In Our Opinion: Deer Lagoon Grange’s membership should be open to all

The Deer Lagoon Grange has become an unlikely focal point in the culture war on South Whidbey.

The foofaraw began last fall when some members of the Washington Three Percent, a conservative group with a predilection for guns and disdain for masks, joined the Grange, causing concerns about a takeover.

An effort by hundreds of residents seeking to “Reclaim the Grange” followed. A petition warns that there’s “no place for anti-government extremism and violence on South Whidbey” and yearns for a return to the Grange’s mission “to strengthen individuals, families and communities through grassroots action, service, education, advocacy and agriculture awareness.”

Reclaim the Grange people and others concerned about the direction of the Grange applied to join the organization. They have been frozen out. While the Grange is supposed to make decisions about applicants at each monthly meeting, mysteriously, nothing has happened for months.

Chuck Prochaska, the Grange master, has been the heart and soul of the Grange for years, leading a successful fundraising effort a decade ago to renovate the historic structure not far from Bayview. The Grange has been an important part of the Whidbey Island Fair for many years and Prochaska and his wife were grand marshals of the parade two years ago.

He defends the new members of the Grange and feels under attack by the Reclaim the Grange folks. He indicated that people who signed the petition should probably not be allowed to be members if their desire is to “destroy” or “take over” the Grange.

It’s understandable that his feelings are hurt after all he’s done for the community. The petition is unnecessarily hyperbolic in spots, but it represents the will of community members who don’t want to see a long-standing and important community organization co-opted by a small number of people with a political agenda anathema to them.

People remember the Grange for free dictionaries given to school children, classes on organic food growing and beer brewing, arts and crafts events, creative writing contests, Zydeco dances and homespun cookbook fundraisers. These are the good parts of small-town values.

A demand for inclusiveness should not be confused with “cancel culture.” New members should clearly be welcome to the Grange. It would be the height of irresponsibility and unfairness to create a litmus test for membership based on what people think about one conservative group.

Inviting new members might lead to contentious situations, but it will ultimately be energizing and will only be good for the Grange and the community.

People learn to work together by working together.