Wednesday, September 25, 2013

What I learned in the 2013 Mayoral Primary

It's a tradition of mine to hold signs for candidates in Chinatown. I don't remember how it started- I think someone needed someone there a few years ago- but it's one I enjoy as I don't live in that area and it's always a good lesson to see how other areas of Boston operate.

I had called my candidate's office the day before to tell them I was available. They told me that someone was scheduled to show up at the Chinatown polling station, but they would give me my number and we could coordinate. In the meantime, a good friend of mine asked if I would, basically, put my feet where my mouth was and help collect signatures for the RaiseUpMA campaign. There are two initiatives, one to raise the minimum wage to $10.50 per hour (for the princely annual sum of $21840) and another for Earned Sick Time, which would prevent employees from being penalized for calling out sick. I thought that would be a good way for my sons to witness politics and policy in action, plus give me some time to hang out with a good friend for a few hours.

We started out at the local library and community center where people used to vote. That site had since moved, but we were able to collect a few signatures from some very enthusiastic residents before we moved on to get some lunch.

These people placed. Why? They had signs. (Photo by Reuters)

Next we went to my polling place. Finally, I would get to vote. When I got there a little after 1, less than 200 people from my precinct had voted- but that was an improvement over the last mayoral election cycle. Ah, democracy! Even with that low turnout, we were able to make a good dent into our signatures; I'm sure having one of my sons break the ice helped me at least.

By the time my husband left with my sons (after he signed the petitions), I was ready to move onto Chinatown. I stopped to get a bite to eat, then made it to the station. Much to my dismay, no one from my candidate's campaign was there. Even worse, I didn't see one sign for him either. I was very concerned: Chinatown may not have the most turnout usually, but that joint was jumping yesterday. More to the point, another candidate was there in person. You know what that said to me? That he wanted to be mayor of all of Boston.

Who else was at that station? Three other people collecting signatures for the RaiseUpMA campaign. After getting two signatures and chatting a bit, I went to the next closest polling station at the corner of East Berklee and Tremont. Once again, I did not see any signs for my candidate- but I did see two other people collecting signatures for my campaign. Alrighty then! Off to the BPL, even though I was told there wouldn't be a lot of voting.

Do I even need to tell you at this point that I didn't see signs for my candidate but that two other people showed up to collect signatures? After I got a decent number, I moved on. After I got one signature at the Boston Architectural College, I finally landed at the polling station on Mass Ave. right near the Orange Line T stop. You guessed it- my candidate did not have any signs up there.

There was not a lot of voting, and overall I'd call it one of the more apathetic polling places I got to. But you know what? That's where I collected the majority of my signatures. While some people did have some crazy reasons for not signing ("I live for today" was my favorite), the majority who didn't sign either weren't registered to vote in Boston or were obviously rushing to catch a train. But most Boston voters happily signed, and one woman even said "Give me that!" as soon as I explained what we were trying to do.

So what did I learn? That if you want to win- or place or get something done- you have to show up. As much as we want to blame voter apathy- and yes, it's a real thing- for not getting the results we want, sorry, that just wasn't good enough yesterday. Turnout ended up being much higher than the 2009 race which, given the dynamics, makes sense. I didn't predict that...but then again nobody was depending on me for that prognosis.

I got all of the signatures I needed with an hour to spare before the election was called, and based on all of the people I'd run into and there numbers, I know my campaign did very well.

Thank you, Boston.

Deb in the City

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Thoughts from my Orson Welles festival

This summer I embarked on my own mini-Orson Welles film festival, inspired in large part by my love of Citizen Kane and my fascination with the man.

I started with The Lady From Shanghai. It was almost comical to hear Welles sport an Irish accent, but by the end of the film I was half convinced that he really was an Irish immigrant. Welles' directorial style- going all the way back to Kane- was made for film noir.

This was also the first time I'd seen anything with Rita Hayworth, and she was wonderful, of course. A little disconcerting to see her without her trademark red hair, but she played the cool but tormented femme fatale perfectly.

I must confess: I'm still not sure what she saw in him.

I followed with Welles' version of Othello. He, like almost everyone else, missed the mark on Iago and we're left with someone who's inexplicably malevolent and not someone with his own political motivations. But the rest of it is almost perfect. Welles makes it painfully clear how thin Othello's veneer of confidence is, and the opening scenes with the dead bodies of Othello and Desdemona fill the rest of the film with doom.

His treatment of Macbeth suited me far better. His Lady Macbeth was far more desperate and less cold than almost any other work I've seen thus far. Macbeth is a difficult character because he has to become both more ambitious and insane at the same time, and he still has to have enough strength (as it were) to try to fight as a man and not a preordained destiny at the very end. Welles does all of that and convinces me that one person can. Kudos.

