Some members of the black community use the N-word as a means of empowerment, wresting the epithet away from those who would wield it as a weapon.
The same is true with the word queer; many homosexual organizations snatch the term from the mouths of critics by using it themselves. The battle cry of one group, for example, is Were here, were queer; get used to it.
My point - and I do have one, as a famous lesbians book title said - is that harsh words can be taken away from those who would use them harshly. But the person using the word has to be ready to take the consequences from both friends and enemies alike: Friends will understand and applaud, even if cautiously; enemies will find their own empowerment in the legitimization of their negativity.
Thus, we have come to a time when we must take ownership of a particular word before it becomes an epithet.
Say it with me:
There, that wasnt so hard, was it? Around here, saying that word may leave an unpleasant aftertaste, sort of like the metallic tang you get when you eat pie out of the aluminum plate and scrape the bottom with the fork.
That bitter taste has nothing to do with Columbia County, and everything to do with its dysfunctional neighbor, Augusta. When we say consolidation, we think of a racially divided government born to salvage a dying city from bankruptcy. We think of two governments combining instead of streamlining, without saving a dime of taxpayer money. We think of bureaucratic quagmire.
I think of pecan divinity. I remember third grade when Doug Morris brought a whole package of the confection to school, and the two of us ate it all during recess. To this day, I still cant think of its sickly sweetness without feeling a wave of nausea.
That doesnt mean there is something wrong with pecan divinity. It just means I had a bad experience and cant stomach the stuff. That shouldnt keep anyone else from trying it.
Likewise, Augustas dismal experience with consolidation of city and county shouldnt make us queasy when we use the word in reference to Columbia County, Harlem and Grovetown.
Those who want to study onsolidation worry, though, that Augustas failures will taint any effort to discuss streamlined government in our county. Consolidation has become the C-word. The preferred term is unification, which carries the same meaning but none of Au-gustas baggage.
Unification accurately describes the process by which duplicated governments would join under a single umbrella. Ultimately, such a process could save taxpayers money as overlapping services are phased out.
The newly created municipality also could tap into an estimated $5 million in franchise fees - paid by utilities operating within a city - and thereby take even more pressure off of taxpayers.
This debate is so new that for now its informed participants could meet in a phone booth. That number will grow in the weeks to come, along with discussions that should be serious and sober.
Of course, that wont stop the jokingly named CAVE people - Citizens Against Virtually Everything. These hidebound change-ophobes will brush aside attempts to sell unification, instead hooting and hurling consolidation! like a cussword.
Right out of the gate, then, those who would honestly discuss such changes should take ownership of the terminology, defusing the nay-sayers and demanding that everyone keep their minds and options open.
So go ahead and call it consolidation. And let Augusta sit in envy of a community that knows how to talk about good ideas without all the name-calling.
(Barry L. Paschal is opinions editor of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to barrypaschal@ yahoo.com.)
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