I was invited to participate in a panel discussion on the campus of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst a few weeks ago because someone had heard a commentary I had done for New England Public Radio. I had no idea what I was getting into, what the format would be, or who would be present at the event. I was invited a month before and was told that more information would be forthcoming. When the day before the event arrived and I hadn’t heard anything more I sent an email communicating that I was assuming the event was cancelled. They quickly returned that email communicating that the event was still on(!) but still without telling me what the event was!
Regardless, I went. The program, it turns out, was the first public event in a nationwide journalistic exercise (See here and here) designed to explore the issues dividing America. (For the best treatment of this topic I recommend this piece by John Michael Greer) Once my fellow panelists and I were invited to the stage we were each given a chance to introduce ourselves and our topic. First was deindustrialization. Yes, indeed, the working class has been devastated here in the Northeast by the flight of industry first to the South, and then overseas. Next was immigration. We were joined by a Dreamer who told us her story.
After that the moderator shifted to the last two panelists who were to speak on education. I was joined by a newcomer to Springfield who was happy with his choice of living in Springfield and sending his children to Springfield schools. You can watch the event here.
If I could add anything to what I said about schools it would be not just that the people in the audience were the problem, having fled from Springfield above the Tofu curtain to send their children to de facto segregated schools, but that this desire to divide America which they have is obviously deep and abiding because they pay a huge premium to do it! The poor kids in Springfield and Holyoke or, better stated, their parents, can’t move to wealthy Happy Valley towns to “undivide” America, but these people could save tens of thousands of dollars every year by living in Springfield or Holyoke.
The answer to the question: “Who is dividing us?”
“You are.” How many people in that room at UMass or watching the program on Northampton Community Television couldn’t move to Springfield or Holyoke and send their kids to the schools in question? As usual what the people looking for “solutions to the issues of a divided America” are really looking for are things that other people can do in response to the issue so that they can continue to do what they’ve been doing.
Call me crazy, be the solution. Segregated neighborhoods and schools bother you? Live in a place that allows your kids to make the schools more integrated. Decaying historic buildings bother you? If you can, buy one and fix it up. Think agriculture should be more local? Buy locally produced food. Climate Change is a problem? Make decisions to reduce your carbon footprint.
As part of his introduction to the event the moderator discusses a chance meeting at the General Store in his hometown of Harvard, Massachusetts where the idea for this project to understand what is dividing America began to germinate. Yeah, that’s a real head scratcher that is. Here in a town with 6,500 people, 92% of whom are White, with an average household income of $139,000 a year. A real puzzler. Someone should get on that.