The next Welles film I watched was The Third Man. Oh, I love me some sardonic Joseph Cotten! Here the story feels like it's focusing on Holly Martins' (Cotten) reluctance to be decent, especially when that decency will mean betraying a man who has been a good friend to him, the infamous Harry Lime (Welles). But when he sees what Lime has done- given infants faulty batches of meningitis vaccine- Martins is forced into action. We never get to see what the affected children look like, but the look on Cotten's face says it all.

This was a good film, but I didn't feel it was the masterpiece that so many others do.

I was very surprised to see that Welles had made a version of Jane Eyre. This was directed by Robert Stevens, but Welles played Edward Rochester. While the rest of the world falls over Jane Austen, I'm a solid Bronte girl, and for me it begins and ends with Jane Eyre- and Rochester. Welles made Rochester malevolent, manipulative, secretive and, in unguarded moments, tender and lonely. Perfectly understandable why someone as deprived of love like Jane would fall for him, but you still cheered when she walked away. While I was watching this I understood why Bronte injured him so badly before Jane could return to him: she wasn't safe otherwise.

There's a reason we don't usually think of Welles as a romantic lead, but if he's going to be one in anything, it's this.

Jane Eyre.jpeg

If I was disappointed by The Third Man, I was blown away by Touch of Evil. I believe this is considered by some to be one of the better examples of film noir, and I would agree. It balances the scratch into the dark underbelly of life with a pace that's quick but not frenetic. It's a nail biter from the first scene- even though you know Charlton Heston and Janet Leigh are going to make it through to the end of the movie, you still find yourself transfixed to the screen to make sure that they do. The plot is complicated, but there's just one thing you need to know: Heston's Vargas represents the moral compass Welles' Quinlan used to have, and you know on a visceral level that when Quinlan threatens Vargas' wife (Leigh), he's trying to get at that. The final revelation at the end only makes that insight feel worse.

I ended my little festival by watching the updated version of The Magnificent Ambersons. It was too hard to track down the original at my library, and the word "original" and "Magnificent Ambersons" can lead to lengthy discussions which always ends with "I'd give anything to see the uncut version!" As I understand it, the version I saw was as faithful to the original script as they could be.

We all see the world through our own lens, but I doubt I'm the only one who saw the haunted family inhabiting this universe, and it began with the Civil War veteran Major Amberson. I imagined that he came from poor circumstances and the fabulous wealth he achieved wasn't something he was used to. He may have been used to living without, but he didn't know how to teach his children to live frugally with their wealth. His spoiled but kind daughter raised a son who was equally spoiled but nearly as good-natured, but she had spent too long making him the center of her emotional universe to see it.

The story reminded me a lot of both Washington Square and The Rise of Silas Lapham- nouveau riche that doesn't know what to do with its wealth. In the unrequited love between Isabel and Eugene we see, perhaps, a recognition that wealth married to industry is the best way to insure continued success, and the failure of that relationship to flourish is what leads to the final decay of the once "magnificent" Ambersons. Therefore, the ending, in which we presume Isabel's spoiled son George is about to find redemption through Eugene's daughter Lucy, feels false. Whether that's Welles' failure, I can't tell.

The Magnificent Ambersons (2002) Poster

That was the end of my stint. I know there's more Welles out there, but I think, for now, I've had enough to satisfy me that he was indeed a consistently brilliant writer, actor and director, even if I don't love every one of his choices.

Who else is just as good?

Deb in the City

Friday, August 23, 2013

ICYMI: There's a civil war raging in Syria

And we are doing nothing of consequence about it.

The obvious reply is, "That's usually what happens in civil wars; by definition they're supposed to be internal conflicts." And then we can move onto the classically isolationist American corollary: "We do enough. We've lost enough blood and treasure in [insert conflict here]. It might turn out to be a tragedy, but the rebels are just going to have to fend for themselves and hope for the best."

We've already talked about the ways in which those answers are bankrupt: Syria isn't Iraq or Afghanistan, and every day it becomes even less so. How many people had been killed in the two and a half years before we entered either country? Because while both governments were known for their caprice and brutality, it wasn't 100,000- a number which, I believe, should actually be closer to 150,000 but what's 50,000 when you're talking about that level of devastation?

It's also laughable because Assad is getting help: from Russia, from Iran, from Hezbollah and, through its silence, from China. We say we don't like things like executing children and destroying cities, but if we refuse to do anything while other parties are, it really can't bother us that much.

Don't take my word for it; Invisible Armies: An Epic History of Guerrilla Warfare from Ancient Times to the Present by Max Boot uses part of his 550-page work to show that most insurgents need a little (or a lot of) outside help to succeed. (There are exceptions, of course, but most countries can't be Cuba.) And we have provided it in the past to other countries, even before Iraq and Afghanistan.

