I write to you from Florida, the state where a lot of people have moved when they retire. Why not? After all, the Gulf of Mexico and Sarasota Bay are beautiful, the weather is terrific, and here in Sarasota, cultural pleasures are sophisticated and plentiful. Even life-long learning programs abound. The easy path is for retirees to sit back, read the papers, watch TV news, critique the world from their armchairs, and then share those critiques only with those whose politics agree with their own. After all, retirement has its rewards, and some might believe that inaction and armchair “jawing” are among them.
A certain caution is discernible here in Florida when people meet one another for the first time. Is it “safe” to discuss politics? (And what other subject is so front and center these days?) We don’t, after all, want to offend and argue. Who among these strangers voted for Trump and who voted for Hillary? Who didn’t vote at all? Who watches with complacency and agreement as liberal institutions in government and in society are attacked and dismantled? Communication across the great political divide not only grows more limited but is increasingly full of disbelief and rage. What are we to do with our passionately held beliefs and accompanying angst?
My beliefs and personality dictate action, constructive action. The question for me is, what kinds of action will be the most constructive? In other words, what will help to defang our present administration and re-establish a more liberal democracy that reflects our values as a welcoming, fair minded, constructive, and positive force in the world—- a Marshall Plan kind of world. Of course, some of you who read this will not agree with me, and so, I urge you to respond. Let’s communicate!
Two events that I attended here were heartening. The first was the Women’s March in January. Here in Sarasota, police estimated that 10,000 people marched! We women and men carried signs, wore pink hats, and shouted slogans as we marched along the beautiful Marina Bay and across the bridge connecting Sarasota to Bird Key. It was peaceful, and it was wonderful to be among so many like minded demonstrators. Clearly, they were not “retired” from politics and life.
This past Saturday (3/18), we attended a “town hall” where the local Congressman, Representative Vern Buchanan, held his 75th meeting of constituents since taking office five terms earlier. The Sarasota Herald Tribune said that this 75th town hall meeting (attended by more than 1,300 who packed Van Wezel Auditorium and an estimated additional 800 who couldn’t fit into the room) was unlike all his previous town hall meetings and would not soon be forgotten. We have seen television news reports of other town meetings with Republican congressional representatives and senators—full of people with strong opinions becoming raucous, erupting in chants, and even booing. That’s what this meeting was like. Retirees do not want their health benefits messed with, want veterans and people with disabilities cared for, want fair immigration policies, and more. And this meeting occurred in Florida, a state that voted for Trump.
We have been away from Massachusetts now for three months. I read The New York Times and watch MSNBC, which, of course, indicates the nature of my own political bent. I admit that I am not current with politics in Massachusetts where our citizens are overwhelmingly “democratic” and liberal, despite having a Republican Governor, Perhaps you don’t feel the need to watch your words or wonder who supported whom in the election. Perhaps you haven’t felt the need to become an activist, armchair or otherwise. Some of my friends, including BOLLI friends, are becoming active and have been eager to tell me about their involvement in church and immigration groups, grandmothers’ groups, civil liberties groups, and more.
I wonder if it is time to create a BOLLI clearinghouse for organizations and actions in this perilous time for democracy, a place where actions and activism can be discussed, and information shared. I know that beliefs and actions supported by like-minded others are more likely to be effective and succeed. Perhaps in my absence from BOLLI, a group has been formed and is already active? If so, count me in. If not, let’s do it!
I’m sorry. I’m just not all that into football. I come from solid, Cleveland area, die-hard Browns fans, and maybe that, in itself, explains my lack of interest. The Browns just never seemed to me to be a particularly stellar bunch. And then, of course, Cleveland was plunged into the depths of a dense, dark, clinically critical depression over what it still rancorously refers to as “The Move” (complete with shudder) – when Art Modell fired coach Bill Belichick and tried to move the team to Baltimore. (The Ravens are still considered by said die-hards to be “an extension” team. Like some sort of sports off-ramp.)
So, when Super Bowl season rolls around, I find it easy to ignore the hype. This year, though, the weeks of build-up to the whole thing was thrust into my face when coverage of how it was all going to go down was everywhere. It eventually supplanted one too many Jeopardy airings, and I shifted to PBS, exclusively, for the news.
