Straw man


PREDICTION: On or about June 30, 2021, someone will post on one of the local Facebook groups the following tale of woe:

Tonight, I picked up takeout for the family at [local restaurant.] Imagine my frustration when I got home and there were no utensils and no straws in any of the paper bags! I called [local restaurant] and was told that due to a new local regulation they can’t give out plastic straws or utensils unless the customer specifically requests them. Is this true? When did this happen?

In the comments, I will helpfully post a link to my story in the Nov. 9, 2020 Wakefield Daily Item, headlined, Town Meeting OKs banning more plastics.

You’re welcome, in advance.

Aside from needing a subscription to the Wakefield Daily Item, the surprised reaction of the Facebook user with the missing straws and utensils is understandable.

This isn’t Cambridge, after all, where you would just roll your eyes and chalk it up to local color. Nor is this one of those wannabe Cambridges, like Concord or Arlington, although soon you might not be able to tell.

No, this is Wakefield. Regular people still live here. They just don’t attend Town Meeting, at least not in large numbers anymore.

On the other hand, there is a small but well-organized group in town that cares far more about global issues than about such parochial concerns as struggling local businesses and their customers. They are citizens of the world. They see the big picture.

And they attend Town Meeting. And they vote in local elections. They’ve also figured out that most people don’t. So, all they have to do is marshal a modest number of their own people to Town Meeting and to the polls a few times a year and they can do pretty much anything they please, including passing elitist rules that hurt local businesses and ordinary consumers.

Which is why we now have an expanded ban on plastic bags, along with a new ban on polystyrene containers. And you’ll soon have to ask for plastic utensils and straws.

The dolphins and sea turtles, meanwhile, are doing just fine.

The sponsors’ expansive goals were clearly stated in the language of recent Town Meeting Articles 8 and 9.

“The Town of Wakefield hereby finds that the prohibition on the use of foam polystyrene food containers and packaging by food service establishments and the sale or use of those products by any business in the Town of Wakefield is a public purpose that protects the public health, welfare and environment, advances solid waste reduction, protects waterways and aids the Town in its fight against climate change,” the text of Article 8 declares.

Article 9 left even less doubt as to the universal goals to which the sponsors aspire.

“The purpose of this bylaw is to limit the amount of greenhouse gas emissions, preserve the oceans, protect wildlife, and reduce the amount of trash that ends up on the streets and in landfills by using recyclable, reusable, or compostable bags, cutlery, stirrers and straws instead of plastic checkout bags, cutlery, stirrers, restaurant take-out bags and drinking straws.”

I couldn’t find the words “help local businesses” or “protect local consumers.” Maybe I missed them.

But one of the sponsors did address that issue at Town Meeting. The Environmental Sustainability Committee did reach out to local businesses through the Chamber of Commerce, she said. The response they got back was along the lines of, “Yeah, we figured this was coming.”

What a ringing endorsement.

According to, only 47 communities out of the 351 in the state have banned polystyrene packaging. That’s barely 13 percent. So even in the people’s paradise of Massachusetts, it isn’t even close to the norm.

But what’s done is done. If you want more of it — if you want more electric vehicle chargers that nobody uses, if you want to say goodbye to the Warrior logo, if you want to celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day instead of Columbus Day, then don’t attend Town Meeting and don’t bother voting in local elections.

And don’t worry. There’s no shortage of people willing to fill the vacuum.

[The column originally appeared in the November 19, 2020 Wakefield Daily Item.]

Takeout waffles photo by VCU Capital News Service.

One Response to “Straw man”

  1. 1 John Breithaupt

    Since we live on the globe, isn’t thinking globally the same as thinking locally?

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