– Lowell Politics and History

Lowell Walks resume this Saturday


St Anne’s Church – center of Abolitionist activity in Lowell

Lowell Walks resumes this Saturday with Abolitionism in Lowell led by UMass Lowell history professor Bob Forrant.  The tour begins at 10 am at the National Park Visitor Center at 246 Market Street and will spend the next 90 minutes walking around downtown Lowell, visiting sites and hearing stories related to the pre-Civil War Abolitionist movement in Lowell.  The tour is free and requires no advance registration.  Just show up.

Here is something about the tour that Bob Forrant recently posted on his Facebook page:

SPEAKING OUT AGAINST SLAVERY IN 19TH CENTURY COTTON LOWELL!!! If you’ve been on any of the ‘Lowell Walks’ on Saturday mornings this summer you know how great they’ve been so far. I will be leading one on Saturday morning, August 1 starting out at 10:00am from the National Park Visitors Center on Market St. The topic is abolitionism and anti-slavery movements in Lowell before the Civil War.

Lowell is a fascinating place when it comes to this subject because the mills relied exclusively on slave produced cotton and there was a feeling for quite a while among mill owners and investors to allow slavery to exist in the South, the rationale being it was in the Constitution. By the 1830s things began to change and the city became a hotbed of anti-slavery agitation with frequent abolitionist speakers like Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison and many others showing up to speak out against slavery. Women mill workers formed a Female Anti-Slavery Society, many of the city’s leading ministers were outspoken critics of slavery, and even some mill managers spoke out against slavery. Hope to see some of you on the walk and discussion of this piece of city history.

Lowell’s entire reason for existence was to convert the raw cotton picked by slaves in the American south into cloth for resale.  Because the smooth flow of cotton was essential to the city’s economy, there was a great financial incentive for those in Lowell to either support or at least keep quiet about slavery.  Despite this, Lowell became a hotbed of Abolitionism, almost from its founding right up until the war began.  The complexities of this issue in Lowell reflect those throughout the United States.  Better understanding this history can help better understand some of the major issues confronting American society today.

Plus these are terrific stories.  And central to the success of Lowell Walks is great stories.  Please join us on Saturday.

Folk Festival Follow Up

Congratulations to the organizers for another successful Lowell Folk Festival.  I’ve come to believe that no one sees the Folk Festival the same way.  It’s a little like viewing a painting or sculpture.  Each individual brings his or her own background, interests and experiences to the event and those factors shape the Festival experience for each individual.

With that in mind, here are my observations of the 2015 Lowell Folk Festival.  I was there on both afternoons, Saturday and Sunday.  To me, the Festival is like a big open house for downtown Lowell complete with food and entertainment.  I like to wander around and cross paths with others doing the same.  Continuously walking the circuit gives me a sampling of the sights, sounds and smells of the event, a type of cultural buffet for all of the senses.  Saturday, especially, was a great day to do that.  The overcast sky and relatively cool temperatures made being outside on the last Saturday of July a very pleasant experience.  Many others felt similarly, for downtown was very crowded that afternoon.  The weather forecast for Sunday was dire with downpours and thunderstorms predicted.  Although none actually materialized, I believe the expectation of inclement weather kept the crowd down.

High points for me are always lunch from one of the ethnic food booths which is a more like going to a cookout at a neighbor’s home than to a restaurant.  Also great is the serendipitous discovery of some musician or previously unknown-to-me musical genre.  I really like the “Destination Lowell” concept that groups many of Lowell’s Cultural institutions in tents lining Merrimack Street creating an outdoor shopping mall of local entities that try to perpetuate the theory of the Folk Festival year round, each in their own small way.

This Lowell Open House concept might be a way to leverage the Folk Festival into a more effective marketing tool for year-round Lowell.  With the entities present and other added in, Merrimack Street could serve as one-stop shopping for those interested in things to do in Lowell at times other than the last weekend in July.

