Category Archives: Politics

Westport Businessmen: Connecticut Must Do Better

When Connecticut legislators passed a controversial budget bill earlier this month — which Governor Malloy has not yet signed, and is still being tinkered with — a number of business leaders howled. GE threatened to move.

Two Westport businessmen decided to do more than just complain. Bart Shuldman (a frequent “06880” commenter) and Steve Obsitnik (a former congressional candidate) organized a “business roundtable.” Set for this Friday (June 26, 9 a.m., Norwalk Inn), the aim is to discuss ways to improve the state’s business climate.

Governor Malloy was invited, but declined. So Shuldman and Obsitnik got another governor to speak: Florida’s Rick Scott.

“We need to know what competitive states like his are doing — so we can do better,” Shuldman says. “In business it’s called benchmarking — looking at the market and seeing best practices.”

The roundtable is an invitation-only event. But I’m sure Shuldman will provide “06880” with details.

Florida Governor Rick Scott

Florida Governor Rick Scott

 

No Moon This jUNe

This Saturday (June 27), Westport marks its 50th jUNe Day.

For half a century on the last Saturday of June, we’ve welcomed guests from the UN. Lawyers, staff members, security guards — they and their families come here for a full day of sports, beach-going, shopping and fun.

You’d think the organizers would go all out to celebrate 50 years. They’d plan great new activities. Shoot off fireworks. Bring Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon to town for a ceremonial something.

Not gonna happen.

Longshore is a favorite destination for jUNe Day guests. (Photo/Carroll Hubbard)

Longshore is a favorite destination for jUNe Day guests. (Photo/Carroll Hubbard)

In keeping with the theme of jUNe Day — a low-key chance for UN workers to get out of the city, and Westport to show off its beauty and hospitality — the event will consist of the usual: a brief hello at Saugatuck Elementary School (10:30 a.m.), then the rest of the day filled with soccer, tennis and golf; tours of Earthplace, the Westport Historical Society, downtown and the Westport Arts Center — and of course, Compo Beach.

Okay, the welcome ceremony will include Senator Richard Blumenthal and recent UN special coordinator for the Ebola risis Tony Banbury. But Banbury lives in Westport. And Blumenthal shows up anywhere there’s a camera.

Children of UN staffers enjoy Wakeman Town Farm. Many UN families seldom leave New York, jUNe Day organizers note. (Photo/Carroll Hubbard)

Children of UN staffers enjoy Wakeman Town Farm. Many UN families seldom leave New York, jUNe Day organizers note. (Photo/Carroll Hubbard)

For all the joy, fun and relaxation it brings more than 300 UN folks and their families, jUNe Day is organized by a tiny group. Just a few core volunteers plan everything. (UN, and every other governmental organization: Take note!)

Michaela MacColl got involved 15 years ago, at the invitation of jUNe Day founder Ruth Steinkraus Cohen. MacColl — whose day job is children’s author — liked what she saw. When Steinkraus Cohen died, MacColl took over.

“I love Westport, but sometimes I’m frustrated by the homogeneity,” MacColl — a 20-year resident — says. “For one day, things are different.” Last year, 35 countries were represented at jUNe Day. (Their flags are the ones you’ll see flying on the appropriately named Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge this Saturday.)

On jUNe Day, the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge brims with flags from around the world. (Photo/Jeff Simon)

On jUNe Day, the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge brims with flags from around the world. (Photo/Jeff Simon)

“It’s always nice to see people gob-smacked by Westport’s beauty,” MacColl says. “But they also meet very kind people here. Westporters really like showing off the town, and they help out in any way they can.”

Local businesses do too. Most of the food is donated by area businesses. (The kitchen is run by a teenager, William Amon.)

Little things stand out. A Syrian family is always the first to arrive, MacColl says. They’ve come every year since their son was born. He’s 20 now.

The weather is usually fantastic. One year though, it rained hard. A Filipino man came, with 2 small children. He told MacColl he’d considered staying in New York. But when he thought about how much work Westport put into the event, he realized he had to be here.

Fifty years is indeed a great achievement. But you won’t see or hear jUNe Day organizers boasting about it on Saturday.

