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Top Left Corner #156 — NTRVW: Bilal Ansari candidate for Williamstown Selectboard

Enjoy our interviews with the other Williamstown Select Board candidates, Jane Patton and Randal Fippinger.

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close-up photo of a Bilal Ansari, candidate for Williamstown Select Board
Bilal Ansari, candidate for Williamstown Select Board; submitted photo.

This is the Top Left Corner, number one hundred-fifty-six which first aired Saturday April 23, 2022. I’m your host, Jay Velázquez, and I thank you for tuning in to this episode, which is sponsored by Shakespeare & Company’s 45th Season, featuring new and classic works, tours, talks and more.

Today, we’ll spend the whole hour speaking with Assistant Vice President for Engagement at Williams College, Bilal Ansari, who, along with Jane Patton and Randal Fippinger, are running for two seats on the Williamstown Select Board. We cover a lot of ground, so let’s get right to it.

TLC: And with me on the line is Bilal Ansari here on the top left corner. Welcome, Bilal.

Bilal Ansari: Thank you for having me, Jason.

TLC: Yeah, I guess. I guess it’s been a little while, and I suppose it should not be any surprise to folks that that the Top Left Corner is interested in this election. Do you know we’ve never actually endorsed a candidate for any office before.

Bilal Ansari: Really?

TLC: No, he’d never have. I mean, people can usually.

Bilal Ansari: And it’s really it is really strange having a name like Top Left Corner and people would, I guess, would assume that you would be leaning towards a particular way with a name like that.

TLC: Well, I’ll tell you, you know, it didn’t occur to me when I picked out the name. Believe it or not, it was only because Williamstown and North Adams are in the top left corner of Massachusetts.

Bilal Ansari: Oh. I didn’t even.

TLC: Right.

Bilal Ansari: I took the other perspective.

TLC: But that’s what everybody’s thought, that’s all. “You might as well just wear it on your on your sleeve there, Jay.” And and it turns out most people can get a pretty clear sense of which direction the wind blows around here.

Bilal Ansari: Yeah.

TLC: So, but, you know, I haven’t I haven’t, although I may I may this this season, people have said, you know, you’re really kind of kind of a wuss, you know? What are you afraid of — taking a stand? So who knows? Maybe I’ll maybe I’ll take a stand. We’ll see. Nobody will know until after the interviews are over, though, that’s for darn sure. This is this is going to be a really important election. And a lot of folks, I don’t think, are aware of just how important I really feel. Like the puzzle pieces that get laid down on the board in May are really going to be what shapes the future of Williamstown for at least a couple of decades. What do you do? You see it that way or.

Bilal Ansari: I agree. I agree. I do see it that way.

TLC: Now what? Give me your your sense of your understanding of Williamstown. If Williamstown were a person who is Williamstown?

Bilal Ansari: Hmm. Prince.

TLC: Prince. Why?

Bilal Ansari: Because. I believe that. Prince was about. Beauty. Prince was also in a world in a Top Left Corner, all to himself. And Prince was beautiful to be around. To experience, to take in. Um, a lot of beautiful things came from Prince creatively. And Prince was, Prince was all about that Purple Rain. And I think that, yeah, I think Williamstown is very purple. Not only that they attribute themselves to the Purple Valley, but as much as we we we bleed blue, we show up red and a lot of ways. And therefore, the blend of that is purple. And we are. And so in that way, I identify us with Prince.

TLC: Okay, I like that. And you know, Prince, not easy to understand, I’m guessing, if you’re if you’re not familiar with him. There are a lot of things that we learned, I learned, after his death that I guess we’re not completely secret, but they weren’t, you know, publicized that much. And I was always surprised to find that there’s there’s always something new to learn about the the myth, the man. But let’s talk about you for a moment. You are I think you said in the digital greenroom, are you an associate vice president for engagement or did I get that right?

Bilal Ansari: I am assistant vice president, yeah, for the the the engagement on campus.

TLC: Okay. Tell me a little bit about what that job is all about.