And yet, this isn’t even what really got me—and continues to get me. I thought that, after the Patriots won and came home to a big parade and waved that big trophy around and flashed the rings, it would finally be over. But the whole thing just keeps dragging on. Last night, on the news, there was an item about people getting Patriots logo and/or Tom Brady (TB12) tattoos to commemorate the whole thing. (They actually even showed a guy having one done on his bum…) Really? This is news?
BUT I found a bright spot in the midst of all this hoopla–Malcolm Mitchell. This young man, in my humble opinion, is one Patriot who deserves even more attention.
Mitchell grew up in Georgia where he played football for Valdosta High School and, early on, caught the eye of a scout from the University of Georgia. He also caught the attention of VHS principal Gary Boling who helped the young athlete prepare for college by encouraging him to take on a more challenging course load and to explore his options for his college course of study. Mitchell says that Boling changed his life—but the principal wasn’t the only source of inspiration and help that set him on a unique path.
Malcolm says that, when he arrived in Athens and the University of Georgia campus, he was not a confident reader. So, he decided to focus on building his strength—by reading as much as he could. At one point, while in an Athens bookstore, Mitchell apparently asked a fellow customer for a book recommendation. Kathy Rackley was happy to provide suggestions and indicated that she was picking up a copy of Me Before You, her book club’s choice for their next meeting. They talked, and, soon, Mitchell left the store with a copy of the book—and an invitation to join the group at their next meeting, which he did.
It didn’t seem to matter to Mitchell that the group consisted of middle-aged women with whom he had little in common. The women were welcoming, and the books took him to new worlds and pushed him to think about new ideas. (Besides, in the club, there were no papers or exams. No wrong answers.) “The book club helped me grow into a better individual,” he said in a Boston Globe profile in last May, “a person who learns and grows throughout life in general,” he said.
He has certainly continued to learn and grow ever since. In fact, his love of reading led him to launching a program to promote youth literacy and book ownership among students in underserved schools. The program, Read with Malcolm is part of the Share the Magic Foundation and has expanded exponentially over the years. He has also written a children’s book, The Magician’s Hat, about a boy who discovers the magic of reading.
It is exciting to see this young man experiencing success on the field, but seeing him focused on helping kids the way that principal and those women in the Silverleaf book club helped him. Now, THAT’s just “super.”
To find out more about the Read with Malcolm program, click here.
For the May 23, 2016 Boston Globe article about Malcolm Mitchell, click here.
When I was about 7 or 8 years old, my father brought an old Remington typewriter home from a yard sale or auction and set it atop the desk he had recently refinished for me (which sits in my front hall now). My very own typewriter. The result? The laboriously typed (with carbon paper) Maple Street Gazette which informed the neighbors of such riveting events as the Harrisons’ new puppies, the Lanagans’ new patio, who dressed up as what at Halloween, and more. Every issue was sold out (at a whopping five cents per copy). I guess it’s in the blood…
Here we are at Logan Airport on this not-so-quiet weekend morning. Hundreds of women, some with daughters, some with mothers, some with both, some with strollers, and even some with husbands. This first taste of our strength is powerful but not intimidating. It is, in fact, heartwarming.
As newbies to National Airport, we walk through the baggage claim area and a construction zone to reach the Metro station which looks, strangely, like an egg carton. Emerging at Foggy Bottom, we see a mass of signs. Hundreds of signs.
WHICH SIDE ARE YOU ON?
We walk forward. Democrats and Republicans–black, brown, red, white and grey–faith in our hearts.
Music surrounds us–old folk songs that I know, some gospel that I learn along the way, songs of protest, songs of hope. Walking from the Ellipse, past Treasury and Commerce. The Washington Monument over our shoulders. We can no longer see the Potomac or the magnificent Lincoln Memorial.
KEEP HOPE ALIVE!
“He has to go,” people chant. Whether it is in song, chant, or cheer, we draw strength, courage, and pride from this community of united voices.
All around us, marchers take pictures. Of everyone. Of each other. Of us. Some have camera trouble and ask us to “Take one for me?”
