Applying the past to 2020

While it has been flying under the radar a bit in this cataclysmic year, 2020 is the centennial of the passage of the 19th amendment to the United States Constitution, recognizing women’s right to vote.

B, T, and I recently watched a four-hour documentary on PBS, entitled The Vote. (At the moment, you can stream it for free by following the link.) It was a reminder to me of the long struggle to secure the vote for all women in the US and how interwoven it was with issues of religion, abolition, temperance, racism, property rights, wealth, war, and social mores. The derisive and/or violent reaction to the nearly always peaceful demonstrations that the women undertook seems frighteningly current.

T and I also saw Gloria: A Life, a docu-play based on the life of Gloria Steinem. The performance was filmed with the audience there, the first act as a play and the second act a discussion with the audience featuring Gloria Steinem herself. Like Steinem and Betty Friedan, I am an alumna of Smith College; while there I had taken an early women’s studies course, before the formation of an academic department of women/gender studies. By the time I was a teen, the Second Wave of feminism was well underway, so I recognized many of the names of Steinem’s feminist activist-colleagues. Early on in the play, there is a tribute to the many women of color who were leaders in the movement. One of the strange phenomenon that happened was that, even early on, the press would disproportionately cover and feature Steinem, marginalizing other leaders, especially those of color. This has led to the enduring false impression that Second Wave feminism was a white middle-class movement, when it was in reality what would now be termed “intersectional.” It drew together women’s rights with issues of race, immigration, sexual orientation, gender expression, union/labor rights, violence, medical care, and more.

This was particularly striking at this time when we see activists who had been working on issues in isolation now drawing together in this time of pandemic and outcry for social and racial justice. We see them supporting each other and crafting policy proposals to address the common good. I am so encouraged to see the #BuildBackBetter movement put forward plans that take into account historic racism, marginalization, discrimination, oppression, environmental degradation, unfair wages, etc. and take steps to redress the wrongs and put in place an equitable, fair, safe, and comprehensive system.

2020 has been immeasurably difficult, but we all have the opportunity to make a better future. Let’s go! The United States needs to live up to its highest ideals and join with the world community to heal the planet and all its inhabitants.

MASS MoCA, North Adams, and me

As we prepare for the second reunion of the Boiler House Poets later this month, our poet-organizer Kay sent this video from the PBS NewsHour about MASS MoCA and city of North Adams:  

Well, she sent it over a month ago, but I am just getting to it and this post…

Much of the piece concentrates on the intersection of MASS MoCA and North Adams history. The interview with Mr. Sprague especially struck me, as he wove together his family/business history with the larger story of the area.

When the Boiler House Poets re-convene, I am planning to spend at least some share of my studio time trying to assemble my first manuscript, a collection of poems tentatively entitled Monroe MoCA.  It weaves together my family history in North Adams and the surrounding small towns with the changes that have taken place over the decades and ends with a group of ekphrastic poems about pieces of MASS MoCA art.

For the first time, this year the Boiler House Poets will be giving a public reading, Wednesday, October 4, at 7 PM at the Makers’ Mill on Main Street. I will use my time to read a few poems from the collection.

I have been dreaming about this collection for almost two years and am excited/anxious/daunted by the prospect of actually piecing it together.

Wish me luck…

Groundswell Rising

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to see “Groundswell Rising,” a new documentary on the effects of the fracking industry on individuals and communities across the country and what some of those people are doing in response. You can view the trailer and get much more information, including signing up for updates here: http://www.groundswellrising.com/ .

Because I have been involved in advocacy against shale fossil fuel for several years, the information in the film was not news to me, but it was powerful to see the story compacted into an hour and twenty minutes, beginning in the West with Erie, Colorado, and moving East into the Marcellus with the impacts in Pennsylvania and our ongoing fight in New York to keep drilling – and as much of the waste disposal and infrastructure impacts as possible – out of our state.

Because my town is on the NY border with a heavily drilled PA county, we have seen impacts up close and have felt some ourselves, including heavy truck traffic, road degradation, and noise, light, and air pollution. And because much of the filming was done in NY and PA, I have had the privilege of hearing rally speeches, lectures, or debates from many of the people who appear in the film, including Dr. Tony Ingraffea, Dr. Sandra Steingraber, NY Assemblymember and US Congress candidate Martha Robertson, (now retired) Rep. Maurice Hinchey, Vera Scroggins, and Craig Stevens. There was also footage from events in which I participated, such as the the Stop the Frack Attack rally and march in Washington DC.

We were privileged to have a question and answer session after the film. Renard Cohen, executive producer/director (Resolution Films), and David Walczak, associate producer, were there to answer questions about the film itself and local community organizer Isaac Silberman-Gorn gave the NY political perspective. Most powerfully, there were four of our PA neighbors who are affected by drilling and fully engaged in the fight against it sharing their stories: Vera Scroggins, Craig Stevens, David Kagan, and Ray Kemble. When you hear such personal stories and hear the emotions in their voices, you know this is not some political-economic power play; it’s about regular folks who have had their lives and homes violated and who will never be able to regain what they have lost. It was especially poignant as the day before the screening, Vera Scroggins had been in court over an injunction that Cabot Oil and Gas had placed last fall which has kept her from setting foot on over the third of the land in her PA county. (Links to media coverage on that here:  http://www.nofrackingway.us/2014/03/26/cabot-martyrs-the-vera-for-frackcrack-photo/ . Warning: post contains photo of a gas worker mooning Vera, because they try, albeit unsuccessfully, to intimidate her at every turn.)

Fractivism feels like a David versus Goliath enterprise, a small number of the common people fighting the powerful industry that has co-opted much of the government that should be protecting us. Given that a lot of time is taken up with private research and comment writing and writing/calling government officials, it is easy to feel isolated. When you see the suffering that the industry is causing, it is easy to feel discouraged. That is why films like this are so important. For those of us in the fight, we can see the people with whom we are connected in spirit and advocacy and draw energy and inspiration from them. For those who aren’t familiar with the topic, this film presents a sobering introduction to what it is like to live near drilling.

The film’s subtitle is “Protecting Our Children’s Air and Water.” It is that vital. Please look for a screening near you or request a screening, if one isn’t yet scheduled. Watch for it at film festivals. There are hopes for cinematic release or television. I have put in an email to POV on PBS, suggesting that they include it in their series. (I’m hoping for PBS over HBO because it is easier for those of us without premium cable to see it.)

We have kept the industry from drilling in NY for over six years. People in other states are fighting hard to keep the industry out or to rein it in or put moratoria in place. By documenting the fight, “Groundswell Rising” is doing important work. Let’s make sure as many people as possible get to see it.