Opinion: Fighting Violence with Non-Violence

Most of us can only imagine the terror of being shot at by a deranged gunman. But sadly, we know all too well the shock and horror that come with hearing about yet another shooting at a school, theater, nightclub, church, workplace, or shopping mall.

This Wednesday, it was an attack at a ballfield that targeted some of our duly elected members of Congress. As I write this article, Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana remains hospitalized from a gunshot wound to the hip. Also wounded were Capitol Police officers David Bailey and Crystal Griner, congressional staffer Zachary Barth, and Matt Mika, a former congressional staffer who now works at the Washington office of Tyson Foods.

We may not have been the ones staring down the barrel of a gun on Wednesday morning but make no mistake, this was an attack on the integrity of our government, and was therefore an attack on all of us.

Let me say that again.

No matter the political party of the victims, no matter the contents of the gunman’s Facebook or Twitter feed, no matter whose campaign he volunteered with, no matter what media outlets he got his news from, no matter which organizations he belonged to, no matter why he targeted the people he targeted, this attack was an attack on all of us.

When we are attacked, it’s natural to want to fight back. But how? And against whom?

In the wake of this barbaric act, some have tried to cast blame on political opponents, allegedly biased members of the media, a comedian who posed with a severed head, the producers of a Shakespeare in the Park production of Julius Caesar, and scores of other convenient targets.

But after the 2011 shooting of Congresswoman Gabby Giffords outside an Arizona supermarket, I recall similar criticisms pointed in the opposite direction, and none of it was helpful in bringing our country together in a desperately needed spirit of healing.

I propose instead that we fight back against the normalization of violence itself, and the threats of violence that seek to silence our collective voices.

Against misinformation and propaganda, we fight back with facts.

Against overheated rhetoric, we fight back with reasoned arguments.

Against fake news, we fight back with fact checking.

Against blind partisanship, we fight back with tolerance.

Against inflammatory memes, we fight back with restraint.

Against personal attacks, we fight back with respect.

And against violence, we must rededicate ourselves to the principle of non-violence.

In our polarized society, in our overcharged environment, in our age where shocking news is delivered instantly to devices in the palms of our hands, fighting violence with reason, facts, tolerance, restraint, respect, and, most of all, non-violence, has never been more important.

By staying informed, by providing feedback to our members of Congress, by engaging in civil dialogue and peaceful demonstrations, by registering to vote, and by turning out on Election Day, we can have a positive effect on the direction of state and national leadership, all without anybody getting shot by anybody else.

Thoughts and prayers go out to Representative Scalise, Officers Bailey and Griner, Mr. Barth, Mr. Mika, and their families, and much gratitude to all of the law enforcement officers who prevented this incident from becoming an even greater tragedy.

Opinion blog posts represent the opinions of the author and are not necessarily endorsed by Indivisible Groton Area or its individual members. IGA invites input and opinion from among the diversity of its membership.

Opinion: It Starts with a Seal

Cities and towns across America are struggling to define themselves in an increasingly polarized national landscape. With our 24-hour news cycles and social media bubbles, we often focus on what separates us from each other, rather than the identity we share through local history and community spirit.

Efforts to heal our divisions must start on the local level. The symbols and icons that define us must include, acknowledge, and represent all members of our communities.

Here in Groton, our town’s identity is symbolically represented by a divisive and long-controversial 1898 Town Seal.

Although Groton was founded in 1655, it had no official town seal until the 19th century had very nearly clicked over into the 20th. And a seal was only adopted then because 1898 was the last year in which the cities and towns of Massachusetts could issue vital documents without one.1

To meet this statutory deadline, the Town of Groton appointed a three-member Committee of the Town Seal, which only ever held two meetings of any consequence.2

At the first meeting, the committeemen outsourced their design duties to the Honorable Samuel A. Green, a Groton-born medical doctor turned historian, turned politician, turned author, turned man who was eager to try his hand at graphic design, from thirty-plus miles away in his then-current hometown of Boston.3

At the second meeting, the committeemen received their first-time designer’s first-draft submission–the now-familiar “Faith and Labor” design–and passed it along to Town Meeting for approval.4

For the work product of an expert in Groton’s history and culture, the “Faith and Labor” design is oddly generic. Dr. Green could easily have referenced Groton’s unique drumlin swarm geography, its contributions to the American Revolution, or any of the storied names, structures, and institutions that shaped the town’s identity from 1655 until his own time. And yet, his submission included none of the elements that might have helped tell Groton’s unique story.