Under an enormous oak on the Mall, I meet a woman I worked with in 1984. Joy spreads through our hearts and across our faces as we recognize each other. A blessing in this sea of faces and signs. Time stands still for five minutes.
WOMEN ARE ANGRY– NATIVE WOMEN, WOMEN IN UNIFORM, RURAL WOMEN…
As we walk back to the Metro, we stop at the Smithsonian Castle to use the bathrooms. Men and women hold doors open for each other, deposit pockets full of trash in barrels set up by the National Park Service, and wish each other a safe trip home. A lady from Arizona doesn’t seem to mind that she will miss her flight. “There will be another,” she smiles.
Our courage and determination have been energized by the men and women around us. We feel blessed by the challenges and friends that this day has given us. We talk about the friends and family we will educate when we get home. We aren’t even tired. Our hearts are strong, and our feet are focused on the path ahead. The date is April 5, 1992.
Twenty-five years later, marching again, we are surround by signs again. Hundreds of signs.
WE WON’T GO BACK!
Former English teacher and health care professional, Lydia Bogar says she’s still not used to this retirement thing. She joined BOLLI in the spring of 2016 after returning home from a stint in South Carolina where she dipped into another OLLI program.
One way for us to meet each other is by sharing what’s on our minds with the BOLLI community as a whole. So, here’s the beginning of a BOLLI Matters “What’s On Your Mind?” feature–Sandy Miller-Jacobs recently wrote this piece for Marjorie Roemer’s memoir writing class, “Constructing Our Stories,” in which the prompt was for us to focus on a “refrain” from some point in our younger years. Sandy took a political turn with this one, and we all felt that, with an inauguration coming up, we might all be interested in what’s been on her mind.
“The Times They Are A-Changing”
by Sandy Miller-Jacobs
On January 20, 1960 our grandfatherly US President Eisenhower turned the office over to the young, handsome, and dynamic President John F. Kennedy. It was snowing hard, and, much to my delight, it was a snow day! For the first time, I watched, with my mother, the whole inauguration on TV. Robert Frost read a poem right from the same podium from which Kennedy would take his oath. Kennedy did not wear a coat or hat despite the cold and stood right where Robert Frost had been to deliver his inaugural address. His words struck me. “The torch has been passed to a new generation.” He may have thought he was talking to his generation, but I knew he was talking to MY generation. The Class of ’63 at Valley Stream North High became Kennedy fans, following his every word. Throughout the rest of our high school days, we watched all his press conferences and talked about them for days after. We were sure Khrushchev would not start a nuclear war, and we were right.
We were “the Baby Boomers” and proud of it. Our rock and roll songs were played on the radio. We watched American Bandstand and learned new ways of dancing. Our music became our voice, bonding us to the issues of our day – civil rights and, eventually, anti-war protest. In September of 1963, I began my studies at Queens College of the City University of New York. Paul Simon, who had just graduated in June, performed at our freshman orientation. He sang “He was my brother,” a song he wrote and dedicated to his classmate and friend at QC, Andrew Goodman, who was killed because he wanted Negroes to have the same rights he did – the right to vote, to sit anywhere on a bus or in a restaurant. “The times they were a-changing,” and the older, white Southern generation didn’t like it one bit.
But we loved it. These songs were about the good my generation was bringing to the US and the world. It was about civil rights, the rights of all Americans. Somehow, Dylan’s song that opened his concert at Carnegie Hall in October of 1963 put it all in perspective:
Come mothers and fathers Throughout the land And don’t criticize What you can’t understand Your sons and your daughters Are beyond your command Your old road is rapidly aging Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand ‘Cause the times they are a changing
Yet last month, after so many months of vicious words, of bullying, of misogyny, of fear-mongering against immigrants and Muslims, and veiled anti-Semitism, Donald Trump became the US President-elect. Yes, “The Times They Are A Changing,” but this isn’t the sixties with hopes of peace.
Bob Dylan, our silent winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, why didn’t you have a song for us now? Instead, you left us “Blowing in the Wind.”
MEET MEMBER SANDY MILLER-JACOBS is a relatively new member of the BOLLI community, having joined after her retirement from Fitchburg State University where she taught in the Department of Special Education.
At BOLLI, she has been “reviving” a long interest in photography and has been an active member of the Photo Group.
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