FLOTSAM & JETSAM

Monday, November 17, 2014

No one left but us

Sam Smith -  The recent election - in which the minimum wage for some workers was raised while the minimum intelligence for some politicians was lowered - illustrates a few points this journal has been trying to make, namely that Americans are more progressive on quite a few issues than their leaders and that choosing the right issues is often a better tool for change than choosing the right candidate. As I noted some time back, the American left can either remain a victim of alternative predators - the right on one hand or the Clintons and Obamas on the other. Or it can take charge of its own future and that of the country by agreeing within itself on clear programs and then - in the manner of abolitionists, populists, socialists, suffragettes, and civil rights activists - take this message to every little corner of the land.  Further, change does not build purely on argument, analysis or power. It requires a common community as well.

On the first point,  the issues on which, according to polls this year, the public leads the politicians of both parties (not to mention much of the major media) are quite extraordinary and include:

    restoring voting rights to ex-nonviolent offenders
    opposing racial profiling by police
    opposing militarization of police has gone too far
    considering Snowden a whistleblower, not a traitor
    opposing mandatory minimums for non-violent offenses
    opposing the Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United
    sporting pot legalization and medical marijuana
    wanting carbon pollution cut even if it costs more.
    wanting Americans want GMO foods labelled
    believing humans cause climate change
    saying global warming should be a priority
    believing the economy is unfair to middle class
    favoring fair pay for women, a higher minimum wage, paid family and medical leave and paid sick days.
    believing wealth should be more fairly distributed
    supporting federal spending to help economy
    believing job creation should be the top priority. Only 33 percent said deficit reduction
    supporting food stamps
    opposing using student test scores to evaluate teachers.
    wanting government to invest more in higher education
    opposing spending by Super PACs
    thinking we give too much aid to Israel
    opposing getting involved in Ukraine
    favoring normal relations with Cuba
    believing the Afghan war wasn't worth it
    favoring laws prohibiting workplace discrimination against LGBT people
    backing a pathway to citizenship for immigrants living here illegally
    supporting paid vacations
    overwhelmingly opposed to NSA spying on them
    Banning Super PACs
    wanting Social Security spending increased or held steady

 Add to this the fact that while Democratic candidates have been losing ground, issues like gay marriage and legalizing marijuana have made considerable progress. This dichotomy, caused in no small part by the legalization of corporate bribery (including Citizens United) that has funded an explosion of perverted television ads, will not soon be resolved. And there is only the smallest chance that the Elizabeth Warrens and Bernie Sanders will suddenly explode.

One reason is that Washington has become a capital of explosive dysfunction in which the Democrats serve as the abused children of maniacal Republicans, narcissistic gradocrats from schools of law, business and economics, lecherous lobbyists and a media unable to perceive beyond the lies it is told.

As in any dysfunctional family, playing by its rules gets you nowhere. The trick is to break free physically, mentally and socially to a stage in which the past no longer has tenure.

This is why emphasizing issues over candidates is important.  Obama and Hillary Clinton, for example, are the creations of the very culture we wish to change. We may, wisely, want to vote for them in order to have a better battlefield on which to struggle, but there is no reason to pin any significant hope on their fluid, fatuous fantasies and facades. Our goal is not to support such mirrors of cultural metastasis but to change the environment in which such metastasis spreads.

Strangely, a place where liberals and other Democrats might have learned this lesson is from the right itself. Abortion, gay rights, and immigration didn't gain such disproportional importance by accident. It was the result of a conscious effort to redefine reality in terms that could demonize Democrats while ignoring all matters - such as rational  economics - that might otherwise drive national debate. And the message of the right included the argument that the Democrats not only had bad values but they wanted to take values away from those who disagree with them.

There is, however, another important factor well described by Rabbi Michael Lerner: the current difference in the role of community within left and right. It hasn't always been like that and certainly wasn't, for example,  during the 1960s, but one finds little honor for community in the liberal discourse. And our most popular form of government - the local - is dissed by Democrats in favor a federal rules.

