Archives for the month of: March, 2016

One of my favorite little pieces of awareness is, “The challenge in organizing is to keep a healthy outrage at injustice while maintaining an inner peace.” Merrilee Milstein, who wrote those wonderful words of wisdom, was pulling from experiences in a lifetime dedicated to the labor movement. Thank you Merrilee.

We lose activists on both sides of that sentence because they forget it makes one interconnected whole. Some let their outrage consume them and recovery is never in full. Others get lost in seeking an inner peace that eludes them as outrage at injustice fades.

My “outrage “ side has been working overtime lately. Battling foes of passive open space and struggling with an onslaught of dirty fossil fuel initiatives involving a methane based power plant and new pipelines, head the list. Toping it off are the truly outrageous political events and politicians in the electoral arena.

Republican candidate Donald Trump’s clear racist incendiary statements on Mexicans and Muslims, with Senator Cruz joining him here, are much more than irritants. They are dangerous. The sight of white Trump supporters attacking African American protesters is down right scary. I can remember a veteran of progressive movements telling me long ago that if fascism comes to the USA, it will be on the backs of African Americans. Clearly we don’t have fascism or I wouldn’t be freely writing these words for a blog post. The question is, are we seeing its rolling thunder gathering steam? (More of this on another blog day.)

To take a break from all this, and in concert with Merrilee’s sage advise, I took a walk on Naugatuck section of the bridle trail. For those not familiar, this is a long woodland trail that was formerly a railroad bed stretching from Waterbury to Southbury, Connecticut and beyond. My approach to these outdoor walks is simple. Try to stay in the moment. If my thoughts drifted to the above challenges, I would reorient to be in the present.

While on this little nature excursion, I stumbled upon one of those small but truly magical moments. In the distance I saw what turned out to be a mid-sized bird seemly stuck to the side of a rock-like cliff covered with moss. It bobbed this way and that way while occasionally shaking its head. As I neared, the bird flew off into the surrounding treetops. Then I realized what it was doing there.

Thanks to the I-Phone on my hip, I can share it with you with a 35 second U-Tube video. I call it nature’s sounds of silence

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=xHeJNPt5C-4

Apparently, that bird was taking a shower, shaking the water off as we do in a shower, and getting a drink of water at the same time. Whatever competing thoughts I had melted away.

Ecosystem is a flexible concept. It can be as large as a biome like trundra or small as a knothole in the tree. I was transfixed and enraptured by this micro ecosystem consisting of a bird, moss, water, and rock. It put a smile on my face, accompanied by a satisfying sigh. How basic is that?

Now science has given us data to substantiate what we feel in such instances. In the July 14th, 2015 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, it was reported that morbid rumination is strongly associated with increased activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex. What’s the big deal? Here’s the punch line. Excursions in natural settings quieted that portion of the brain. The outdoors literally improved mood.

We need these green redoubts in today’s world and in our country with their topsy-turvy events. At the same time, or rather after these wonderful excursions in the outdoors, we need to pay close attention to what is going on around us. The reason is the necessary third ingredient to the outrage/inner peace package. That is action.

Activity is where we put our outrage and inner peace to good use. Outrage can eat our insides. Inner peace is an eternal search. Activity is what makes us whole. Win, lose or draw, it is where our humanity is practiced.

Journeys . . . And Getting Organized

While researching my book Hurry Down Gunntown, fascinating parallels emerged between the 18th century American Revolution and a 20th/21st century battle, both here in Connecticut. The organizing features had almost spooky connections. Let’s explore.

For those in the area, I’m speaking about all this at the Naugatuck Historical Society, Sunday, March 6, 2016, 1 PM, 171 Church Street. Check out their facebook page for my 4-minute video on this very topic.

https://www.facebook.com/NaugatuckHistory/

Journeys can be taken in a number of ways. Aaron Sachs’s wonderful book, The Humboldt Current, makes this point well. “Rootedness and deracination go hand in hand.” Sachs had me running for my dictionary with that one. Of course, I didn’t have to “run” too far as dictionaries are just a click away on a cell phone these days. Deracination means to tear up by the roots.

