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: Be Inclusive, Not Exclusive

Did the focus on identity politics–the constant focus on Latino, LGBTQ, African-American, and women’s rights–by the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee cause Democrats to lose the last election? Is it possible that the Progressive movement, which is the backbone of the Democratic Party, will cause us to lose the next election?

Polling tells us that many people in the critical battleground states–even people who previously opted for Obama–voted for Trump because they felt that the Democrats did not address their problems.

True, quite a lot of people voted for Trump because they felt that they could not vote for Hillary Clinton for a variety of reasons. And perhaps many voters turned towards Trump because of FBI Director Comey’s public statements just days before the election regarding newly found emails on a server used by one of Clinton’s top aides.

However, what seems to be true is that the emphasis on identity politics by today’s progressives and the Democratic Party have left the white working class feeling isolated and without a champion: feeling they had no choice but to vote Republican. Enter Donald Trump!

I believe we in the Progressive movement, and in particular the Indivisible movement, should not fall into this trap of continuing to use identity politics. I believe that without including the needs of white working class males and other groups such as Evangelicals, Democrats–and by extension Progressives–made a crucial and ultimately fatal mistake during the last election cycle.

For example, unemployment and underemployment is a very real problem that white working class voters felt were not addressed by the Clinton campaign. The loss of manufacturing jobs, which is a very real concern for many people in the Rust Belt, has been ignored by the Progressive movement.

This is a big mistake.

The latest health care proposals by the Republicans that Trump has embraced presents an excellent opportunity to bring the white working class back into the fold. It is the very people who voted for Trump who will be hurt most by these proposals.

It is up to the Progressive movement to address these issues in a way that will enable everyone who is affected by these proposals to understand how they will be detrimentally affected.

We may be outraged at the travel ban, disheartened by the dismantling of the Affordable Care Act, dismayed by the revocation of innumerable regulations, and incredulous at the rejection of climate change, but I believe we must reach out to all groups and explain why these moves by the Trump administration affect all Americans.

This needs to be an inclusive movement, as we are all Americans and we all have a stake in many of these issues. We must start emphasizing the issues that we all have in common.

This is not to say that the Progressive movement must disavow identity politics. I believe it does mean that we need to consider all Americans when talking about the aforementioned issues.

I believe if we don’t include those people in the middle of the country who are also hurting and if we don’t address their concerns or at least focus on them so they can understand that some of our fight is their fight, then we are not only exacerbating the growing schism in this country, but also sabotaging future elections.

I believe we in the Progressive movement must make sure that our representatives have a coherent strategy for winning future elections by reaching out to those who will be most economically hurt by Trump’s initiatives. This is a critical moment in American history and we cannot afford to lose again.

Mark Burkholz has been Director of Technology and a math and computer science teacher at Lawrence Academy since 1992. He lives in Groton with his wife Sheara Friend.

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.

AG Maura Healey’s Post-Election Town Hall

From 7:00 to 10:00 p.m. tonight, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey will be holding a post-election town hall at Somerville High School, 81 Highland Ave. in Somerville.

If this event fills up, consider instead attending Healey’s town hall in Malden on March 16th

Healey is the state’s head of law enforcement and has already had an impact on national policy by joining the successful lawsuit against Donald Trump’s travel ban.

So much is at stake and we need to act to build on and protect the progress we’ve made in our communities, throughout Massachusetts and across the nation. Come hear what the Attorney General intends to do and how you can get involved.

Event link: https://www.facebook.com/events/1245253178904792/

RSVP: https://goo.gl/forms/dFr9Wx0Y45ienwp12

Note: This event is free an open to the public. Guests are asked to register in advance because seating is limited.

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Calling Congress

A long article from The New Yorker tells it all.

Moreover, for many people, including some who slept through high-school civics, the past several weeks have been a kind of adult-education seminar in American government. Whatever else it will change, in other words, this surge of grass-roots activism is already changing the people who participate in it. And that change can bring about others: today’s newly engaged citizen might be 2018’s motivated midterm voter, or 2020’s brand-new city council member, or the dark-horse victor in a Senate race in 2024.