Bilal Ansari: Yeah. That job here at Williams is recognizing William’s long history with its relationship to to nonwhite males have been a problem in their engagement with creating a environment that that people of a diverse background feel like they belong, creating an inclusive space and making sure that when they’re here, they’re they’re treated with equity has been a challenge here. So they’ve they’ve they have created an office of equity and inclusion on where I work in. And and a part of my work is going around the different units and this college, the the academic units, the athletic units, the the staff units of student services all over the campus working on, on making sure that there’s DEI planning where they everybody is taking ownership of it. Some people don’t don’t understand it. So we teach. We helped them to to make sure recruitment is on point. Retention is on point. And just having workshops around like implicit bias, you know, and those type of things. And so and then my then also just myself is just making sure that what we, what we, what we espouse, we that only do internally across the campus but also to the surrounding all like region.

TLC: Well, and that’s I wanted to I’m glad you brought that up at the end of your sentence, because that’s where I wanted to go with that. Williamstown. It is not an easy town to understand. As I said a moment ago, if you’re not if you haven’t been here for a while at least, certainly if you were born and raised here, it’s probably almost invisible. How strange it can be. But this town and the college are stitched together, or perhaps woven together in ways that are good and bad, depending on your point of view and depending on the issue. But how is it that the what happens at Williamstown Williams College when it comes to diversity and equity and inclusion, how does that bleed over into the town? How could it how should it have an effect on what happens in the rest of the village?

Bilal Ansari: Yeah. No, that’s a good question. I mean, I mean, for one, I mean, I think that, um, I know that there are faculty member here that find it difficult finding affordable places to live. Buying a home is a challenge for many of the of the faculty staff. Administrative staff are just as hard, if not harder, to find a place to live here in town, to feel that this city or this town, they belong here. There’s like a barrier. And then then the hourly staff are even. It’s more even that much more difficult because they have no opportunity or hope to live here and then even travel. Transportation is a is another layer of a barrier, even though they’re essential workers and have to be here most of the time. The difficulty of just being here, working here is almost equivalent to how it is a difficult getting here from anywhere in the state. It’s just off the beaten path, I mean, surrounded by mountains and and so and so the lived experience here is a challenge. It is unique here. I remember I was speaking to a member of the faculty and he said, what the secret sauce to Williams turning out brilliant students is that there is no Boston, there is no around the corner, there is no Boston life. You know, there is no New York life, you.

TLC: Know, city.

Bilal Ansari: Now everything. Yeah, yeah, there is no you are here to study and that’s it. And it’s a concentration of just cut off from everything else and, and, and, and you have to really dig in here. And so what comes out of here is, is therefore therefore much more concentrated, much more intellectually rigorous. You know, that’s the the hope.

TLC: That’s certainly the reputation. That’s certainly whether it’s whether it’s myth or fact. There are certainly some intelligent students. They get here. They’re already smart when they get here. And I’m guessing that they leave a lot more prepared, certainly a lot better connected than they could ever hope to be just about anywhere else. And I’d like to think that they understand that with that level of connectivity, truly to the corridors of power, that they have a responsibility to kind of look around and see what good they can do in the world. But that’s just me on my soapbox.

Bilal Ansari: So that’s exactly.

TLC: You know, it’s just, you know, if you’re going to be able to pick up the phone and get, you know, pretty much like almost any sitting senator on the line within 5 minutes, you know, that’s power.

Bilal Ansari: That’s power. Yeah.

TLC: All right. So let’s talk a little bit, though. I don’t want to get too into the inside baseball of the Dyer Committee. But tell me a little bit about your experience with that. What did that what did that help you with in terms of getting ready for this this election season, as far as your knowledge of the town and what did it accomplish that you’re proud of and what what do you wish that the entire committee might still achieve? That it has not achieved.

Bilal Ansari: Yeah. So I mean, the diary committee, I mean, you have to define it as a it is a radical it is a radical idea in and of itself. In Williamstown. It is an innovation itself, a radical innovation. And the first year we were just trying to like define how we self manage. And so we had a representative or a liaison from the select board as a member. And so and so the idea was to within that self management to put, put, put forward resolutions that would provide a sense of a transmission of this this creation of, of, of this radical new idea of space and Williamstown, where diversity, inclusion and racial equity is being talked about. And so that was that idea was to build and strengthen a connection. And we were hoping to be able to create and facilitate learning so that that all provides a safe space. The first year, though, was fraught with. Things that we didn’t see coming. There was a lawsuit. There was the MCAD report. There was. There was. I mean, there was there was a lot of upheaval from from those reports. There was there was mismanagement. There wasn’t there wasn’t a feeling of safety in town of of the of the residents and all that was coming and voicing.