Sachs said this in a number of ways. “To me, the history of Humboldtian exploration suggests that there is a need for balance between cosmos and hearth.” The good Baron traveled the world but also returned to his “hearth” to write many books, including his ground breaking Cosmos. Sachs then goes on to use Henry David Thoreau as an example. I don’t think Thoreau is a good example. He certainly was not the international traveler of Alexander von Humboldt fame.

Henry David Thoreau had an incredible sense of place. His “journeys”, with exception, were mostly in New England and mainly around his hometown of Concord, Massachusetts. Yet he certainly had that Humboldtian sense of making connections to issues and places far removed from his home base. War, peace, natural history, and abolitionism were all fair game to this intrepid traveler. Not all these travels were of the intellectual variety. He didn’t hesitate to take action in his bailiwick. When John Brown was killed, Henry ran to the center of Concord and rang the church bells. It was time to organize.

I had similar feelings of connectedness when researching and writing about the colonial 18th century and emerging into the new millennium. I lived through that last part. The two intertwined stories happened, for the most part, right here in the Naugatuck Valley of Connecticut. It’s the pattern that surfaced as I took these two journeys that I want to share.

As the short video mentioned above explains, in March of 1780 Rebel trackers, also known as minute men, came galloping into a section of old Waterbury now Naugatuck, Connecticut. They were hot on the trail of a secret British agent and a young Tory gang he led on a raid. Danger lurked around every bend.

The marauders were heading to the Gunntown community with a distinct purpose. They knew it had more than its share of royalists. They could find sustenance there.

To put the cart before the horse, a favorite idiom from the 16th century, the Rebel trackers win the day. Let’s put this under a historical microscope. How did common people in the mists of war, boycotts, and civil strife, manage to pull this off?

The answer starts with organization, and plenty of it. There were vigilance committees. Their task was to make sure local business people in their town adhered to the various boycotts issued by the Continental Congress. Not buying indigo for ink from other British colonies was high on the list. The Committees of Defense and Correspondence made sure all the colonies were kept up to date in all matters practical and political concerning the revolutionary movement. Lastly, the Rebel trackers themselves, who could in a minutes notice, muster a fast response to any enemy activity in their town’s borders and beyond.

Of course, it all comes down to people. Who rose to the occasion to thwart the hand of the British secret agent? It was the young people in the Tory gang itself who stopped the killing of a young kidnapped victim. It was, incredibly, the Royalist mother of one of the Tory gang who gathered the courage to confront the secret agent. At the Oxford Inn, it was a house slave, Tobiah, who temporarily stayed the hand of sure death of the young colonial captive.

There was a patchwork of people who rose to the occasion. Dr. Jesse Carrington rode out of Bethany to help track down the thugs. There were Judd family members of the kidnapped boy. Toward the end of the saga there were sea-orientated people like Captain Steele of Derby Landing, which was a deep-sea port in colonial times. Any differences were put aside. Unity was their by-word.

How does this match up with the struggle that flowed into the new millennium?

Young people, mostly young women who were also girl scouts, led the grassroots committee that emerged to fight for the preservation of the Gunntown land where key events of the 18th century struggle took place. Their den mother, and a diverse group of 1960s/70s activists, rounded out the group. The young leader of the group was of Panamanian African American, and Portuguese descent. A Mexican played important roles, especially speaking at town hall meetings. There was no treasury and thus no treasurer. The group was quick on its feet as the minutemen of yore.

The comparisons don’t end there. Coalition building and networking was their by-word. Veteran labor organizers addressed the group and organized directly with the committee. Networking occurred with other environmentalists such as river groups and land trusts. Experiences of the local Pollution Extermination Group – gotta love that name – were a key ingredient in eventually winning the Gunntown Passive Park & Nature Preserve for all citizens to enjoy.

There is a message here for the present. For a just transition to renewable energy, E- Coops, community supported agriculture, and community gardens, we need a transformational movement. It would add the political clout to make the transition happen. Needless-to-say unity will be needed among environmental, peace, labor, and social justice movements to do this.

Maximum unity will be needed to prevent those frenzied people that are paraded across our T.V. screens every night from entering the White House. The electoral movement to prevent that, and advance the transition so necessary environmentally, is represented mostly in Senator Sanders campaign. Feel the Bern!