If you were unimpressed by 100,000 dead, you won't be impressed by a book. Then Foreign Affairs' latest piece on the country won't impress you either, but read it any way. Understand that our inaction, even it came with crossed fingers and toes, most likely means that Assad could continue his literal reign of terror. Russia and Iran must be so proud.

Bashar al-Assad
And the winner is...

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

No Justice, No Peace

KROGSTAD: The law cares nothing about motives.
NORA: Then it must be a very foolish law.
-Henrik Ibsen, A Doll's House

This Sunday my husband, sons and I went to the rally at Dudley Square to protest the Zimmerman verdict. 500 people gathered on the square to hold signs, speak, and call for action. One of my sons could not get enough of the action and wanted to get up as close to the stage as possible; both of them wanted to speak to every reporter they could find to share how upset they were.

"We Hate Hate"

We could only stay for an hour (see above paragraph), but if one word summed up what I heard, it was frustration. People have been working to secure civil rights, equal treatment and that little notion known as justice for decades, and we still find that it's not a crime to shoot and kill a 17 year old African American boy.

Why? Because the law is very foolish. End of discussion- done. Now the law must be changed. On top of that, everyone who doesn't live in Florida has to be vigilant to make sure that we do not adopt similar laws. In Massachusetts- we of false True Blue fame- recently fought off an attempt to bring just such a law to our state. You didn't know that? Now you do.

When we were on the train the next day, my sons were reading the Metro article that covered the story. Seeing the words in black and white got to them in a way that being in a rally hadn't. "So it's legal to kill African American boys?" one of them asked wide-eyed.

"Only in Florida," I replied.

The woman sitting across from us sighed and shook her head sadly. It's terrible what children have to learn.

Let's give them something better to learn. Let's teach them that their lives are worth changing a law for.

We don't disapprove of law enforcement: Superintendent Gross thought the verdict was as nuts as we did
Er, pay no attention to my son's right hand... But seriously, this was after Superintendent Gross told them that he had fired his gun once, in 1993. Responsible officers don't draw their weapons for the fun of it.

Deb in the City

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Eastern Middlesex Mosquito Control Project: stop spraying in West Roxbury

Please leave West Roxbury until you can do your job safely.

A friend of mine reports that you have begun spraying the streets of West Roxbury for mosquitoes this week without any prior notification- or consent. Considering that you (and Suffolk County Mosquito Control) were kicked out neighboring Jamaica Plain a decade ago by the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council, and then permanently so by Boston Parks and Recreation, I find it stunning that you would use the same toxic materials in West Roxbury. Please explain why you are able- not just required, but able- to use safer alternatives in one part of town but unable to do in another? Is it because you think people care more in one place than the other? I would have to say that you are wrong.

Believe me- I understand how dangerous tick-borne diseases can be. A friend’s sibling has been living with Lyme disease for over a decade, and the effects have been devastating to her and her family. I applaud, therefore, your mission to control mosquitoes. But I now demand that you do it safely in all parts of Boston- no, in all parts of Massachusetts.

Will you do the right thing?

And we'll make sure the rest of Massachusetts is too

Deb Nam-Krane

In case they don’t, here is their number: Tel: (781) 899 5730
While we’re at it, here is the number for the Mayor’s hotline: (617) 635 4000

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Showing up is 80% of Politics too

Politics is how groups of people, regardless of size, get things done. It's a dirty game when someone has more leverage than everyone else, but in my experience the best leverage of all is simply being willing to show up, whether literally, in writing or through invitation. And when you show up, it is sometimes amazing what can happen as a result.

As I alluded to in my last post, I am part of a very grassroots organization called Mothers Climate Affinity Group. It was founded by Andree Collier Zaleska, who in addition to being the owner of the very cool JP Green House is also the head of 350MA, Boston branch. (How grassroots? We pretty much all live within walking distance of the JP Green House.)

So, really, why should anyone care what fifteen or so local mothers have to say about anything? We're not a well-funded corporation, we don't have the ear of the big media outlets and our issue isn't sexy in any way, unless you're turned on by the real-life dystopias of Red Hook after Hurricane Sandy, nineteen firefighters killed while battling a fire, polar ice caps melting or parts of California and Nevada reaching temperatures over 110 degrees. All we have going for us is that we're willing to talk about these issues, among ourselves and with other people.

I mentioned how impressed my candidate of choice, Felix Arroyo, was with what we had to say. The day that hearing order was filed, John Connolly announced that he'd been endorsed by a former MA Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs and what his plans for environmental stewardship are. Very shortly after that, Rob Consalvo articulated his vision for better environmental conditions for Boston. 

Is it a coincidence that this happened after we started asking politicians to speak with us? Maybe. Maybe not.