Bilal Ansari: So we weren’t able to kind of scaffold those things as we normally set out, laid out to do. We were kind of tasked with doing things that were a bit beyond our original scope and plan and hope, and we were just trying to manage all of that. And and in that confusion, people didn’t acknowledge the harm or the fault and they try to cover. And so it kind of broke down the connection and it shut off learning. It didn’t facilitate learning. And so and so all of the the the people of marginalized identities, we, we, we felt that we were like carrying water or we were the butlers and the maids to kind of just kind of hold the tray. And when we want when people want to be served, they’ll pick from us. Or when there’s a mess they want us to clean up, they’ll call us in. But that was basically it. And that wasn’t it didn’t feel like labor. That was, that was at all, like, equitable. Um.

TLC: So so are you suggesting that, that the, that the committee, as it was composed, did not within itself function as an inclusive and equitable body?

Bilal Ansari: No, we yeah, we did. We, we tried to set that up, but the things external within the town, we were charged with handling that or trying to advocate for that or our, the platform in which we were given. We were we were the echo of that and therefore the conduit from the select board who was on the dyer felt. I felt as if, um, or I don’t know what, that I can’t speak on what they, what, what she felt. But there was a kind of a breakdown and the liaison or the act and the action items of the resolutions, nothing was ever done. And then there was a side picked from the union. When the police union wrote that letter, the select board, instead of working with us to kind of create a restorative practice with, with the police force and the union, they kind of sided with the union and kind of scolded us.

TLC: Yeah, they kind of left you flapping in the breeze is what they did.

Bilal Ansari: Yeah. And so that connection was, uh, was lost. And I think the differentiation between actual leadership also was lost because they actually needed to differentiate themselves from just rubber stamping a police union, who was hurting, who was emotional, who felt they were flapping in the wind themselves. They there was an opportunity lost there that they could have created a kind of like a leadership where they were able to hear both sides and kind of restore some peace. But instead, they they they chose a side and and there was no no, no opportunity for a restoration.

TLC: Well, this is all this is assuming all of this is assuming that it was ever intended that things would happen, that things would get done. I mean. Right. You know, I’m not saying that they weren’t. But, you know, there’s a lot of I mean, history has so many examples of blue ribbon committees that have the best of intentions. They start out with a lot of a lot of fury, a lot of vinegar, and then it just sort of they discover after time that they were really there to make headlines at the beginning and then to go quietly away. And certainly the DA, the dire committee, you had a I’m sorry. Oh, look, I’m not I’m not saying that that’s what happened, because the.

Bilal Ansari: Truth hurts.

TLC: No. And but there still is a diary committee, right? I mean, so it’s not like it’s gone away. I’m sorry.

Bilal Ansari: But it is defunct, though. I, I can just tell you that I feel that the dire committee is now a die, you know, committee. I think the the cry has been lopped off the racial equity. The the the the has been lopped off. They it’s feels gutted. It feels like an intentional gutting of the dire, original or original intent, aim and purpose.

TLC: Okay. So I’m guessing that there are a lot of things that you. Optimistically had hoped for. You probably did not expect that when the blowback happened as as anybody should in a town like like Williamstown, if you don’t expect that, there’s going to be a sort of an entrenched mindset, even if it’s a minority, you’re going to have to contend with some very old school, potentially racist, potentially bigoted beliefs. And they’re going to they’re going to come for you. And that’s, you know. Right. They and they did I mean, not not as as with the the vengeance that that I would have predicted. They were actually somewhat tame, I guess, and how they handled things and, you know, tame by American historical standards, I should say. I mean, you know, but. You know, there were times when I put you know, I put a Black Lives Matter sign out on my front lawn. I’m on a cold spring road. Sometimes at night, I’d hear like a something stop outside my thing. I turned my lights on, and then there’d be the squealing of tires and I a shouting. And then they take off. I know what that is. I know that somebody who’s harassing me because of the sign, you know, I’m not stupid, but that was as bad as it ever got. So thank God for that. But here’s the thing. You did achieve a few successes, I think. And before you pronounce dire, dead and forgotten. Tell me what you think you achieved.