As I said, that’ just my perspective.  Someone who owns a downtown business would have a completely different take as would a folk music aficionado from outside of Lowell.   That’s why more people commenting on their experience and observations would be helpful, so please do so here or on Facebook.

In closing, thanks again to all who make the Folk Festival possible, and to everyone else, go to your calendar right now and block off the last weekend in July 2016 so you don’t inadvertently schedule rent your place at Hampton that week.

New Yorker’s Robin Wright on Iran Now

Here’s one more outside reading option, the recent “Letter from Iran” by Robin Wright in The New Yorker magazine. I found this helpful in trying to understand what it is like day to day undernearth the bombastic headlines and political artillery shelling here in the U.S. I know very little about Iran other than what I’ve gleaned from media reports and books in the past 40 years. I met a poet from New Hampshire who had relocated from Iran. And I met one of the former embassy hostages from that horrible time when the Islamic extremists occupied the U.S. Embassy in Teheran in 1979. His name is Victor L. Tomseth, and he was one of the 66 hostages held for 444 days (“America Held Hostage” was the headline each late night on TV). He was on a study-tour of American places organized by the State Department. It was the early 1980s. Not that long after the men and women who had been detained and abused in Teheran returned to the U.S. Lowell was on the itinerary because of Lowell National Historical Park and the big news about Lowell’s transformation from a beat-up post-industrial city to a model or urban revitalization. It was a refresher tour for foreign service officers and other staff who have to keep up with what is going on in America to represent us in the best way overseas. About 25 people in the delegation stopped at then ULowell for a reception with the top administrators. I recognized his name from the embassy conflict. He was on the tour just like any other State Department staffer. No big deal. Just back to work. I was impressed by that.

Here’s the link to the Robin Wright article. If you want more writing like this, subscribe to the New Yorker..

Walsh stands tall: now how about Boston 2030? by Marjorie Arons-Barron


photo Boston Globe

photo Boston Globe

The entry below is being cross posted from Marjorie Arons-Barron’s own blog.

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, who has long seemed in thrall to the Boston 2024 Olympic bid, said at a press conference this morning that he refuses “to mortgage the future of the city away.” He added, “I will not sign a document that puts one penny of taxpayers’ money on the line for Olympics cost overruns,”  according to The Boston Business Journal.  According to other news reports, the U.S. Olympic Committee has been pressuring the Mayor to sign on to the requirement that the city backstop Olympic cost overruns, and to do so immediately. Walsh refused to be pressured.

Good for him. (Governor Charlie Baker has pledged to withhold his opinion until the results of an independent analysis are made public next month.   Walsh’s opposition, he said, was based only on financial considerations, not the event itself.  He was quoted as saying that he thinks “the opposition for the most part is about 10 people on Twitter,” and, of course, he’s wrong about that.  But at least his bottom line was clear. “This is about the taxpayers of Boston and what I have to do as mayor.”

Some analysts are predicting that this stance by the Mayor will be the death knell of the current Olympics bid.  If so, here’s a modest proposal.

Boston 2024, including some of the metropolitan area’s most powerful business leaders,  has routinely pitched bringing the 2024 summer Olympics here on the basis of what it can do to help the infrastructure,  create jobs and housing, and meet other community needs.  But they have been putting the cart before the horse, prioritizing Olympics-centered improvements before the city has a comprehensive strategic plan.

If Boston 2024 boosters are really serious about a long-term vision and strategy for greater Boston, why not join forces with Mayor Walsh in his nascent Boston 2030 planning?  If this wasn’t just marketing palaver, they could put their resources (including their unspent budget) and talent together with others in the city (including the No Boston Olympic supporters) to develop and implement a smart and integrated plan to upgrade housing, roads and bridges, public transit, education, creating jobs and more so that greater Boston can express its aspirations in a practical and achievable blueprint that can transform the city and meet the needs of all its people.  That would be a gold-medal-winning performance.

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