They’ll be too busy helping 300 guests, from all over the globe.

(Volunteers are always needed. To help, contact Andrea Dostal: 203-526-3275; andreasusa@yahoo.com. For more information, contact Michaela MacColl at 203-227-9461, or Bill Hass at 203-454-7685.)

United Nations

Community Conversation Set For Sunday On #WhiteLivesMatter Flyer

Last week, some Westporters woke to find #WhiteLivesMatter flyers thrown anonymously onto their lawns and driveways.

Some were outraged. Others shrugged.

When “06880” reported the story, some commenters talked about hate groups. Others talked about the “Black Lives Matter” movement. Still others countered, “All Lives Matter.”

It was an intense discussion. And it deserves to be played out not only in cyberspace, but in real time, with real faces.

Several local organizations are giving Westporters the chance to do just that. This Sunday (May 17, 4 p.m., Westport Library), everyone is invited to a community conversation. The topic is: “Why Does the Flyer Matter?”

Participants include First Selectman James Marpe, Police Chief Dale Call, Rev. Alison Patton of the Saugatuck Congregational Church, and yours truly.

TEAM-Westport-logo2The following statement announcing the event was signed by TEAM Westport, Interfaith Clergy Association of Westport and Weston, the Federation for Jewish Philanthropy of Upper Fairfield County, Westport Human Services Commission, the Westport Board of Education, and Westport Police:

On the night of Thursday, May 7, 2015  flyers containing the slogan “#White Lives Matter” were left anonymously at a number of residences in Westport. We are deeply troubled by this campaign. While some have raised questions about the intent of the slogan, it is clear from similar campaigns in neighboring towns that this message was motivated by racism, which we reject absolutely and without qualification.

Further, we contend that dismantling racism requires us to attend to the impact of actions, regardless of intent. These flyers attempt to co-opt a movement that has been created by citizens of color across our nation to redress disparities in treatment, based on race. We are united in declaring that these flyers have no place in Westport, which aspires to be an inclusive community that values a diverse population.

We affirm the principle that all lives matter equally. However, there is much more work to do before our nation achieves genuine equality across race and ethnicity. In circumstances where this equality is not upheld, we affirm our commitment to support and pursue constructive efforts to redress institutional and cultural racism which tears at the fabric of our nation.

In the next several months we will organize a number of opportunities in Westport for education, discussion and engagement on matters relating to race relations in the United States. The initial event will be a community conversation held at the Westport Library on Sunday, May 17 at 4 p.m. regarding the topic:  “Why Does the Flyer Matter?” We hope you will join us.

Flyers like these were tossed onto lawns in Westport in the middle of the night last week.

These flyers were tossed onto Westport lawns in the middle of the night last week.

Temple Intruder: “It Is An Act Of Violence Not To Yell And Scream”

Gregory Williams — one of the 2 men arrested Tuesday at Temple Israel — released this statement to local media:

—————————————————-

Our apologies, good friends, for the fracture of good order, the burning of paper instead of children; the angering of the orderlies in the front parlor of the charnal house.  We could not, so help us God, do otherwise, for we are sick at heart; our hearts give us no rest for thinking of the Land of Burning children.
– Daniel Berrigan, S.J., 1968

At around 1 p.m. on Tuesday, 12 May, my colleague, Dan Fischer, and I calmly walked into into Temple Israel, where the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces was holding a lunchtime meeting. So as to appear as non-threatening as possible, we had no bags, no literature—I had even left the small pocketknife I usually carry at home.

We were armed only with a written testimony by Nabila Abu Halima, a Palestinian woman who lives in the Gaza strip, who watched her son be murdered by the IDF during Operation Cast Lead, and who had to flee her home during last year’s Gaza massacre.

Our intention was simple: to read the statement at the FIDF’s meeting, which was hosting a brigadier general in the occupying, colonizing army that is responsible for her suffering, and the suffering of so many other indigenous Palestinian women.

Gregory Williams, author of this letter.

Gregory Williams, author of this letter.

We were there, first and foremost, because we are Jews (additionally, I am a scholar of religious ethics), and we wanted to take responsibility for the racism in our community that fuels Jewish American support for the Zionist Apartheid regime’s continued occupation of Palestinian land.