Bilal Ansari: I mean. I think the year one, I think we achieved what we hoped for was transparency. We looked at the policies that were just the policies have not hadn’t been updated since 2003, hadn’t looked at. Nobody managed them. They just were just old and outdated. And we we, we said, hey, can we get a review and updating of these town, these offices that town taxpayers are paying to be managed properly? Can we get a review of these things so that we can just review them for the implementation or the kind of review? And in light of what was passed in Articles 36 and also in Article 37, can we just do that? And so I think we, we, we, we, we did get that ball rolling where they have now started to review those and look over the things and the and every department is is actively trying to review those things. And so I think that was initiated by us. We did keep their feet to the fire when the MCAD report came out and because there was a concerted effort to kind of just put it under the rug and kind of just blow it by and just move ahead without holding people, holding people accountable. And so accountability is one of the things that I hope to continue forward with the momentum that we were able to do that in year one. Dyer We we we elevated the voices of the marginalized so that they do feel like they actually belong here, so that there were people who felt like, hey, having these people who are on a police force that have violated laws, why is it okay that I don’t feel safe and yet they can continue maintaining their jobs? Shouldn’t we have this under review? Shouldn’t there be new leadership? And that was accomplished.

Bilal Ansari: And there were people that were perpetuating harm who were all like removed. And so and so the things also that we built a norms and values within how we operated as a committee that was centered on, on, on compassion towards those whose voices are generally and on a normative basis within the margins. We centered a young black man. We purposely made him our chair, the youngest member. We purposely made the young black men our chair, and gave him the leadership role. We centered the voices of around racial equity. And and so these are type of things that we’ve modeled. And we were trying to model this in a restorative way because a lot of times select boards or town leadership does things to people. And doing things to people is punitive. Sometimes they do things and they don’t do they do things for others and not for others. And that’s neglectful. And sometimes they say, you know what, we’ll give you this platform and this is for you. And so it’s like a permissive. But we were trying to build a model that we were doing things with people because we believe that human beings are happier and more cooperative, more productive and more likely to make positive changes in their behavior when those in positions of authority do things with them rather than to them or or on their behalf. And so that’s what we were modeling.

TLC: Okay. Well, let’s let’s move to something that you mentioned and see if we can’t tie it to to what you just said about doing things with or with other groups, with other authority figures and other, you know, subsets of the community with and not to the police department when the conversation first started about, you know, you know, there’s going to be a search, there’s going to be a new chief. And then there was going to be a conversation in town about what? Kind of police force we want. Now, obviously, the police force is a pretty, pretty high dollar budget item. So this is something that should concern people, if only economically. Right. If that’s their chief concern. I don’t know that those conversations happened the way some people expected that they would about, you know, honest to goodness, open conversations about how would we like the police to operate, how we like them to behave. I mean, some conversations did occur, but I don’t know yet. And I’m not sure that that we’ll find out for time, you know, for years to come, whether or not we have taken full advantage of this moment in terms of recreating the police department in an image we want. What what is your status? What is your take on the status of the the parts of the law? What is your take on the status of. I was talking about Pittsfield just earlier today. What is your right? So we can talk about that, too, at the end. What’s your what is your take on the status of the Williamstown Police Department? What what is your hope for the future?

Bilal Ansari: Yeah. So listen, I was really disappointed that when the SPC was conceived and put together that not one black person was invited to sit on that or I know I was not invited and I was one of the I worked with my ziemba my Zumba has my cell phone, I have his we text all the time, but yet I did not get an invitation to kind of sit on that, to kind of have those those those deep and personal like, you know, conversation and what the day when we would come together with the with the DOJ to kind of look forward, we were not invited to be a part of that conversation. Not and that was that was offensive. But I showed up anyway because it matters. It matters that we are at the table despite the offense. And I showed up and I was really, really happy to hear from the officers themselves. I had a conversation with the union union president and I had a conversation with some of the younger the the younger officers. And it was good to be able to listen to them like they were like, hey, I man, I’m like, I wasn’t a part of the force when all of those bad things happened and that the cop report. I yes. I witnessed that the the the force is toxic but I’m not but I wasn’t a part of that. And I just felt like I was kind of dragged in and and I was not able to share my story. And I was so happy to be able to say, you know what, what, what’s what’s your story? Let me hear your story and be able to look a young officer and I who had nothing to do with that crap, but just to hear them out and then for them to hear me out and to know that that we can move together knowing each other in our in our human frailties, but also on the strength that we we actually took time to build a relationship.

