Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Best We Had

If I had to pick our best activist – sunny in personality, noble in intention, steadfast in purpose and in it for the long haul – I would pick Harry Sanders. And now he is gone.

MoCo activists come in many models. Some of them are angry. Some are intense. Some are egotistical. There are the ones who know more than you do and want you to know that. There are the wanna-be politicians. There are the players. There are the ones who have been fighting so long that they may have forgotten what they were fighting about.

Harry was none of the above. He was a man who cared about transit. That’s it. That’s why he co-founded Action Committee for Transit back in 1986 and never stopped working. Harry and a small band of stalwarts stayed true to their vision in good times and bad. Their toil has produced one of the great civic organizations in our state and its work will go on.

Harry’s passion was the Purple Line. He wore purple constantly and probably bled the color. But Harry actually served a higher cause: good government through civic engagement. He really believed that organized citizens could make our elected leadership better than what they were and produce superior outcomes. Harry showed up at all kinds of events and never criticized people who did not. He loved young people and wanted them to be involved in shaping their world – a better world. He succeeded because Maryland’s smart growth movement is full of young people and they are going to create the kind of society Harry spent twenty years fighting for. Few other people in this county, elected or not, will ever be able to make such a claim. And Harry did it all with a warm smile, a gravelly laugh and a standing invitation to join and help. Lots of people did just that.

Most activists fight against things that are bad. Harry Sanders spent decades fighting for something that is good. There’s a big difference.

My son shares Harry’s birthday: June 1. If he ever asks how to live a good life, I’m going to tell him about a man I knew who was the best we had.