On the other hand, writes Lerner:
    When many Americans encounter a different reality in right-wing churches that have specialized in creating supportive communities, they feel much more addressed there than they've ever felt in progressive movements that focus on economic entitlements or political rights and sometimes disintegrate due to internal tensions over dynamics of relative privilege ("hey, my group is more oppressed than yours, so I deserve more attention for my pain than you do for yours") and unproductive feelings of guilt ("who are we to challenge this society when we've failed to make our own lives as fulfilling as they ought to be"),

    Only rarely do these liberal or progressive movements actually manifest a loving community that seems to care specifically about the people who come to their public talks or gatherings-the experience is more about hearing a good speech than about encountering people who want to know who you are and what you need-precisely what happens in most right-wing churches.

    Is it really a surprise that people who so rarely encounter this kind of caring among the people with whom they work or the people whom they see angling for power or sexual conquest in the movies and TV would feel more seen and recognized for having some value in the Right than in much of the Left? Sadly, the cost of belonging to those right-wing churches is this: that they demean or put-down those deemed to be "Other"-those who are not part of their community. These "others" (including feminists, African Americans, immigrants, gays and lesbians, and increasingly all liberals or progressives) are wrongfully blamed for the ethos of selfishness and breakdown of loving relationships and families. This is ironic because in fact the breakdown of loving relationships is largely a product of the increasing internalization of the utilitarian or instrumental way people have come to view each other, a product of bringing home into personal life, friendships, and marriages the very values that the Right esteems and champions in the competitive economy.

    It is the ethos of capitalism that is destructive to loving relationships, families, and caring communities. Yet this is rarely discussed by liberal or progressive organizations, though doing so would start to suggest to people that we actually cared about these issues which are normally described as "personal" but are in fact a perfect example of how the personal is political-because they are so massively impacted by the values that are being instilled in all of us by the workplace, the marketplace of consumption and the media.

    Progressives inside and outside the Democratic Party need to develop a Spiritual Covenant that can apply [a] New Bottom Line to every aspect of our society-our economy, our corporations, our educational system, our legal system. In short, a progressive worldview that deeply rejects the way most of our institutions today teach people the values of "looking out for number one" and maximizing one's own material well being without regard to the consequences for others or for the environment. Armed with an alternative worldview, progressives would have a chance of helping working people stop blaming themselves for their situation, stop blaming some other, and see that it is the whole system that needs a fundamental makeover.
As a rock bottom Seventh Day Agnostic, I don't care much for words like "spiritual" or "covenant," but that part's easy to rewrite. Forget the religious slang and consider the goals of a "network of spiritual progressives" that Lerner helped to form:
    Founded in 2005 by Tikkun Editor Michael Lerner, Benedictine Sister Joan Chittister, and Princeton University Professor Cornel West, the NSP … is not only for members of religious communities but also for people who do not believe in God or do not associate with any religion but do realize the need for a New Bottom Line in our world today.

    Here's what is spiritual: Ethics, aesthetics, love, compassion, creativity, music, altruism, generosity, forgiveness, spontaneity, emergent phenomena, consciousness itself, and any other aspect of reality not subject to empirical verification or measurement.

    Many scientists are also spiritual: They understand that the scientific method is appropriate for describing regularities in the natural world, but not for understanding all of reality. Those aspects of reality that cannot be reduced to publicly observable and verifiable behavior we call spiritual.

