Let’s hear it for Granola Park!

Impeachment hero Jamie Raskin lives here, but Takoma Park has long been famous

By Linda Pentz Gunter

I’ll admit that I have an ambivalent relationship with granola. Perhaps that is because my first introduction to it was muesli, which is basically chopped cardboard. My husband routinely buys granola, which languishes on larder shelves and eventually is tossed (by me) to grateful birds and squirrels. Let’s just say it’s not my breakfast of champions.

But if eating granola makes us the good guys then, well, bring it on! 

Takoma Park, Maryland, where Beyond Nuclear is headquartered, is frequently described — or, more accurately, mocked — in the press as “Granola Park”. (Sister organization, Nuclear Information and Resource Service, is also based in Takoma Park.)

Our left-leaning Takoma Park citizenry are aging, “crunchy” hippies (in reality only 11% of Takoma Park residents are over 65). And eccentrics. 

Takoma Park residents are often labeled as “eccentric” by the press. Motor Cat did not aid in their defense. (T-shirt from the 1990s)

Okay, this latter is admittedly hard to refute. We had a resident roving rooster now immortalized in bronze downtown; a cat who rode with its owner on a motorbike, replete with its own leather helmet; an animal rights activist who carried a dead fox in a trap around town to make his point; and of course our very own blind, peace-sign carrying Peace Delegate.

The Utne Reader once admiringly anointed Takoma Park as “the leftiest ‘burb in America” (take that Berkeley!) Early on, “The People’s Republic of Takoma Park”, as we are also known, had a socialist mayor. Three of President Obama’s top advisors lived here, two of whom biked to the White House.

Indeed, Granola Park is a welcome hotbed of “good guys” — just over 17,000 of us in all. These include citizens and non-citizens, old and young, men and women, black, white and brown, straight, gay and trans, and state as well as national politicians.

In 1983, Takoma Park became one of the first US cities to declare itself a nuclear-free zone. The city’s nuclear-free ordinance proclaims that neither the city nor its officials, employees or agents will ever knowingly and intentionally grant any award, contract or purchase order, directly or indirectly, to any nuclear weapons producer, nor purchase or lease products produced by a nuclear weapons’ producer.

The recipient of a City contract, award or purchase order must also certify to the City Clerk by a notarized statement that it is not knowingly or intentionally a nuclear weapons’ producer.

The City is advised by a citizens Nuclear-Free Takoma Park Committee, which monitors city purchases and has helped the city gain access to up-to-date listings of nuclear weapons-related companies.

Signs — battered and occasionally stolen — at the various boundaries of the city announce that nuclear-free zone status. But being nuclear-free should mean not just a ban on engaging with a nuclear weapons company, but a refusal to buy nuclear power as well. In 2009, at the urging of Beyond Nuclear, the city duly rejected nuclear energy and agreed to purchase 100% wind power.

When, in July 2017, the UN approved the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), cities around the world were asked to declare their compliance with it. Takoma Park did that on March 14, 2018, the first US city to do so, in a unanimous vote of the city council.

Paul Gunter (center) of Beyond Nuclear, presented Takoma Park mayor, Kate Stewart and the City Council with a certificate from ICAN honoring its compliance with the nuclear ban treaty.

As a result, on May 23 of that year, the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize winning International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) awarded the City of Takoma Park a Certificate of Compliance with the TPNW.

Then, shortly before the TPNW entered into force on January 22, 2021, the current mayor of the City of Takoma Park, Kate Stewart, signed and read a proclamation declaring the city’s approval and celebration of this momentous event.

Beyond the nuclear issue, however, Takoma Park has taken a number of other steps that put it in the crosshairs of the Trump cabal (I cannot in all conscience describe what went on for four years as a “government” or an “administration”). 

For example, it is a sanctuary city, which put the city at risk of losing funds under the Trump regime, which considered doing such dastardly deeds as providing safe haven to those fleeing for their lives from violence and persecution a “crime”.

Within the city itself, citizens and non-citizens alike can vote in city elections. A group of woke local teenagers also persuaded the city that the voting age should be lowered to 16.

Takoma Park offers a sanctuary to immigrants and refugees — and also to Morris Dancers. (Photo: Takoma Park Folk Festival 2014 by SPakhrin/Creative Commons)

Styrofoam got banned in local stores and restaurants — again an impetus that was begun by local youngsters who wanted their schools to stop using styrofoam trays and wash real dishes instead.

There is a large and active Takoma Park Mobilization group. Most of us probably own pussy hats.

Democratic Congressman, Jamie Raskin, lives here. Local residents are as likely to spot him in sweats walking his dog as to have watched in wrapt admiration as he lead the Trump impeachment in the Senate, as we did earlier this month.

For us, Raskin’s masterly helming of the impeachment hearings was made all the more emotionally poignant given the personal tragedies that had just befallen the Congressman. He had lost his son Tommy to suicide on December 31 and buried him on January 5, the day before the Capitol siege when Raskin’s daughter Tabitha, who was watching from the gallery, became separated from her father and feared for her life. On Valentine’s Day, the Raskin home was blanketed with cards and flowers and bakeries and all manner of thank yous and love.

We are a proudly progressive enclave. And yes, we do also have many of the usual granola-y things, like a co-op and a weekly farmer’s market and a folk festival. We are variously known as a “tree city,” an “azalea city” and as a “playful city” along with our nuclear-free moniker. It is a class 3 felony to cut down certain grades of tree without a permit.

We have poems on posts and colorful Little Free Libraries scattered around town. We have a Republican Voters’ Garden, although no one actually knows any Republicans. We have a truly wacky July 4 parade that includes men in kilts who aren’t Scots and people polka-ing with pushmowers. We once got our then governor, Martin O’Malley, to don a tie-died t-shirt, the unofficial Takoma Park uniform. And we even have Morris Dancers (don’t ask!)

Then Maryland governor, Martin O’Malley, with former Takoma Park City Council member and local realtor, Hank Prensky at left, got talked into donning the Takoma Park “uniform” during the Folk Festival. (Photo: by mdfriendofhillary/Creative Commons)

For sure, it is not perfect. Despite our mosaic community of many colors, we have had racial incidents. Our immigrant, Latino and Black populations tend to live segregated together, a result perhaps of the soaring home prices — the current median cost is more than $500,000, prohibitive for average working people.

Nevertheless, Takoma Park remains an epicenter of activism. During the Fire Drill Fridays climate protests organized at the US Capitol last year by Jane Fonda, I recall a woman asking me “is everyone here from Takoma Park?” when I introduced my three new-found friends who are.

With DACA protected; the Muslim travel ban lifted; transgender people allowed back in the military; a task force created to reunite missing migrant children with their families; a decision not to renew contracts with privately operated criminal detention facilities; the US back in the Paris Climate Agreement; and a host of other promising executive decisions by the Biden White House, we Takoma Park radicals will have a little less to do.

Unfortunately, though, we won’t be able to rest on the nuclear issue, neither military nor civil. The Biden administration won’t sign the TPNW of course. And there will be money in the federal budget for so-called “new” nuclear reactors.

So we will have to go right on munching our granola. Because for Takoma Parkians there will always be an unaddressed cause that makes that ordeal worth it.

Linda Pentz Gunter is a founder of the United States NGO Beyond Nuclear, for whom she serves as the international specialist, and writes for and edits Beyond Nuclear International. Prior to her environmental work, she was a journalist for 20 years.

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