Team Jonesboro’s gift

Two hundred-eleven votes. In Tuesday’s context as the margin of defeat for Jonesboro’s proposed sales tax, the figure is reminiscent of Della’s one dollar and 87 cents in the classic O. Henry tale.

Both stories are about pennies; both numbers are small potatoes against a larger purpose.

Two hundred-eleven votes in defeat translates into 106 changed minds out of 10,000 votes cast. Or 212 more supporters finding their way to a polling place out of 26,000 registered nonvoters.

Team Jonesboro is the grass-roots group that proposed the one-cent sales tax to fund public safety and amenities. It helped create an Oversight Integrity Council giving citizens a voice and adding a layer of sunlight accountability on the city council. The election’s unofficial final tally was 4,805 for and 5,016 against.

For the Team Jonesboro faithful, the past three months tripped by on rosy wings, to borrow O. Henry’s “hashed metaphor.” It started with 500 people attending the first reading of the proposed initiative—so many that the council chambers overflowed an hour before the meeting, and the annex room was packed. Old-time observers reported seeing opposition mobs that size in the past, but never such a crowd in support of something.

From there the fresh, young movement ascended and accelerated, the way Della wriggled from her chair to rush to Jim when he first caught sight of her cut-off hair.

Volunteer form submissions poured in from the Team Jonesboro website, as did online donations. Nearly 1,000 people signed up on the team roster, and site traffic reached 12,000 page views in 100 days. Team Jonesboro videos on Facebook were watched some 80,000 times. The page’s posts collected countless likes and shares and comments, and as many derivatives across others’ pages.

Yard signs lined streets everywhere, in front of houses small and large, in neighborhoods old and new.

Standing on a busy downtown corner, holding a sign on election day, I saw innumerable motorists smiling and waving, giving a thumbs-up, honking and a few shouting “Go Team Jonesboro” like cheerleaders.

Yet amid a veritable sea of active engagement and manifest support, 211 drops kept the tide from turning for Jonesboro.

Most municipalities would give anything for a bottle of the energy drink that Team Jonesboro brought to town. When local politicians post videos online, they hope for 800 views; they can only dream of 80,000. A local press conference of any sort would call 40 a “crowd,” while Team Jonesboro’s launch event gathered 400.

The razor-close electoral defeat notwithstanding, the Team Jonesboro movement has mobilized people who are sick and tired of frequent shootings and crime. Who are fed up with hometown hypocrites that happily pay higher sales taxes in every other place but not their own (Jonesboro’s sales tax is below the state average).

Who want, as Jonesboro continues to grow in population, to have above-average things for their families and children that other similar-sized cities invest in through local taxation: museums, sports complexes, performing arts facilities, amphitheaters, parks and pathways, bicycle trails, aquatic centers.

In providential fashion, the day after the election I attended a Patriot’s Day ceremony featuring a speech by retired Rev. Stuart Hoke.

Hoke was assistant pastor of historic Trinity Church on Wall Street in New York, just blocks from the World Trade Center towers, and witnessed the terrorist attack 18 Septembers ago.

In a riveting 20-minute talk, he related the initial innocence of a subway skipped stop because of a “problem” at the North Tower; the ear-splitting sound of the second jet and the holocaust of flame as it flew into the South Tower; the “bam-bam-bam-bam” sound and 4.0 Richter scale shudders as the “unthinkable” occurred when the first of the two collapsed.

He described walking preschool children away from danger, and being assisted when a Metro Transit Authority bus materialized, looking to help. He told of how hundreds of private watercraft, from fishing boats to pleasure yachts, all piloted by “normal people like you and me,” ferried 100,000 people to safety off the island.

Hoke’s story of hope bringing good from bad, light from darkness, life from death—whether in the most monumental atrocities, like 9/11, or in the most mundane disappointments, like a local sales tax vote—couldn’t have come at a better time. His call to remember how our nation put aside its differences to come together in a moment of raw pain and despair couldn’t have struck a more resonant chord.

Team Jonesboro may have lost the election on Tuesday, but it had already won the hearts of the people. A silly stumble of a paltry 211 votes at the polls won’t stop them now.

They have begun to sense what a safer, stronger community can feel like. For maybe the first time, locally, they truly understand E pluribus unum.

Team Jonesboro was, and is, unity out of many. They gave all, but gained in losing. They are the Magi.

And for the rest of the state interested in inspiring local goings-on, their movement and what they intend to accomplish will be worth watching.

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