In a column this week, New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman described the complex America he witnessed in a four-day car trip through the heart of the nation. As he wrote, the tour started in Austin, Ind., went down through Louisville Ky, wound through Appalachia and ended up at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.
His conclusion was that while we do have an epidemic of failing communities, we also have a bounty of thriving ones – not because of Washington, but because of strong leaders at the local level. (Full column is at https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/24/opinion/rusting-and-rising-america.html?_r=0)
What Friedman found this year parallels what Atlantic Magazine’s national correspondent James Fallow found a year earlier and reported in the March 2016 issue, which asked on its cover “Can America Put Itself Back Together?” Fallow described how innovators in centers across the country were reweaving the national fabric in various “laboratories of democracy” and that their progress and goals will soar once the mood of the country changes and embraces it. (Read more at https://www.theatlantic.com/press-releases/archive/2016/02/the-atlantics-march-issue-how-america-is-putting-itself-back-together-by-james-fallows/462180/).
I would add that if you study history, America has always swung back and forth in terms of those voted into political power, with resulting shifts in levels of confidence in the future.
We have just rightly celebrated our military heroes over the Memorial weekend holiday. Now I hope the country will also recognize the greatness of our on-going ability to constantly reinvent ourselves and embrace the challenges of the future. Yes, I still believe America in all its diversity and contrasting landscapes, remains an unmatched super power.
For the first time since 2006, I didn’t make it to Birmingham, Alabama in the spring for the Timothy Sumner Robinson Forum at Samford University in honor of my late husband, a pioneering legal journalist. There were delays this time in scheduling the busy speaker, Brian Lyman, a political reporter for the Montgomery Advertiser. He was tentatively scheduled to appear in March, but local political events kept interfering – and even the April 10th appearance was cancelled that morning when the Alabama Governor suddenly resigned in a major scandal.
In the end, I was grateful that Samford’s Journalism and Mass Communications department was able to set up a live electronic feed when the Forum was finally rescheduled to May 1st and I got to be a faraway participant.* Lyman had a positive message for Samford’s journalism students – arguing that despite the struggles, local newspapers like the Montgomery Advertiser were evolving in exciting times. He explained that the declining newspaper revenue that resulted in fewer editors monitoring a reporter’s copy also could have a positive result: a new freedom to pursue the kind of human stories first crafted by heavyweights like Jimmy Breslin back in the 60s. He concluded that today’s reporters must be story tellers – “we must show how facts are experiences.” Lyman further said that political journalism focuses on power – and stories about the use and abuse of power are important and need to be covered, summing it up with the challenge that “Reporters must be the bridge between the council chamber and the living room.”
In a time of change and increasing public distrust of the media, it was refreshing to hear a reporter champion the challenges today, and glorify the local beat . My late husband started on local beats in Alabama during a time of great change in the 60s and was always just as proud of those years as his later part in pioneering legal journalism on a national scale. I was thankful for this affirmation of the power of local news. And this fall I plan to visit Tim’s amazing family in Birmingham – and also look forward to meeting the latest students to benefit from the Robinson Forum , as well as from the scholarship program and an internship at the Washington Post. Go Samford!
For more background, visit https://www.samford.edu/news/2017/04/Alabama-Politics-Reporter-Lyman-To-Speak-at-Samford-May-1 and https://www.samford.edu/arts-and-sciences/robinson-forum
*My thanks to Bernie Ankney, Chair, Journalism and Mass Communications Dept. and Jackie Long, Recruitment and Alumni Affairs Officer for coordinating the electronic feed – and to my brother in law Michael Robinson and his wife Carolyn, who kept me informed on all the changes and represented the family in person this year.
A few years ago, I wrote about April showers as a time for inspiration and poetry. I even posted a reminder on face book this year to look up some favorite poets. But sadly spring rains are now also a reminder of climate change. In my case, it is ground water that has risen faster this year than in the past because of a mild winter that produced regular rain storms, not snow, as soon as February.
I remember growing up in northeast Detroit and heeding tornado sirens that warned us on occasion to wait for the all clear in the basement cellar; luckily the storms always moved past the city – and I never remember running to the cellar during a rainstorm. Now almost any spring storm sends me to the basement to check water levels around my sump pump. I realize that I remain lucky compared to the millions in the direct path of tornadoes across the Midwest and south. Still I miss the youthful innocence that loved the idea of spring showers and never felt threatened.
I watched Bill Nye, the Science Guy, appear on national television during Earth Day coverage this year to show us how global warming is really, really seriously damaging our oceans and lakes and threatening our future even beyond destructive storms. I believe him and worry that our legislators don’t seem to believe in science. Oh, for the days of Gene Kelly, dancing through the streets in a rainstorm, rejoicing in the downpour! Still, I continue to love spring poems and even believe it’s not too late to reduce climate change!
Among the great things about my quiet Condo community are the trees. There are many varieties, but I especially fell in love with a Colorado blue spruce. It was near my back deck, standing tall and majestic, and I often marveled that it was beautiful enough to stand in Rockefeller Center. I once read that the Center‘s head gardener scouts holiday trees from communities in the northeast and beyond – and often thought what a great honor that must be.
With that memory stuck in my mind, I nicknamed the spruce my Rockefeller tree, as a tribute to all the years I spent in New York City, most in Brooklyn, and how I still adore visiting Rockefeller Center around the holidays. Of course, it could never be donated because it belonged to the Condo Association, but that was a minor point. It was nestled close to two other spruce trees and created a sheltering feeling.
In early March, a hundred year wind storm took down my beloved spruce – while sparing its partners. Yet in a small miracle, I found the spruce nestled against a bare ash tree on the other side of the fence,with its roots pulled up. There was no collateral damage anywhere. The tree seemed at peace. I will consider that final act to be confirmation that it was indeed “magical,” protected by a neighboring tree even in its final days .
The crew cutting up the fallen spuce saved a round hunk of its trunk for me at my request. I was very sad that last morning, but also finally accepting such a sudden, spectacular ending. I will miss my Rockefeller tree!
The series “The Gilmore Girls” was recently revived on Netflex – and GIs were interviewed on the national news saying the series represented the kind of small town life they felt represented the best of America. I recently drove to Brigden, Ontario Canada with my brother Bill for a family funeral – a town that in my memory felt like Stars Hollow. (And yes, my mother’s Slovak parents had a farm near Vassar, Michigan that was also a small town haven, but that’s another blog!) My Aunt Mary Jane passed away at 93 in a London, Ont. long term care home and was my late father’s youngest sister – only one more older sister survives now in Florida.
Brigden is less than a two hour drive from the northern Detroit suburbs, with the option to take the Bluewater ferry at Marine City or drive farther north to the Bluewater Bridge at Sarnia. We lucked out and got to the ferry right before it left, then drove up the region’s pastoral roads. Continue reading
Let there be peace on earth
And let it begin with me…
I’ve always been inspired by the song “Let There be Peace on Earth,” but I knew I had to share my passion when I discovered after some research that it was written in 1955 for an International Children’s Choir that had been created in Long Beach, CA. The song still is performed by children’s choirs around the world, especially during the year-end holiday season.*
I’ve long concluded that maybe we can’t stop the wars and violence everywhere, but I am glad that, through this song, children remain the conscience of the world and remind us that striving for solutions to bring about a more peaceful world each year and each decade is our collective responsibility. Continue reading