Opinion: American Exceptionalism and the Immigrant Experience

For many years, I have heard the term “American Exceptionalism,” and for a long time I just thought that it was arrogance on the part of those using it to express the superiority of the United States.

Now that we are in the time of Trump, and I see all that we can lose, I have come to believe that the US is exceptional. Not in a superior way, but in a fundamentally unique way.

American exceptionalism can mean many things to different people, but the immigrant experience in the United States may be the most unique aspect. Although we do not allow immigrants into the US in the same numbers as many countries do, during the past century we have created a climate of openness and assimilation for immigrants that is hard to compete with.

Partly as a result of this influx of new energy that immigrants bring with them the US has become the unparalleled leader of the free world.

My own family history, which is not unique, illustrates this process of assimilation.

My grandfather came to New York City from Poland in the mid-1920s and worked there for a few years before sending for his family. My grandmother, my mother, my aunt and my two uncles came over from Warsaw in 1929 speaking only Yiddish (a few years later all members of their family left behind would be dead caught up in Hitler’s Final Solution).

They came through Ellis Island with no idea of what to expect. My grandfather worked in the glove factory that my father’s family owned, eventually my father (whose own family came from Poland) met my mother, he went to war, he liberated a concentration camp, and after returning to the US he married her.

My uncle also went to war and later became the first member of the family to go to college, became an accountant, married and had a wonderful daughter. My other uncle after returning from WWII worked for the seafarer’s union, and my aunt eventually married, had two children and moved to California.

My mother gave birth to me and my sister. We both went to college. I now have two sons. And so it goes.

My purpose for telling you this is to illustrate the American experience that immigrants have experienced during the last hundred years. These immigrants are ordinary people who came with just their dreams and not much else.  They worked very hard so their children could become successful Americans.

These immigrants and their descendants became the backbone of what makes America great.

Europe has let in many immigrants, but the crisis they are facing today is due in part to their inability to assimilate them into their society. The United States, on the other hand, is known for assimilating its immigrants despite the ongoing endemic racism that seems to be part of every society. America has built into its core the openness to accept anyone and give them the freedom to fulfill their ambitions. This is what has attracted so many people from around the world to immigrate to the US.

In addition to being the right thing to do, allowing immigrants into our country has helped the US economy to be the most stable and robust in the world. In a recent report by the partnership for a New American Economy called “Open For Business: How Immigrants Are Driving Small Business Creation In The United States”, the key findings included:

  • Immigrants started 28% of all new U.S. businesses in 2011, despite accounting for just 12.9% of the U.S. population
  • Over the last 15 years, immigrants have increased the rate by which they start businesses by more than 50 percent, while the native-born have seen their business generation rate decline by 10 percent
  • Immigrants are now more than twice as likely to start a business as the native-born
  • Immigrants start more than 25% of all businesses in seven of the eight sectors of the economy that the U.S. government expects to grow the fastest over the next decade. These include health care and social assistance (28.7%), construction (31.8%), retail trade (29.1%) and leisure and hospitality (23.9%), among others

There is no question that our current immigration system is not working well and needs to be fixed. Millions more opportunity-seekers want to come to America than our current laws can accommodate.  There are many possible solutions we should be discussing, but what is not acceptable is the Trump administration blaming immigrants for violent crime when the crime rate for immigrants is well below that of native born American citizens. All this does is increase bigotry, discrimination, and fear among the US citizenry and  creates an environment where people are actively discouraged from coming here or staying here. That’s not what America is about and it runs counter to the long term image that the  Unite States has projected since its inception.

The Trump administration proposals for restricting immigration from seven countries and rumors that it will cut immigration by half and deport 11 million immigrants will not only hurt the US economically but hurt its image by taking away one of the key aspects of American exceptionalism. It is imperative that the Indivisible movement do all that we can to pressure our representatives to stop the Administration from pursuing this self-defeating policy.

Do you believe in American Exceptionalism? If so, what aspects of our society do you think contributes to it and how can the Indivisible movement contribute to preserving American exceptionalism?

Also,  check out this opinion piece from the Washington Post called “It’s time for Democrats to become the party of American exceptionalism”.

Mark Burkholz has been Director of Technology and a math and computer science teacher at Lawrence Academy since 1992. He lives in Groton with his wife Sheara Friend.

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.