Friday, April 20, 2018

Pittsfield and the Culture Wars

Published in the Concord Monitor, 4/1/18
Cosmopolitan Class Washes Pittsfield Downstream
photo illustration © Jean Stimmell
Robert Fried recently wrote an important piece in the Concord Monitor entitled Sympathy for Populists.  His thesis was that we must learn to “care as much about the welfare of our populist-leaning fellow citizens as we do for the cosmopolitan elite.”

 As a left-leaning populist in the mold of Bernie Sanders, I wholeheartedly agree. Although I must admit, I have difficulty having sympathy for the cosmopolitan class. 

The optics are bad.  Under the influence of Obama, Pelosi, and Hillary, the democratic party, in many people’s eyes, has morphed into the party of the privileged elite who no longer care about working class Americans.

Trump used this elite perception to effectively hammer the democrats, helping him to win the election. Unfortunately, there is more than a little truth to his claim. 

Although Hillary was quoted out of context about all Trump voters being “deplorables,” her comment still smacks of elitism, along with massive tone deafness. She has a history of doing this.

Although it wasn’t widely reported by the press, she recently insulted red America again, addressing an International conference in Mumbai India. 

“If you look at the map of the United States, there is all that red in the middle, places where Trump won,” she said. “What that map doesn’t show you is that I won the places that won two thirds of America’s Gross Domestic product. I won the places that are optimistic, diverse, dynamic, moving forward.” 

How insulting must this be to red voters! And shaming. She’s implying that those that didn’t vote for her are hidebound, bumps on a log, without the gumption to succeed.

In a similar manner, I see a parallel scenario playing out in N.H. The cosmopolitan elite, hailing from places like Hopkinton and Bow, often sneer at those who happen to live in red places like Pittsfield or Franklin.

Sometimes the comments are quite overt: I was recently talking to a smart, well-educated, normally non-judgmental person who called Pittsfield the “armpit of N.H.”

Because I went to Pittsfield High School, I feel the need to defend her honor, and hopefully, in the process, educate those on the other side of the divide.

The rust belt states were once the manufacturing engine of our country, prosperous and forward-looking until shifts in the economy and trade policies caused big business to abandon the Midwest for places around the world with lower labor costs.

The same thing happened in N.H. 

In the 19th century, Pittsfield was considered “the gem of the Suncook Valley.” In 1906 it was described in Lippincott’s New Gazetteer as a banking post-village and summer resort on the Boston and Maine railroad line, manufacturing cotton goods, boots, and shoes.

After WWII, manufacturing started to move south and then overseas, seeking lower costs. As the tax base continued to diminish, property taxes rose precipitously. For decades now, people have avoided moving into Pittsfield because of exorbitant property taxes combined with what some see as poor schools based on the fact that Pittsfield is unable to fund its school system at the same level as surrounding towns.

Tax and trade policies have pushed Pittsfield, like the Midwest, into a decades-long downward spiral. Fighting against external forces beyond their control, red state populists feel humiliated and shamed by thoughtless comments by liberals like Hillary; the implication is that they are unworthy, somehow complicit in their own decline.

But while the rust belt states have faced decades of hard times, as have N.H. towns like Pittsfield, they have not become victims or given up.

Pittsfield is a good example: her citizens have been magnificent in their resilience, school innovation, and community spirit. Right now, they are celebrating winning the State Basketball Championship in their division for the first time ever.

What they would like is recognition for the resilience they have shown during tough times, and a little some help so they can do even better in the future.

I have friends from high school, still living in Pittsfield, who voted for Trump. Often it was a protest vote: they wanted to stick their thumb in the eye of the liberal cosmopolitan who they feel scorned them, judging them as unworthy, somehow complicit in their own decline.

My friends have good hearts and I’d trust them with my life. If I ever got in a real jam, it would want them covering my back – not some yuppie cosmopolitan.

Robert Fried, in his article, praised red state populists for their sacrifices in times of war. I can attest to that.

Whether you were for or against the Vietnam war, my friends and acquaintances, who went to Pittsfield High, stepped up to serve, some of us at great personal cost: three were seriously wounded, two were killed, and one, a decorated combat veteran, committed suicide.

Thank you Robert Fried for your fine piece, Sympathy of the Populists. I will close by echoing your advice, asking each of us to reexamine our own social class prejudices, as if the fate of our democracy depends on it.

Because, in fact, it does!


A zen lesson learned

From the walkway along Exeter River
CC Jean Stimmell: 6/23/16

Snatching the booty from beneath my feet
while I stood flat-footed, lost in thought,
Blue heron flies away with the prize

From the walkway along Exeter River
CC Jean Stimmell: 6/23/16

Thursday, April 19, 2018

In uncertain times like these, anything can happen

CC Jean Stimmell: 4/18/18

Today walking the dog along Great Bay
I was blessed by a momentary glimpse
lit by the sudden emergence of the sun
of a scaly, prehistoric beast emerging 
from 66 million years of hibernation

Sunday, April 8, 2018

A Spring Wedding?

Walking Coco along Great Bay at Wagon Wheel Farm,
 a popular place to host special occasions,
 I saw in the distance, a multitude of bright floral colors 
protruding out of a trash barrel.

Flowers left over from an early Spring wedding?
Or so I thought until I got closer.

Wagon Wheel Farm: 4/7/18
CC Jean Stimmell

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Time to turn back and descend the stair

Ordione State Park: 4/2/18
CC Jean Stimmell
And indeed there will be time
To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair —
Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions 
which a minute will reverse.*

* from The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T. S. Eliot