Instead, Dr. Green used religious iconography common to all of the strict Puritan communities of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, paired with imagery representing the predominant occupation throughout all of New England. Because faith and labor were the common currency of the time, these symbols do nothing to distinguish Groton from any other place.

The explanatory letter included with the design gives us some hint as to why.5 Viewed through the Victorian-era prism of Dr. Green, as he stood 120 years behind us while peering back 240 years more distant from that, we can see his vision of a town seal as it might have been created in the town’s earliest days.

In the Groton of 1655, where church attendance was mandatory and heretics were banished, a religious symbol on an official seal would have made perfect sense. Religion and government were one and the same, the Church blended with the State, and Dr. Green’s design would have been entirely fitting if it had existed at the time.6

In the Groton of 1775, the town and its balance of religion and government had evolved. Town residents angrily dismissed their spiritual leader for failing to support a popular political cause of the day: the struggle to free the colonies from British rule.7 The Reverend Samuel Dana never returned to the ministry, instead becoming a lawyer, probate judge, and New Hampshire state senator.

In the Groton of 1898, as part of the free country that Groton residents had helped to create and whose Union they had recently fought to preserve, town government was constitutionally barred from endorsing any one religion or religion in general.8 The town had evolved again, and Dr. Green’s retro-1655 design was no longer an appropriate concept.

Nor does the 1898 Town Seal represent Dr. Green’s best work. As a worthy first attempt, rushed into service to meet a state-imposed deadline, it has always ever been a placeholder for the seal that Dr. Green might have given us if he’d had the time to explore multiple ideas, make multiple revisions, and incorporate feedback from residents with a diversity of viewpoints.

In the Groton of 2017, in which Dr. Green is no longer with us, we are the ones tasked with being the stewards of Groton’s past and the shepherds of its perpetually improving future. The long-overdue revisions to the 1898 Town Seal are our duty and obligation to undertake. In doing so, we must approach this task in the spirit of continuing Dr. Green’s work, taking inspiration from his service, and honoring his legacy in the context of our evolving community.

A new Town Seal Committee, this time meeting more than just twice and incorporating the ideas of more than just one man, is the proper entity to address these issues and finally give us a symbol that can represent Groton’s past, present, and future alike.

It’s just one seal in one small town but small efforts can add up to large results. One symbol or policy at a time, we can bridge the divisiveness in our communities and again become one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Article 35 at the upcoming Spring Town Meeting would create a Town Seal Committee charged with soliciting public input into the design for a new Town Seal; selecting from among the submissions received the design that best embodies Groton’s character, history, and aspirational values; and presenting that design to a future Town Meeting for approval. Please attend to voice your support.

As a member of the Groton Interfaith Council, Greg R. Fishbone supports its mission to foster understanding, respect, justice and peace among people of a variety of religious traditions through worship, fellowship, education, and service. As a former board member of the Groton Historical Society, he has worked to preserve Groton’s rich historical resources, promote its proud traditions, and recognize that its history includes the present and future as well. He and his wife are the parents of two proud young Grotonites.

Opinion blog posts represent the opinions of the author and are not necessarily endorsed by Indivisible Groton Area or its individual members. IGA invites input and opinion from among the diversity of its membership.

Opinion: What Would President Julie Do?

Meet President Julie

My nine-year-old daughter and I have a game we play during car rides where we pretend to host a radio talk show. I do the voices of Frank and Joe and sometimes Wanda–don’t ask. My daughter does the voice of Julie.

During the last campaign season, Julie ran for president against Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, and we had a lot of fun discussing various issues. After Election Day, Julie declared herself the winner and we’ve been rolling with it ever since.

One of President Julie’s first acts was to bury the Treasury Department underground and mark the spot with a giant X, because that’s what you do to keep your treasures safe.

Her most current infrastructure project is a subway system that will connect to every house in the country so that people can get to work or school without worrying about traffic.

President Julie has named Joe, her fellow talk show host, as her Ambassador to Mexico. To make sure Joe doesn’t mess up our foreign relations too badly, she’s built a structure called “White House Junior” next to the embassy so she can keep an eye on things. Julie is learning Spanish in school, so she not only has lots of good advice for Joe but can also help him with the lingo. In the interest of boosting morale among the embassy staff, President Julie recently moved both the embassy and White House Junior to a beach on the Mexican Riviera.

Julie’s administration is working out well so far, although Julie sometimes worries that being president of the United States will interfere with her other career as a rock star.

What Would President Julie Do?

As I listen to the political news from back in the real world, the question I find myself asking is, “What would President Julie do?”