    What Is A Spiritual Progressive? (Hint:  You don't have to believe in God or be part of a religion). You are a spiritual progressive if you endorse the New Bottom Line: A New Bottom Line is one that judges the efficiency, rationality, and productivity of our institutions (education, healthcare, legal, etc.), government (and its policies), corporations and even our personal behavior based not on the old bottom line of whether they maximize money and power, but instead assessing them on the extent that they maximize love and caring, kindness and generosity, empathy and compassion, social and economic justice, peace and nonviolence, and environmental sustainability, as well as encourage us to transcend a narrow utilitarian approach to nature and other human beings. You don't have to believe in God, deny science, or be part of a religion to be a spiritual progressive.
Despite my decidedly aspiritual approach to life, I like this stuff, in part because the last time I lived in an America that was dramatically changing for the better, aka the 1960s and early 1970s, it was a period when issues were far more important than political personalities and the country was awash with alternative communities to which one could belong and in which one could find support. A time when hipsters, preachers, cynics, artists, academics and street activists not only had a plan but a home, and felt at home with one another.

Today, the Democratic Party offers neither a plan nor a home. There are some hopeful models, such as Moral Mondays. And when I meet a new fellow Green Party member, it is to like finding a long lost cousin.

But generally our discussions do not recognize the importance of creating common space and common dreams. The environmentalists take care of the pipeline and the civil libertarians fight NSA and seldom the twain shall meet.

You don't have to call it spiritual. You can just call it community, fellowship or simply human. But we have been deserted by our leaders in politics, academia, and the media, so it's up to us to rebuild what America is meant to be about and the communities in which it can happen. There's no one else to do it.  Just us.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

A coalition for the comnon good

Sam Smith  - Washington will soon have the most xenophobic Congress since the days of segregation. The old southerners mainly hated black people, while the new crowd can’t stand anyone who doesn’t look, act and believe like themselves.

Their voting ID restrictions not only echo the southern poll tax but sometimes are twice as costly. And while their prejudice is not publicly avowed it is easily apparent in the statistics from their prisons, from schools and from the mistreatment of the homeless.

And who is there to challenge them? The weakest and most purposeless Democratic Party in nearly a century. This is not a new development. Go back 26 years and you’ll find conservative Democrats beginning a series of nearly 100 meetings held at the home of Pam Harriman to plot strategy for the takeover of the Democratic Party. Donors coughed up $1,000 to attend and Harriman eventually raised $12 million for her kind of Democrat. The right-wing Dems would eventually settle on Bill Clinton as their presidential choice. That same crowd would later bring Barack Obama to the fore.

Anyone who has looked carefully at Clinton’s or Obama’s record would see what has been going on. Clinton’s assault on social welfare, the repeal of bank regulations, the dismantling of public housing all occurred right before the eyes of a liberal constituency that never blinked. Obama’s refusal to challenge intelligence agency attacks on the Constitution and the creation of a healthcare bill that grossly favors insurance corporations would follow suit.

Flawed as Jimmy Carter may have been, he was our last real Democratic president.

And now, as Scott McLarty puts it, “Republicans are the party of bad ideas. Democrats are the party of no ideas. Gullible people can be inspired by bad ideas. No one is inspired by no ideas.”

The risks in this are enormous, as Germany learned many years ago. About the pre-Hitler era I once wrote that there was:
- A collapse of conventional liberal and conservative politics that bears uncomfortable similarities to what we are now experiencing.

- The gross mismanagement of the economy and of such key worker concerns as wages, inflation, pensions, layoffs, and rising property taxes. Many of the actions were taken in the name of efficiency, an improved economy and the "rationalization of production." There were also bankruptcies, negative trade balance, major decline in national production, large national debt rise compensated for by foreign investment. In other words, a hyped version of what America and its workers are experiencing today.

- The use of negative campaigning, a contribution to modern politics by Joseph Goebbels. The Nazi campaigns argued what was wrong with their opponents and ignored stating their own policies.

- The Nazis as the inventors of modern political propaganda. Every modern American political campaign and the types of arguments used to support them owes much to the ideas of the Nazis.

- The suddenness of the Nazi rise. The party went from less than 3% of the vote to being the largest party in the country in four years.

