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What Democracy Looks Like

by Peter Schrappen

One of Benjamin Franklin’s more famous expressions kicks off this month’s column. As he liked to say, there are two types of people in the world — those who like mayonnaise and those who don’t. Okay, I’m not exactly sure that he uttered those words, but why not? I’m not for certain that he didn’t.

Along those same lines as I’ve discovered in my fourteen years in Washington state, there are two types of people in our state: those who consider themselves boaters and those who don’t.Schrappen

As I told the mushrooming crowd at the Washington Boating Alliance’s Leadership Summit during the Seattle Boat Show, Washington state has reached a real crossroads with this boating vs. non-boating fissure, but it wasn’t always this way. Everyone (or at least everyone I talk to) used to think of themselves as boaters. Maritime communities were a part of who we were.

Take the Sammamish Slough Races from 1933-1976. Pictures from those events reflect an entire region showing up to take in these festivities. Take that, Seahawk-Parade goers. Maritime fervor ran through our blood. It was who we were.

Oddly, somewhere along the way that part of our identity took a hit. When I asked Jeff Messmer of Ranger Tugs about our state’s recreational boating decline, he cites the culprit as select soccer. Parents just do not have the time to keep their kids social calendars in check and spend time on the water.

Asking my favorite sage Steve Greaves about boating participation, he has a different take. He thinks there’s something to the smaller cars and lack of driveways as the limiting factor. As cities and towns get denser, there’s less room for the boat in the driveway (if you even have a driveway). Cars are getting smaller, too. There’s just no space to sustain boating when you aren’t actually boating.

There are many other reasons, too. “The Last Child in the Woods”, which is required reading for REI employees, covers this topic differently. It focuses on the fact that today’s kids are more plugged in than ever before but completely disconnected from their surroundings. “I like to play indoors better ‘cause that’s where all the electrical outlets are,” said one of the fourth graders in the book.

Regardless of the reason, there is a divide out there. Unfortunately, those who “just don’t get it” then go out of their way to create public policy that sacrifices our working waterfront and recreational boating.

By now from reading this column, you can cite how this disconnect manifests itself. One of my least favorite quotes comes recently from the Cascade Bicycle Club. When speaking about the dedicated bike lane that would put a stake in the heart of the Westlake community around Lake Union (which includes marinas and 50 boat repair shops and 300 water-dependent businesses) their new leader, Thomas Goldstein lampooned the working waterfront, letting us all know that this area “is set up perfectly for 1962.” Good grief.

And the Humane Society just came by. They are telling me that I have beaten that horse to death. Never fear. There is good news to share here. Sound the trumpets. The Washington Boating Alliance (WBA) is on the scene. For the last nine years, a small dedicated tribe of boating enthusiasts has coalesced for monthly meetings to take stock of the overall boating system in the state. While the Boat Guy (Chip Hanauer) rightly so talks (shouts) about the need to get out on the water, there’s another group that is volunteering their time to ensure that you will have access to our waterways – that’s the WBA.

My buddy, who makes his living as a communications guru for an environmental organization, was way too pessimistic about the WBA when I was sharing with him how we affect change in the boating world. “Peter, sorry but I’m not of the opinion that you cannot affect change just by sitting around the table.” Au contraire. While that may be true for him, he doesn’t know the Washington Boating Alliance and its leader Martha Comfort. This group thrives because its consensus based and impact driven.

Every month, this group convenes to craft sound boating policy. Take this example from State Parks. They came to WBA with the desire to mandate wearing personal flotation devices for all vessels 16-feet and less. There were other ideas in their bill, too. For some around the table, there was too much stuff there.

Because Wade Alonzo, our State’s Boating Law Administrator and State Parks rep at WBA, has so much respect for the WBA Way, he pulled back on the bill and found the common ground that we all could agree on and was eventually signed into law (i.e. introducing the implied consent concept for boating under the influence,[ increasing the fine of BUIs to $1,000from $500] and making that crime a gross misdemeanor, allowing officers the ability to take a witness’ statement for accidents that were not witnessed by the officer).

As I finish up a book about Thomas Jefferson (“The Art of Power”), I am filled with such pride of our system of governance and the fact that we have the Washington Boating Alliance as part of the civic discourse.

Ladies and Gentlemen, this is what Democracy looks like.

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