You can't always get what you want... but you definitely won't if you don't try
Please understand- I don't think my group can claim sole responsibility for these achievements. I am sure that other concerned parties are reaching out to the candidates as well, and I am sure that the campaigns are paying attention to the science around this and the tragically uneven impact environmental degradation has when combined with poverty. But the science and economic impact have been known for decades; the difference now is the urgency with which people are telling their elected officials that if they want our votes they have to address this in a credible way.

To which I say two things: 1) it's about damn time and 2) we're coming for the rest of the Boston mayoral candidates. Consider yourselves warned.

I appreciate that there are other very pressing issues. (Isn't it funny how ignoring things for decades can come back at you with seeming suddenness?) As much as I disapprove of almost everyone's proposed solutions, public education really is a paramount concern, and that, as I've written before, is intimately connected with economic development. Infrastructure is a disaster waiting to happen (if people understood how underfunded our water needs are, they'd be terrified), and we most immediately feel that when we use transportation of any kind. And food access. And public health. And healthcare. And building standards. And public safety. And many others, all of which need solutions right now.

Chances are that those solutions are not going to be dreamed up by the winning candidate or even his/her advisers, however brilliant they are. They are going to be arrived at- if at all- by concerned citizens taking the time to consistently advocate to their candidates and elected officials- during office hours, at small house parties, at political rallies, in forums or any other time you can get in front of them. If you can find or form an affinity group, more power to you- but don't discount the power of one consistent voice.

It is literally now or never.

Deb in the City

Monday, July 08, 2013


You want to know what Boston needs in its next mayor? Not just someone with a vision- I believe all of the candidates have a vision for how to improve Boston. Not just someone with his or her heart in the right place- I believe all of the candidates want to help those in Boston who need it most (alright, maybe there's one candidate I wouldn't even give that much credit to). No- we need a visionary with good motives who will listen and then move quickly.

Last week, after hearing the concerns of several mothers about climate change and what we wanted to see done by Boston's next mayor, Felix Arroyo took a few days to digest our feedback and came up with an order for a hearing to explore divestment from fossil fuels. (Here's a little about Berkeley's recently approved measure to do just that.)

This is a big deal, not just because nothing sends a message like money, but because Boston is a major city and doing something like this sends a message to fossil fuel companies that their practices are no longer acceptable. (What a pity they haven't gotten that message yet.)

Arroyo is not the only candidate concerned about the environment- John Connolly has been working on this for a very long time, and his record on the issue is excellent- but he is the one initiating this very important step.

What else should the next Mayor of Boston to do as we mitigate and adapt to climate change? That's not a rhetorical question- if there is something you want to see done, ask now.

Deb in the City


Offered by:

WHEREAS, Cities have been identified as major contributors to global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and major metropolitan areas account for over 70 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions from energy consumption; and,

WHEREAS, Climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions poses risks to Boston residents, visitors,
businesses, institutions and infrastructure; and

WHEREAS, Since 2005, the City of Boston has effectively reduced its total carbon dioxide from approximately 7 million total metric tons of CO2 Equivalent to approximately 6.75 million total metric tons of CO2, amounting to 2 metric tons less emissions per capita. The City’s goal remains to reach a greenhouse gas reduction goal of 25 percent by 2020; and

WHEREAS, On April 25 2013, the Mayors Innovation Project, a learning network among American Mayors committed to policy and governance that supports environmental sustainability, and, an international environmental organization devoted to building a global grassroots movement to promote climate change awareness, announced the official launch of their international divestment campaign; and,

WHEREAS, On June 15 2013, Mayor Mike McGinn confirmed that the City of Seattle has divested from its cash holdings in fossil fuel stocks and has begun the process of divesting its pension holdings as well. The City of Providence has passed a resolution calling for the city’s investment board to produce a plan for divesting from the largest 200 fossil fuel companies within 5 years. The Cambridge City Council voted unanimously to recommend that the city's retirement board pull its investments out of the fossil fuel industry; and

WHEREAS, Three colleges in Greater New England – Unity College in Maine, Hampshire College in Massachusetts, and Sterling College in Vermont – have divested their portfolios of fossil fuel stocks and several churches, including the New England Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ, have declared their intention to divest from fossil fuel companies; NOW THEREFORE BE IT

ORDERED, The Boston City Council, hereby assembled, orders a hearing to explore the feasibility of Fossil Fuel Divestment as a means of strengthening the City of Boston’s efforts to promote environmental awareness and continue reducing the City’s greenhouse gas emissions. Representatives from the City of Boston Administration and Finance Department, City of Boston Environmental Department, Mother’s Out Front on Climate Change,, relevant non-profit organizations, and other interested parties shall be invited to attend.

Filed July 03, 2013