- The collapse of the country's self image. Thomas Childers points out that Germany had been a world leader in education, industry, science, and literacy. Much of the madness that we see today stems from attempts to compensate for our battered self-image.
In trying to figure a sane manner in which to prevent something similar happening to America it helps to remember that this is not a fight about individuals. It is about the battlefield on which we and they struggle. We can’t change the Democratic Party or Hillary Clinton in two years, but we can change how they behave by changing the reality around them.

Unfortunately, over the past few decades, worthy activism has too often been atomized. One choses to attend to the environment, abortion or gay rights, for example, and unconsciously in the process ignores the need for all these causes to find common ground.

The agendas that many liberals have chosen has been either too specific and/or too controversial inspire any broadbased coalitions, which is why you find Colorado quite hip on marijuana and still sending Mark Udall to the cleaners.

Further, liberals have adopted a puritanical form of politics most vividly seen in their approach to gun regulation. Instead of seeking common ground with hunters on reasonable reforms, they instead launched a full scale attack that sent the message that the owners of some 270 million guns are evil souls. It is, for example, quite possible that in Maine, the Democrat lost the governorship in part because of the greater turnout of hunters over a referendum that would have banned bear baiting. Given all the issues affecting decent people in that state, bear baiting was near the bottom. And similarly, given all the other issues out there, why piss off a large number of San Francisco voters with a “sin tax” on soda? Whatever happened to priorities?

Most dramatically, what liberal puritans – in sharp contract with New Deal and Great Society Democrats – have missed is that if you want to bring people together at the polls, you need to raise economic, health and widely shared social issues to the top of your list.

When Frances Perkins was asked by FDR to be his labor secretary she gave him a list of four items that he would have to agree to work on before she would come aboard: a forty hour work week, a minimum wage, social security and a national healthcare plan. Not in nearly half a century have we seen Democrats push for programs anywhere near as broadly helpful to the whole American community.

So here is a modest proposal:

Create an organization called something like the Coalition for the Common Good. It would be formed by leaders of groups the Democrats hope or expect to be in their corner but in recent times have exerted little effective power in the party. These groups would include, among others, those representing blacks, latinos, labor, and women. This coalition would endorse no one, contribute to no campaigns, and not deal with issues specific to its member groups. It would instead organize and lobby for policies that benefit a major portion of the American public – just as so many New Deal and Great Society programs did and so few do today.

What might these programs include? A few possibilities:

  • · Increased minimum wage
  • · Restoring Glass Steigall Act
  • · Ending credit care usury
  • · A negative income tax.
  • · Creating state public banks
  • · Expanding worker cooperatives
  • · Fairer elections including ranked choice voting and and to discriminatory practices like voter ID.
  • · An end to corporate personhood
  • · An elected Attorney General
  • · Public campaign financing
  • · Single payer health plan
  • · A fairer approach to looming housing foreclosures such as co-ownership with the government.
  • · Restorative justice and community courts
Note that all these (and these are just examples) have a general effect on the American community and are not designed to assist a specific subculture.

Is it practical? Well, for decades the Leadership Conference on Civil Right was one of the most important groups in the country. For much of that time it lacked bylaws and a constitution but what it had was an extraordinary community of organizations as members that shared its vision. Here, for example, were some of its members that begin with the letter A:

AARP, African Methodist Episcopal Church, Alaska Federation of Natives, Alliance for Retired Americans, American Association of People with Disabilities, American Association of University Women, American Baptist Churches USA American Civil Liberties Union, American Federation of Government Employees, , American Jewish Committee, American Jewish Congress, American Nurses Association, American Postal Workers Union, AFL-CIO, American Society for Public Administration, American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, Americans for Democratic Action, Anti-Defamation League, Appleseed, Asian American Justice Center, Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, Associated Actors and Artistes of America, AFL-CIO, Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired, Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), Association of Junior Leagues International, The Association of University Centers on Disabilities
If all these groups could come together over civil rights, why couldn’t an even broader policy approach attract as many or more?

