most social scientists who have studied elections and the voter participation process, we tend to vote for things we think might be good for the country, but end up statistically getting it wrong. In The Ethics of Voting by Jason Brennan, he acknowledges that at present, we have a learning gap in our election process that Vonnegut warned about in his speech.

Rapid Growth is a place where civility rules each week as we look at our city through the lens of history, but with a keen eye on where we are going. As a Lifestyle Editor, the journey I began in 2008 and what I write about today has been carefully formed by the dialogue we have created through the events that entertain us as a community, but also by who we met along the way at said events.

The pages of Rapid Growth have explored one theme that carries over from the old world: the role of the neighborhood pub is to be a place for conversation. It is different than a restaurant in that a pub, by its nature, encourages a sort of musical chairs as people in such settings do not feel the need to park in one spot as they circulate and converse with the many folks who fill up the establishments.

It is my wish and my hope that our democracy of ideas will continue to flourish, both here locally, but also up the chain to places like Lansing and Washington.

Even when the odds against a reversal of extreme partisanship are slim and such 'my way or the highway' division is seen as just the way it is, making civility through transparency and dialogue difficult, I still hope that true bipartisanship will be the next golden rule. I believe in evolution because I have seen it in action here. It does happen, and you still get to retain your core principals. The bullshit falls away with time.

Most of all, I hope that liberty, equality, faith, and dreams can find a way to not only blossom, but intersect once again in all that we do so we no longer keep anyone from achieving the American Dream. Together, we make the city where we want to live, and being an informed voter is just one way this happens here for all of us.

You may say I’m a dreamer, but, well, you know I am not the only one.*

The Future Needs All of Us (to vote the future.)

Tommy Allen
Lifestyle Editor

For a fantastic weekend guide to the best options to consider this weekend, click away.

*Thanks, John Lennon for allowing me to paraphrase. Four years later, the city is stronger and wiser because of the dialogue we all create here.
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