TLC: Meaning, do you believe that anything that that anything that represents some of the positive change that you’re talking about, is any of that being codified? Is any of that being, you know, actually, you know, seared into the into the the hide of of the police department? I mean, otherwise, you know, if it isn’t if it doesn’t become part of the the the police department’s charter, if you will, there’s nothing there’s nothing legally binding. So what what what is that?

Bilal Ansari: So yeah. So the cultural changes that I hear that are happening from my second hand, Hugh. Hugh, who’s on the board, has told me that they are now holding, holding officers accountable. There’s actually doing if somebody does anything wrong, that it’s not just being a talking to. There’s actually accountability being done for the first time. So I imagine that things that happen, I heard from the officers themselves that things are different now. And I ask, what does that mean? And they they affirmed that people are being held accountable. They just can’t do anything. The toxic environment is becoming less and less. Okay. And there’s just they they do recognize there’s a there’s a still a few, you know, old timers that are still there, but they’re in a minority now. And so I, I have good hopes that the police department is heading in the right direction. Yes.

TLC: All right. Well, I guess we’ll just have to see we’ll have to see what becomes of the chief’s position. Right. But because that can, you know, change. A lot of people point to grassroots organizing as a great model, and it is. But in organizations it is typically top down. The attitude comes from the top down. And so I think that that is probably the most important determinant of where which direction the department’s going to go. I mean, I personally have not had. I don’t think I’ve had a negative a single negative interaction with the police here, other than the fact that one of them actually kind of scraped my car once when he was coming around the corner. But we worked that out. We worked that out. You know, it was kind of you know, I didn’t I didn’t want him getting in trouble for that. It was an accident and it was a beatable car. So, you know, he probably got a piece of junk on the road anyway. So let’s let’s switch gears here. I want to talk about I want to talk about the subject that is, you know, potentially the most. The most. What’s the word I’m looking for? Divisive, I guess. Topic since all of the dire conversations started happening. And that, of course, is the situation of rural, of R2, of zoning, of allowing for smaller lot sizes, more units per lot in the village, out of the village density, preserving local character. All of these issues wrapped up in this zoning issue. That was really I mean, I could have told them just by looking at it that they were looking at a six hour meeting. I don’t know how they thought they were going to get that done in 2 hours, that first one. But anyway, so a real, real struggle to get people to see eye to eye on this zoning. What what do you what do you thinking about when you when it comes to this this issue of density? Yeah.

Bilal Ansari: Yeah, good question. So, Ted, all I watched you or I watched how he defines like restorative practices as, quote, human beings are happier, more cooperative and productive and more likely to make positive changes in their behavior when those in positions of authority do things with them rather than to them or for them. And I believe that in order for this to be an inclusive move by the planning board to try to implement Articles 36 and 37, you can’t do things to South like Williamstown or for South like Williamstown, rather, you have to do things with them. And as you so aptly put it, in 2 hours it felt as if things was being done to them and and people were sitting on their soapbox and they were talking as if they’re doing things for them. But none of that did I hear those amendments, those articles, whether anything’s done with them, any deep, thoughtful thing. And we have an opportunity in town to think really strategically about what our future looks like. But it doesn’t happen by doing things to or for people. But but it requires the patience to be able to do things with them. So I’m not I am not in favor of those three two votes. Those three two votes are telling every other one is five one or four one or four or five for a purpose, because they were because there’s a witness there. And the other ones are contentious because it was it feels and it is a punitive it feels like a punitive doing things to and for others. So I’m against that process. Although the outcomes may be maybe proposed to be good, it’s never good when the process is not done with people. It’s not a restorative process. So I’m against it.

TLC: Let’s, let’s I’m it’s interesting that you sort of you focus your very process oriented individual. I can tell which is which is rare. A lot of people are they are, you know, ends or or, you know, what’s the result going to be or what’s, you know, what’s the prey, what’s the who gets the credit or the blame. But the process really does matter. And I think that you’re right. When people when people can tell that you’re looking down your nose at them because you’re trying to convince them that, you know, it’s best for them, they’re going to dig in their heels like like like never before. And any hope that you had of getting getting people to see your way of thinking is gone. But let’s talk about the specifics of it in addition to the the process of it, because what we’re talking about is a situation where you have some people saying, well, you know, we can’t we can’t make people. I guess this is mostly Mr. Winters. I’m talking, but we can’t make people build low income housing or affordable housing. We can’t tell them where the where they can take advantage of this, you know, this new, new bylaw. All we can do is hope that they do the right thing and build some affordable housing in much the same way it was the the you know, the question was asked, well, what about water resources? Do we know if there’s enough, you know, under water availability or are there underground water availability? And he said something along the lines, well, I mean, that’s you know, that’s up to the health department.

