From the Beacon, April 2020

This is a message to you – the local government leaders of Massachusetts – from your partners on the MMA staff. It is a message of deep appreciation, abiding admiration, and hope.

We voice our deepest appreciation because suddenly, with no discernable warning, thousands of you, as mayors, select board members, town and city managers, councillors, municipal professionals and employees, and volunteers who have been elected and appointed to local leadership positions, are on the front line of a life-and-death battle to protect your residents and neighbors.

You are making rapid-fire decisions, allocating and deploying resources, collaborating, advocating and pleading with state and federal partners, creating new ways of engaging, informing and governing, all to safeguard the people you serve. Local government is the first line of defense against COVID-19, and you ARE local government.

We voice our abiding admiration because your personal and municipal lives have been turned upside down, yet you continue to step forward into this firestorm without complaint, without regard to your sacrifice, and without interest in political gain. Leadership in its most basic form is doing what needs to be done when it needs to be done, no matter how difficult. You are carrying the mantle of leadership as if it weighs nothing, but it is a very heavy burden in these times.

We voice our hope, not because we believe that Massachusetts will be unscathed by this horrible threat, or that some magical event will prevent a surge of illness here at home. We voice our hope because we will get through this, and because of your leadership and selfless service, countless lives will be saved, our communities will remain connected, and our towns and cities will be the essential source of renewal for society and our economy.

In reflecting on how to hold onto and hold up hope during such times, there is perhaps no better source of wisdom than Václav Havel, the poet-turned-president of the Czech Republic, who lived a life on the front lines of conflict and strife for decades. His words have been an inspiration to millions of people who ask how one can persevere and prevail in the face of overwhelming situations. In his essay “Disturbing the Peace,” Havel wrote this as a guide for all of us:

“The kind of hope I often think about (especially in situations that are particularly hopeless, such as prison) I understand above all as a state of mind, not a state of the world. Either we have hope within us, or we don’t. Hope is not prognostication. It is an orientation of the spirit, an orientation of the heart. It transcends the world that is immediately experienced, and is anchored somewhere beyond its horizons.

“Hope, in this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously headed for early success, but rather an ability to work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed. The more unpromising the situation in which we demonstrate hope, the deeper hope is. Hope is not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out. In short, I think that the deepest and most important form of hope, the only one that can keep us above water and urge us to do good works, and the only true source of the breathtaking dimension of the human spirit and its efforts, is something we get, as it were, from ‘elsewhere.’ It is also this hope, above all, that gives us the strength to live and continually to try new things, even in conditions that seem as hopeless as ours do, here and now.”

With breathtaking speed, a microscopic virus has disrupted society. It has distanced us from each other, it has cratered our economy, it has changed the way we work, and, above all, it has presented a growing life-and-death threat to the people of Massachusetts, the United States, and the world. But it has not taken away hope.

This crisis will pass. Our communities will persevere and prevail. We will make sense of all of this. Yet, as we enter the vital weeks of greatest challenge, in doing your good works, you are displaying the strength and hope that will carry us through. You are inspiring all of us who are fortunate to work at MMA – your organization – to serve you in every way humanly possible. That is our promise and pledge.

With appreciation, admiration and hope, we thank you.

Written by Geoff Beckwith, MMA Executive Director & CEO