To my ears, “Bury our most valuable building underground to keep it safe from pirates” makes about as much policy sense as “Build a wall to protect our proud nation of immigrants from the danger of…immigrants?” But then, as a spokesman for the Julie administration, I’m a little biased.

The second question I find myself asking is, “What does real politics have to do with the stories we share with our children?”

The answer I’ve come up with is a personal theory that politics is actually a genre of storytelling.

Politics as Story

Where many classic stories begin with “Once upon a time…” political stories begin with “Imagine a world…” This would make politics a sister genre to sci-fi, fantasy, alternate history, and horror, all under the banner of speculative fiction.

Picture this:

A wandering storyteller comes to town. He takes to the stage. An audience gathers to listen. The storyteller smiles to form a connection with his audience. He waves his arms and hands for emphasis and speaks in a calculated cadence, repeating key phrases to punctuate his story. “Imagine a world where all the solar farms have been torn down and your children are working in a coal mine! It will be so amazing. So amazing. So amazing.”

Being an effective storyteller means knowing your audience. This particular town’s economy was built by the coal industry, and all the third-generation coal miners and their families applaud and nod approvingly. By telling the story they want to hear, the storyteller has earned the equivalent of a five-star Amazon rating. He has earned their vote.

Then the wandering storyteller packs up his wares and moves on to the next town, over in farm country, where he tells that audience to imagine a world where international trade is negotiated by a real estate mogul. It will be so great. So great. So great.

With the right stories, told to the right people, in states with the right number of electoral votes, a good storyteller can rise all the way to the top, becoming our Storyteller-in-Chief, a title we should totally be using to describe the awesome responsibilities of the presidency.

Story as Power

Politics is storytelling because raw story is a form of raw power.

A single story from our president can start a war or prevent it, plunge the economy into a recession or save it. 

One story can provide hope in a time of need and solace in a time of tragedy. Another can cultivate the hate and fear that make a bad situation a million times worse.

Nothing else has more power to reshape the world than a story. But politicians aren’t the only ones who can harness this power.

In the next town over from me is a boy, about the same age as President Julie, who is worried about his grandparents. The boy’s grandparents live in Iran, and the boy worries that he might never see them again, because a powerful storyteller has been telling a story in which people who share the same nationality and religion as the boy’s grandparents are scary and threatening.

So the boy tells his own story, true to life, in the honest voice of a child, based on his actual experience. In the boy’s story, his grandparents would only ever threaten to provide hugs, kisses, and home-baked cookies. 

I like the boy’s story better, and so does President Julie.

Adding the boy’s story to our shelf of political stories can provide context for the entire political genre.

The Genres of Politics

The “Imagine a world…” opening that defines a political story is shorthand for the original version, “Imagine a world, exactly like our own, but in a realistic future where some practical government policy has changed…”

If a purportedly political story starts with a world that differs from ours in an important way, that’s not politics–that’s either alternate history if it describes world based on events that never happened, or fantasy if it’s based on events that never could.

If the story’s proposed policy relies on counterfactual or speculative science rather than the overwhelming consensus of prominent experts in the field, that’s also not politics–that’s science fiction.

And if the story is a warning against some evil that could occur if an alternate policy were to prevail, and is unrealistic to the point of invoking the supernatural, that is the very definition of horror.

Against Crossing the Genres

I write books in the genres of fantasy and science fiction. I enjoy movies and TV shows in the genres of horror and alternate reality. These stories can be great fun, but I hope you will join me in resisting any effort to represent them as the new politics-as-usual.

In the true genre of political stories, the most positive change will always come from stories that start with the world as it is and lead us through a practical and pragmatic plotline to a better place that our world can become.

Filling the genre of politics with more voices and their true stories, especially the stories of young people, is our best way to make the genre of politics stronger and more impactful.

And if we give our children a better connection to the broader world of story, they won’t be so easily fooled when a duplicitous storyteller comes to town and tries to slip fantasy and science fiction into the political genre in order to con them out of their votes.

Until we’ve shored up the integrity of our political genre, I’ll keep asking what President Julie would do, and, hopefully someday she will.

Greg R. Fishbone is the Groton-based author of the Galaxy Games series of sporty sci-fi novels from Tu Books and Spellbound River Press. He and his wife are the proud parents of two potential future Storytellers-in-Chief.

Opinion blog posts represent the opinions of the author and are not necessarily endorsed by Indivisible Groton Area or its individual members. IGA invites input and opinion from among the diversity of its membership.