TLC: All we can do is determine how many lots. And then it’s up to them to determine whether any specific well can be drilled or septic system can be put in. Which to me and I’m just going to say it point blank for the record, I think it’s hogwash. I think that you could put in 50 units in one place and there might not be a water problem for the first year, two years, three years, and then all of a sudden, four years later, nobody’s got any water in there. Well. Because you didn’t do a hydrology study because no one did a hydrology study. So I don’t want to hear this. We just determine how many are topographically possible and we leave it up to the health department. I don’t you know, that’s that’s just me. So obviously, I want you to either agree with me wholeheartedly or fight me on this.

Bilal Ansari: I agree with you wholeheartedly. That’s doing things to people.

TLC: No, no, seriously, seriously. Go ahead.

Bilal Ansari: Ask what happens when you do things to people, let’s say. I get it. Winters is tired. He’s been on there the longest time. He’s had to sit through the torture of the the of the of the of the of the abuse and the hairsplitting of what’s going to happen post the spruce then and do it here. Build here and not here. Like, I get it, Chris. You’re frustrated. I get it. But that still does not is still not okay to ignore those very real things that you just mentioned and and slip into doing things to people instead of with people. Just be patient. If you can’t be patient, move on to somebody else can.

TLC: What about the question that somebody asked? They said, listen, we’re spending tons of money on the 15 year plan, this master plan. If we allow these these changes to take place, then nothing in that plan will be valid. Nothing.

Bilal Ansari: Hmm. Hmm. That’s a that’s a good question.

TLC: I mean, some things will be more valid than other things, but nothing will be untouched. Because you’re talking then about another who knows, maybe another 400 housing units. We don’t know.

Bilal Ansari: We don’t know. But again, it just takes. The patience to just say, you know what? Let’s not just forge forward because doing nothing is worse than doing something. Even though something may feel good immediately, it may long term be be worse.

TLC: Can we wait until they. Right. Could we wait until the 15 year plan is complete? Do you think that that’s a viable option in June of 2023?

Bilal Ansari: I mean, I don’t think that’s that’s I don’t think it’s this or that. I don’t. And.

TLC: Well, if you change the bylaws of the town. If you change the bylaws of the town, it is definitely a this or that.

Bilal Ansari: Right. Right. You’re forcing that because you’re doing things to force that hand. Right. But but my position is not that.

TLC: Okay. So I ask again, would it be reasonable to wait until the to the the master plan is done before having this conversation would be reasonable to table this conversation.

Bilal Ansari: That’s what I that’s what I said initially.

TLC: Okay.

Bilal Ansari: I am. Yeah, that was my initial statement. I am not in favor of moving forward on this until we think deeply about it. And I think the strategic planning of it is what what is required.

TLC: Okay. I just want to make sure that there wasn’t any way any wiggle room. I wanted to make sure that there was just one, one path, my friends.

Bilal Ansari: Yeah.

TLC: You’ve got three. You’ve got three.

Bilal Ansari: My way or the highway?

TLC: No, no. You’ve got what you’re saying. No, no. You’ve got three doors and you have two. You know, this is like the. What is it? Let’s make a deal with Monty Hall. You’ve got three doors doing number one. Doing number two or no? Doing number three? No. Okay. So let’s talk again about things that are. Things that are. That represent long term change, that we should think carefully about the climate. The climate catastrophe is upon us. There are already climate refugees, domestic in this country. If you if you doubt that, ask somebody that you meet who happens to be from New Orleans, and you ask them when they moved, when they wanted to leave New Orleans. And I can almost guarantee you it’s not going to be a date. It’s going to be a name. And that name is Katrina. We have climate refugees. And if we have another hurricane in New York City like Sandy, you can be sure we’re going to have more climate refugees coming up this way. Or hot spells in a New York City above 100 degrees for more than a week or so. You’re going to see some more climate refugees. And I guess to me, that’s one of the reasons why we want to make sure that before we go, making any big changes or any big decisions that we take the climate remediation and when there’s no remediation that we can do, but certainly resiliency planning we can do. What are your thoughts on what Williamstown can do in terms of resiliency, planning and regarding climate change?