A more current example is that remarkable movement, Moral Mondays. From its guide:
The first Moral Monday was on April 29. Justice-loving people from across the state gathered at the capitol to express their concern about the announced political agenda of the new majority in the General Assembly and the Governor. The legislators’ and Governor’s extreme and immoral agenda was a declaration of war on the people of North Carolina - - women, minorities, children, and the elderly…

Moral Mondays have been successful. Moral Mondays have turned a moment of concern, fear, and uncertainty into the Forward Together, Not One Step Back Movement for change that has drawn tens of thousands of North Carolinians in this righteous struggle to voice their dissatisfaction with the actions of the legislators who, have cut unemployment benefits for 170,000 people without work, deprived a half a million people of health care, decimated public schools, endangered the environment, and threatened voting rights.
Nation Magazine reported on Moral Mondays and its effects:
The movement’s most important accomplishment has been to build a multi-issue, multiracial, statewide progressive coalition, one that North Carolina—or the South, for that matter—has never seen. “In a Southern state, an African-American is leading a multiracial movement that I believe represents the majority of the people of the state,” says Penda Hair, co-director of the Advancement Project, a national civil rights group that is advising the North Carolina NAACP. “It’s a huge breakthrough in terms of racial barriers in the South.”

… Western North Carolina, which is heavily white, is the home of five new NAACP chapters—including places like Mitchell County, where no one ever dreamed of starting one before. “We saw the NAACP as the most organized and most aggressive group taking action against the Legislature,” said Joy Boothe, a local Moral Monday leader in the mountain town of Burnsville, who helped start the Yancey/Mitchell County NAACP. It now has 126 dues-paying members, nearly all of them white. In fact, the five new chapters are the first majority-white NAACP affiliates in the state.
How does a group like the Coalition for Common Ground decide what to do?

Ranked choice voting is one good way. The nice thing about this is that you end up with an agenda that people have really agreed on and you don’t have to worry, say, about Catholics not liking its take on abortion. You leave that fight for someplace else.

It can work. I saw it back in 1995 when a bunch of us Greens organized a conference of third party activists. This is from my report:

Over a hundred showed up, ranging from one of the founders of the American Labor Party to Greens, Libertarians, Ross Perot backers, Democratic Socialists of America, and followers of Lenora Fulani. It was a recklessly dangerous idea for a Washington weekend, but John Rensenbrink, Linda Martin, and Tony Affigne seemed to know what they were doing and I was happy to go along. We established two basic rules:

- We would only discuss issues on which we might find some agreement.

- We would reach that agreement by consensus.

I was one of the kickoff speakers and said:

"We must stake out a position with real programs for real people, with our enthusiasm on our sleeve and our ideology in our pocket, with small words and big hearts, and -- most of all -- with a clear vision of what a better future might look like. We must tackle what Chesterton called the "huge modern heresy of altering the human soul to fit its conditions, instead of altering human conditions to fit the human soul."

"This then is our task. Let's embrace it not as sectarians or as prigs but as a happy fellow members of a new mainstream. Not as radicals permanently in exile but as moderates of an age that has not quite arrived. Let's laugh and make new friends and be gentle with one another. Let's remember Camus' dictum that the only sin we are not permitted is despair. "

`We broke the body into tables of ten or so, each dealing with a different topic. All policies that were proposed were written on newsprint posters. Then participants were given three color stickers with their names on them. Everyone then went up to the board and placed their stickers on their favorite issues (cumulative voting style, so that all three stickers could, if desired, be placed on one issue). After the vote, those with only their stickers on a particular issue were allowed to move them to their second choice (a la instant run-off voting) and so forth until a clear consensus of three issues emerged. This scheme not only produced a consensus, but one that was physical and visual as well as intellectual and fun to watch.

