Once upon a time, several years ago, I was Mayor of the Town of Fairfax in Marin County. Fairfax is a population of 7000 souls with a stable compendium of old and young, progressives and conservatives But all are actively doing something that matters to them. Some are devoted to their 30-year jobs; some are devising new kinds of work.
All the people in Fairfax, whether young or old, are involved in something that matters to them. Volunteering at the church thrift shop, or shelving books at the library or walking kids to school, Some citizens concentrate on supporting the Town’s well-known music scene and delightful restaurant choices. Everyone who is able, does something. Most people will frankly tell you they love their Town. They like keeping it safe, well-run and full of fun.
The environmental movement is strong in Fairfax. Many of Fairfax’s ecological ordinances became or energized part of County law and planning. Among those are ecologically-based trash and waste disposal; Clean Energy options; Safe Routes to School. We supported an award winning locally owned, completely organic grocery store called Good Earth and now these kinds of stores are popping up elsewhere. Many of these initiatives became not only County but State and National initiatives. They originated in Fairfax. As a result, there are several stores in Fairfax that sell products exclaiming the village enthusiasm, “We Can Do This!”
Because the Town is so active, significant crowds participate in every Town Council meeting. And everybody who participates has probably had their say at one time or another in years gone by. People of all ages and abilities come and speak their piece.
So, several years ago, when we of the Fairfax Council received messages from the cities of San Francisco and Oakland that they wanted to create a joint effort end the plastic bag debacle, we were ”all in.” Those white, wavery, side-splitting, ghosts were wandering around every local thoroughfare, creek, river, and beach. They were found in the stomachs of sickly seals and fish. They had to go. If mighty SF and Oakland were willing to bring a case to court against the plastics industry, then we of Fairfax “small but mighty,” were in.
The Town meeting vote was a clamor of “Yes!”
Then, as they say, the other shoe dropped. We got notices and more notices and these were not so pleasant to read. The national plastic bag industry was readying a multi-million dollar court case against all three of our municipalities to stop our plastic bag ban. The cost of entering the first stage of the case would be $250,000 for Fairfax and would go up into the millions once the case really got going. We were stunned.
We called a special meeting to ask the community what they thought. And the major grocery stores, the hardware store and many other storeowners were first in line to speak at the debate. And this is what their spokesperson said:
“We have long been thinking of how much we dislike plastic bags and we are aware that they are a pollutant in our Town. We will voluntarily cease using plastic bags. We are sending them all back in the mail immediately and will not use them ever again.”
And so they did. And so did many, many other municipalities across the nation.
In a country of laws, as we see today, some changes take a very long time. But when people come together to do what is right for all – including what is right for Mother Earth – you don’t necessarily need laws to govern your good behavior. Sometimes you don’t need to spend money or even very much time. In the end, our little Town stood for another great saying and we use it even today:
“Small but Mighty.”