Bilal Ansari: Yeah, I think that. So like I told you at the beginning, I was a part of the planning of the college. So with our new with our new president, Maude Mendell, she started a strategic planning process. And and the college has built all of their strategic planning on three principles. One of the principles is sustainability, the carbon footprint, reducing that, just being really intentional about that. That’s number one. That’s one of our core principles in which everything is built upon that we’re doing going forward. The second one is DEI diversity. Equity and inclusion is another principle that that is an axis in which everything turns around here going forward. And the third is on transparency, accountability of how things are governed here. And so I think those principles are beautiful and wonderful. If they can be applied across the board here in town or like adopted, you should look at the sustainability of it. You should look at how this is actually implementing or supporting the articles 36 and 37 at the town unanimously voted on around DEI. And also you should make sure that it’s being done in an equitable community or a community centered way that appreciates the differentiation between the center of Williamstown and the south of Williamstown, the, dare we say, Irvin part of town, and the more rural part around town. And those people are sitting around a table thinking collectively and collaboratively with each other.

TLC: Let’s tie this to the climate, though. This is great. This this could apply to anything, though. Let’s tie this specifically to the climate crisis that is already in session.

Bilal Ansari: Okay. Okay. Yeah, I mean, I agree. I mean, I listen, I. I agree that I mean.

TLC: Transparency is great. You know, transparency is great. Di is great and sustainability is great tied to the climate and tied to how the decisions that Williamstown makes today might impact the residents who are dealing with a very ugly climate picture in ten years or less.

Bilal Ansari: Well. Well, just look at the spruces. Yes. They were wiped out.

TLC: Yes.

Bilal Ansari: I was there waist deep in mud, trying to pull people out, trying to help them bring hundreds of volunteers because of a climate problem, the deforestation, deforestation to build that dam in the airport and then not listening to the corps engineers who told you you’re going to need to fix these pipes because the runoff is greater. And when a storm comes through here, these people are vulnerable. And that was ignored. And you know that these rivers rise. So they were hit on three sides. And then when that happened. The human impact was never acknowledged. Address and taking personal responsibility, governmental responsibility. It was just ignored and passed on. And those people were displaced. Gone. Never to return. A community. A people of Williamstown who worked blood, sweat and tears and retired from working here in Williamstown or nearby, wanted to retire here. Gone because of climate change. And our neglect. Our neglect.

TLC: So when we’re talking about what decisions Williamstown can make in the future, you’re going to be, I imagine, keeping the spruces forefront in your mind.

Bilal Ansari: Oh, yes.

TLC: That’s what I was told.

Bilal Ansari: Yes.

TLC: Yeah. See, I push. I push for a reason. Bilal, you know that I want to bring out the best in every guest, no matter who they are, no matter how much they agree or disagree. Go ahead.

Bilal Ansari: Good. Well, let me push back. I want to push and ask you for your support. Yeah.

TLC: Well, like I said, you’ll find out after I interview all three candidates. I will I will probably do an endorsement. As I said, it’ll be the first time in seven years, over seven years that I’ve done an endorsement. So that’ll be something that’ll probably I’ll regret. I’m sure I’ll regret that. Let’s talk about one last thing before I let you go. If you’ve got another 5 minutes, talk to me about education. It is just about the largest line item on any town’s budget. And, you know, we are we’re going to be paying for that new school for some time. We are dealing with an. And always unknown when it comes to whether or not the school has the resources that it needs. And there are some people who have said to me privately that they are not sure how Williams can have can be the number one liberal private liberal arts college in the country. And yet we have a high school. That only offers Latin and Spanish. Right. So this is this is kind of a the bee in my bonnet. And I know that the. The Selectboard does not have a direct hand on the levers of of the educational system here. But, you know, it’s not as if you’re totally disconnected either. Because let’s face it, the selectboard does handles things like money. Right. So talk to me about your. Understanding of the status of the educational system. And I think it’s important, you know, and if you don’t if you haven’t been able to spend that much time on it, I get that. It’s a big and complicated. Subject. But like I said, it’s just about the largest line item we have in this town. So I’d like to know what your thoughts are.

