True Story: the first time I visited Brooklyn, it disgusted me.
I have a sharp, distinct memory of walking past industrial spaces hemmed in with barbed-wire fences, topped with stringy… wet… flapping… dirty… plastic bags. Tattered and tangled inextricably around the foreboding spiked fences. I don’t remember the neighborhood — Williamsburg? DUMBO? Park Slope? — but the strongest impression was of the plastic bags. My opinion was formed: Brooklyn is DIRTY. I retreated back to Manhattan where there were trees, sidewalks, and far fewer plastic bags in our barbed-wire. Brooklyn depressed me. I wanted no part of it. Can you imagine?
I think about this initial impression a lot. How the very thing that turned me off about Brooklyn all those years ago (2011? 2012?) is not a defining characteristic of the place that I live. Walk one block in any direction from my cozy abode and you will be in front of a warehouse or a factory of some kind. INDUSTRIAL. Barbed wire. And dirty plastic bags.
It only took several years, but New York has finally become the second state to ban single-use plastic bags. I say “finally” because this has been in the works for at least a few years. And it’s not entirely cause to leap for joy: there’s still plenty of plastic bags permitted under this ban. And paper bags, which are also destructive to the environment, are still allowed. So it’s a small step, but one I’m still very happy about. And another catch: it won’t actually go int effect for another year. As we’ve been learning, a lot can happen in a year (hello, 2017, The Year That Lasted A Lifetime).
But, on the bright side, New York is the second state to ban single-use plastic bags! After California. So at least we’re still on the forefront of doing something. And doing something is better than doing nothing! Sure, we may not have been the first state to pass marriage equality, and sure, we still haven’t legalized marijuana, and yeah, Riker’s is still sitting there full of people who can’t afford to post bail for minor offenses or to prove their innocence, but doing something is better than doing nothing. Maybe?
I remain a cynic. I know I should be happy. This is something we’ve wanted for a long time, but with everything going on in the world today, it can feel so impossible to celebrate any victories. Almost every step forward is met with two steps back. We can’t pretend that the United States is at the forefront of civil liberties, equality, and freedom anymore. And maybe we never were. Maybe we can never return to the idealistic fifth-graders that we used to be, believing that our nation was the mighty vanguard of liberty and justice for all, and that we recycle to save the planet. Today’s fifth graders probably won’t have a livable planet by the time they reach our age. Everything’s a mess.
A little less mess from plastic bags? That’s good. For now.