When the various groups produced their recommendations, they were turned over to what was known as a "fishbowl negotiation." Each small group selected a representative to negotiate for it. The representatives sat in a circle with those they represented behind them. Anyone could stop their representative and request a small group conference but only the representative could speak in the larger assembly. It worked remarkably well.

Despite the wide range of views present, despite the near total absence of Robert's Rules of Order, the final document, with full consensus, called for nothing less than a major transformation. The group unanimously agreed to support proportional representation, campaign finance reform "to provide a level playing field in elections;" initiative, referendum and recall; better ballot access; the end of corporate welfare; strong environmental policies; sexual and reproductive freedom; an end to the war on drugs and treatment of addiction as a health matter rather than as a crime; a dramatic cut in military expenditures; workplace democracy and the maximum empowerment of people in their communities "consistent with fairness, social responsibilities and human rights."
Not bad for a meeting at which nobody yelled at anyone.

Which is one reason I think a Coalition for the Common Good is amongf the best things we might do t this moment – whether at a national, state or lcal level.

Let’s face it. Our conventional leaders in politics, business, media and academia have broadly failed us. They care mostly about survival of themselves . It’s time now for the rest to come together and do it differently , to restore honest concern, decency, cooperation and imagination to our political lives.

It is time to join together and seek the common good.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Getting ready to vote


Sam Smith - Fortunately the national and state candidate choices  this year are easy , so I've had plenty of time to try to figure out the far more overwhelming issues in my Maine town. Maine still takes democracy seriously. According to NPR, Nielsen ranks the hearby Portland media market 91st in the country. But it comes in at No. 8 in terms of campaign-ad volume, according to Kantar Media research."

And it's not just TV ads.You can't leave the parking lot at Bow Street Market or approach the dead end of Mallet Drive without confronting several dozen street signs. I confess to not finding these too helpful in reaching a choice but it does remind you that democracy still matters to some.

The hardest and most important decision this year is whether we should end the consolidation of three town school districts which some feel has added to costs and hurt major decisions because of the obstinence of the two smaller adjoining towns when faced with bond issues.The other side says that any lack of progress is due to other issues and that the new plan for a separated school system won't work. I eventually came to the conclusion that those backing withdrawal from the present consolidation have, at best, identified a problem but haven't really come up with a comfortably reliable solution. But I didn't take this lightly, having conferred with an auto shop owner, waitress at the Broad Arrow Tavern who knows a lot of parents, a former school principal, and an oyster fisherman, among others, all of whom were more rational and thoughtful than most of the pols and commentators I see on TV. As I told the town councilor who headed the committee that produced the deconsolidation plan, I had never before consulted a committee on whether to withdraw.

There are other issues such as a statewide referendum on ending bear baiting, another topic that in all my years of journalism I also never faced before.

Then there is the town sewer district. Living five miles from downtown and relying on a private septic system, I probably shouldn't even be allowed to vote on the matter, but I was attracted by the comments of candidate Sally Leland as reported in the Forecaster newspaper:
If elected, she said she wants to address the recent breaks in the system's mains. "That's probably going to be the biggest problem going forward," Leland said. "It's an aging infrastructure." She said it's important to fix these problems before they get worse so that residents aren't affected too much. "People don't really think of the sewer district until it doesn't work," she said.

Leland said she also wants to work on educating the community about the sewer district. She said she wants to start with elementary schools and promote field trips to the sewer facility.
The contest over the sewer district was instigated by the fact that Thomas Hudak has decided to try to move on to the town water district board.  As explained in the Forecaster:
Hudak is one year into his second term on the sewer district board; this would be his first time term on the water district board. He said he wanted to run for the open seat so he could see the other side of the sewer district. "We see what's coming out," Hudak said. "I wanted to see where it's coming from."
So it's tough voting here, but it sure is interesting. 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Weekend update

Sam Smith - During a trip last weekend to the coastal area north of Boston, my wife and I stayed at the Emerson Inn by the Sea in Rockport. It was neither its original name nor in its original location. It had once been a tavern nearby until in 1856 some 200 townswomen, as well as three men, began a destructive raid against alcoholic spirits. According to the inn’ s account, “Hiding their weapons beneath lacy shawls, the protestors set out to destroy every drop of alcohol. . .Five hours after the siege began, the weary but victorious women went home to fix supper for their families.”

