About Me

I am Associate Professor and Chair of the History Department at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth. I am also the Academic Director of the Clemente Course in the Humanities, in New Bedford MA. Author of "Social Security and the Middle Class Squeeze" (Praeger, 2005) and the forthcoming "Saul Alinsky the Dilemma of Race in the Post-War City" (University of Chicago Press), my teaching and scholarship focuses on American urban history, social policy, and politics. I am presently writing a book on home ownership in modern America, entitled "Castles Made of Sand? Home Ownership and the American Dream." I live in Providence RI, where I have served on the School Board since March 2015. All opinions posted here are my own.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Sandy and solidarity

Last Sunday, for some crazy reason my friend Todd and I took the train down to NYC to see the Jets game -- even as Sandy roiled her way up the coast, toward the same destination. As fans from across the tri-state area settled into their seats, awaiting the national anthem and the kick-off, the usual anticipation was palpably deepened by fear of what was to come. Todd and I worried about whether we'd be able to grab the last train out (we did). Others had much more profound worries.

I've been going to Jets games since the early 70s, and can't recall the last time the team decided to dispense with a paid performer for the anthem -- but that's what they did. They asked the crowd of 60,000 or so to sing it themselves. If you've ever been to an NFL game before, you know that they have become these incredibly artificial sensory environments. There is a non-stop overload of piped in sound, music, and flashing images -- much like our culture more generally, where we are constantly asked to look out, or perhaps inward in a superficial way, rather than to the people next to us. Suddenly, that stopped. It took perhaps 30 seconds or so, but gradually everyone found their voices, and began to sing. Look, I'm someone who is deeply ambivalent about public displays of patriotism. As a Jew, a large crowd of people singing about their country makes me profoundly uncomfortable.

But as we neared the end of the anthem, I found myself surprisingly moved. And I wasn't the only one.

I am constantly amazed at the ability of people from the New York area to shift, when it matters most, from the knowing assholishness that many of us show to the world on a daily basis. to the most profound acts of social solidarity.

Todd and I got out on the last train. But I've followed the selfless acts of many of my NYC friends through FB over the last week -- Scotty Elyanow, Gaby Moss and so many others -- and I know that no matter how much cynicism our leaders and institutions throw at us, that solidarity is still there. There is an irony, perhaps, in the fact that it was the portion of Manhattan containing the supposedly indispensable financial district and its 'Masters of the Universe' that went dark, and that ordinary people (and eventually government) once again came to the rescue.
It is that social solidarity, ultimately, that underpins things like Social Security, Medicare, and even progressive taxation and FEMA. And because it is so valuable, and may not in the end be a renewable resource, I do prefer to have a former community organizer in the White House than a financial speculator.

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