Bilal Ansari: Yeah. I mean, I so I sit on the Mt. Greylock School Council and that’s my that is my that is my view. And, and I’ve just been on it for maybe a year, year, year or so now. And so I’m just learning how things work. What are the needs, what are the strengths, what are the weaknesses, what are the opportunities, what are the threats? I’m just starting to kind of make my make my assessments from from I guess from an inside view. I used to work at Williams for the Center for Learning and Action and that and and I know how very much engaged through experiential courses and engagement through through all of the kind of the the the courses and partnerships that and staff that they have to working with the school systems to kind of support and to to help the, the school system. That whole department is dedicated with staff and members of faculty to kind of help there. And so they’re they’re they’re there are concerted efforts. Could it be better? I would say yes. It could be better. It could it could we be doing more? I would say that it could be doing more. And we are working at trying to identify those gaps and trying to feel to fill in those gaps. The Center for Learning and Action has only been around for maybe about five or six years now, or maybe a little bit more. And and so it is still a department knew and, and it could, it could use more, um, more like, like funding to actually to help do more.

Bilal Ansari: But I think that, that eventually with the number of faculty member who have students who have, I mean, who have children who are going to be going through that, through that, through that like school system, it does seem to be like, should that not be a priority number one? And and I’m going to say it like I said it at a DB meeting for the Parents Network last night that I feel and I don’t know how much has been given, but I feel that to give $700,000 for to build a new police station and not have a and not have that distributed early where it shows that it that the more support should be going towards schools. And I think more more it makes more sense to build a fire station since we have all these buildings and risk of of loss that way then to give 700 K to a police station. So I hope that our that that our resources as you pointed out for for like language, maybe even for music, I brought up on our Council for Dance, for things of the arts. And so I am hoping that our kind of like support of the school systems just increases. I know we’ve been doing a lot with the work, helping a lot of we’re helping a lot on that front. But I really hope that we we as our strategic plan internally starts to look beyond beyond our walls, that I’m sure that it directly is going to raise all ships and Mount Greylock and the regional school system will definitely be one.

TLC: Well, sounds to me like you’re in a in a good position to kind of keep an eye on those things. So that’s good. Let’s, let’s, let’s get this nailed down. Obviously, you’ve got ways for people to to get in touch with you. What what are the what what would you recommend that you have a website, Facebook page. What’s what should be the people’s first point of contact.

Bilal Ansari: Yeah. The first point of contact is my campaign manager, whose name is Arlene Kirsch, and that’s who I would reach out to first for. And then Huff is my vice chair of my campaign. Huff His last name is like Huff. His last name is like a little simpleton. And Andrew Art is also on my finance guy.

TLC: Do you have a Facebook page or a website?

Bilal Ansari: No, no, I don’t have a Facebook page and I don’t have a website. I’m a low budget guy. I don’t have the big pockets of those those other people that are running. But you can just look look us up. On on. Yeah, I guess my email and I can forward you to them. My email is my first name, Bilal dot, my middle initial which is like w dot my last name Ansari at gmail dot com.

TLC: Okay. So if people have questions about anything we’ve talked about, by all means ask away and Bilal will be very happy to, to satisfy that. Do you have any events coming up? Do you have any like meet and greets scheduled?

Bilal Ansari: Yes. If you reach out to me, I will get those to you. We have we have a meet and greet coming up on the 15th. And and and there’s a few and there’s a few others. So. But reach out to me and I will get those those events that are coming. There’s four that are scheduled Zoom meetings. And if you reach out to me, I will I will give you an invite to one of those four Zoom meetings that we have planned.

TLC: Excellent. All right. And I will put a link in the show notes to your email address so people can do that. For now, Bilal, it’s been a real pleasure to have you back on the show, as I do with all. All candidates for all elections, they would see the best of luck. And we’ll see if these of these big questions, if they if you get a chance to answer them.

Bilal Ansari: Okay. Yeah, no, I look, I, I, I look forward to it. And again, I ask you for your support. Everybody whose ears this touch, this is blowing. And sorry, I am asking you for your support, and I thank you for this opportunity to share.

TLC: Rock on. All right, thanks. And have a good weekend.

Bilal Ansari: All right. All right. Bye bye now.

Jason Velázquez

Jason Velázquez has worked in print and digital journalism and publishing for two decades.
Phone: (413) 776-5125

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