In the wake of this chaos, the owner decided to turn the tavern into an inn since Pigeon Cove had begin attracting a growing number of summer visitors including Ralph Waldo Emerson, originally brought by his friend Henry David Thoreau

Emerson would spend several vacations here with his family and wrote about it in his diary with less than careful reserve:
Returned from Pigeon Cove, where we have made acquaintance with the sea, for seven days. Tis a noble, friendly power, and seemed to say to me, "Why so late and slow to come to me? Am I not here always, thy proper summer home? Is not my voice thy needful music; my breath, thy healthful climate in the heats; My touch, thy cure? Was ever a building like my terraces? Was ever a couch so magnificent as mine? Lie down on my warm ledges and learn that a very little but is all you need. I have made thy architecture superfluous, and it is paltry beside mine. Here are twenty Romes and Nineveho and Karnacs in ruin together, obelisk and pyramid and giant's causeway here they all are prostrate or half piled."
As It turned out, our room was just two down the hall from Emerson’s, which would have been heart warming were it not for the fact that his pre-Expedia assessment of the inn was in stunning contrast with some of his other comments on travel that I have regularly quoted, to wit:
Travelling is a fool's paradise. . .I pack my trunk, embrace my friends, embark on the sea, and at last wake up in Naples, and there beside me is the stern fact, the sad self, unrelenting, identical, that I fled from. . .My giant goes with me wherever I go.

He who travels to be amused, or to get something which he does not carry, travels away from himself and grows old even in youth among old things.
But it wasn’t the only historic clash of the weekend. Upon arriving in nearby Salem we were immediately reminded that Halloween was only a week away as it was already being cheerfully observed by an extraordinary number of people wearing odd costumes and pointed hats. The mood was mindlessly celebratory, at least until we joined a few other people in the town’s visitors’ center to see a documentary on where Salem’s interest in witches had begun, namely in 1692 during trials that resulted in the hanging of 19 women in nine months of hysteria about the subject. History.com describes it this way:
The infamous Salem witch trials began during the spring of 1692, after a group of young girls in Salem Village, Massachusetts, claimed to be possessed by the devil and accused several local women of witchcraft. As a wave of hysteria spread throughout colonial Massachusetts, a special court convened in Salem to hear the cases; the first convicted witch, Bridget Bishop, was hanged that June. Eighteen others followed Bishop to Salem’s Gallows Hill, while some 150 more men, women and children were accused over the next several months. By September 1692, the hysteria had begun to abate and public opinion turned against the trials. Though the Massachusetts General Court later annulled guilty verdicts against accused witches and granted indemnities to their families, bitterness lingered in the community, and the painful legacy of the Salem witch trials would endure for centuries….

In January 1697, the Massachusetts General Court declared a day of fasting for the tragedy of the Salem witch trials; the court later deemed the trials unlawful, and the leading justice Samuel Sewall publicly apologized for his role in the process. The damage to the community lingered, however, even after Massachusetts Colony passed legislation restoring the good names of the condemned and providing financial restitution to their heirs in 1711. Indeed, the vivid and painful legacy of the Salem witch trials endured well into the 20th century, when Arthur Miller dramatized the events of 1692 in his play “The Crucible” (1953), using them as an allegory for the anti-Communist “witch hunts” led by Senator Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s.
To view a documentary on this subject in a nearly empty auditorium and then to step into a main street of Salem jammed with a contemporary celebration of sorcery was a troublesome reminder of how little we often learn from history

Sunday, October 19, 2014