May 20, 2024

Artificial turf, however, is the only solution that the Rye donor
group, which calls itself Let the Kids Play, has been willing to fund. To
explore the problem, the city hired a “consultant” with a long resume of
experience as a lobbyist for the artificial turf industry. Finding that the
artificial turf field wasn’t being approved as quickly as a vocal group of
residents would prefer, local Republicans late last year began mobilizing around
the issue, calling themselves the “Rye-Publicans” and threatening to unseat
city officials they view as a drag on this project, as
the Rye Record has reported.

Similar controversies have raged around the country, with
artificial turf hotly debated  in
communities as varied as Washington
Heights (in New York City), Ithaca (NY), Malden (MA), Portsmouth
(NH), and Martha’s Vineyard. In some places, the issue has drawn even more
vitriol than in otherwise decorous Rye. On Martha’s Vineyard, the fight over artificial
turf raged for seven years, with some alleging threats
of violence, shell casings left in a former health official’s briefcase, and
one outspoken artificial turf opponent’s tires slashed, as WGBH Boston, a
Boston public radio station, and other local outlets have reported. Supporters
of a turf field in Malden refused to go on the record with WGBH, fearing
personal attacks.

The artificial turf wars neatly mirror other grassroots
controversies that are helping Republicans build power around the country. When
public goods are neglected and allowed to deteriorate—which happens even in
wealthy communities with many Democratic voters—dissatisfaction becomes a
tinderbox, easily ignited and mobilized around a general call to “think of the
children.” This dynamic was particularly visible in the far right’s successful
politicization of parents unhappy with over school closures during Covid. But
it can also be seen in a broad constellation of other issues animating people
across the usual political spectrum.