Growing up, I remember hearing my mother and grandmother telling stories about members of our family who were killed during the Holocaust. One of the lessons that I learned from those stories was the lesson of collective responsibility.

History remembers kindly those Europeans and Americans who took responsibility for the racism in their community which had bred Naziism by protecting Jewish people, by lifting up their voices, and by working to build a political resistance movement to dismantle fascism.

I entered Temple Israel on Tuesday because I feel that, as a Jew living in the United States, the time has come to take responsibility for my community. Zionism is no less racist, no less hateful, and no less violent and threatening to human life and dignity than Naziism. Like Naziism, Zionism seeks to build a nation upon an ethnocentric vision which erases the lives of people it considers “undesirable.”

When Dan and I reached the second floor of the synagogue, we told staff exactly why we were there. We said that we had come to read a statement from a Palestinian woman at the FIDF event, and that we would leave voluntarily when we were done, or when we were ordered to do so by a police officer.

Daniel Fischer was also arrested at Temple Israel.

Daniel Fischer was also arrested at Temple Israel.

The staff immediately assaulted us, and tackled us to the ground. We did not take any physical action against them. Instead, we started to read the statement that we had come to deliver and, since we were still outside the door of the meeting room, we did so loudly so that as many people would hear us as possible. The staff kicked our phones away, we began to say “Free, Free Palestine!”

Even though we had told the staff what we were doing, and had made clear that this was a nonviolent political demonstration, they turned around and, over the phone and in our hearing, filed a false police report, claiming that we were armed.  “We’re unarmed!” we said, “Tell them we are unarmed!  We are Jews coming to a synagogue!”

Because the staff (and apparently several others) filed this false police report, we are told that several schools were put on lockdown—this is one of the dangers of filing a false report or making a frivolous 911 call.

Since then, people from senators to judges to newspaper reporters have called us “violent,” “criminals,” even “terrorists.”  I ask you, who is the terrorist?  Someone who reads a statement from a Palestinian woman, or the general who helps murder that woman’s child?

What is violent, to protest that general, or to hold a public event to support her and the illegitimate armed force that she serves?  There are those who say that they felt threatened by our action.  I ask, what does it say about your community that you feel threatened by two nonviolent protesters testifying to the violence of that racist hate-ideology called Zionism?

Could this mean that your community is committed to racism and hatred?  There are those who say that they felt threatened by our volume. I respectfully submit that there are times, especially times when children are being murdered by a colonial regime and a racist ideology, when it is an act of violence not to yell and scream.

Sue Sirlin: “We Experienced What Israelis Live With Daily”

“06880” reader Sue Sirlin was in Temple Israel yesterday, when a lunch meeting was interrupted by 2 intruders.

She’s had 24 hours to reflect on those harrowing minutes. Here is her report:

Yesterday, Temple Israel hosted a “Friends of the Israeli Defense Forces” luncheon that drew 100 participants from around Fairfield County. FIDF was established in 1981 by a group of Holocaust survivors to provide for the education and well-being of those who serve in the IDF, as well as their families. Our goal was to learn how we can support the IDF, and about its vital programming to keep Israel and, consequently, the US safer.

I was one of many participants enjoying the event. We were eating, mingling and listening to a handful of speakers present their stories on the importance of protecting the liberty of Israel’s citizens. A fighter pilot spoke about his experiences flying during combat in Israel. A female sergeant and a general spoke as well. Unfortunately, the event was cut short…

FIDF

Within moments, our peaceful gathering shifted abruptly. The far doors to the Social Hall rattled, and a sizable commotion behind those glass-paneled doors ensued. Muffled shouts erupted from behind them. I saw a belligerent man violently struggle to gain access to the room. Someone restrained him from behind.

They wrestled for about 15 seconds — long enough for us to register the scene. The demonstrator shouted, “Long live Palestine! Long live the Intifada!”

The women closest to the doors reacted first, pushing themselves from the table and fleeing quickly to the other side of the hall. Then in a blurred moment, many fled from the room, myself included.

A few women gasped “Call 911!” while others cried. Many of us spontaneously consulted each other to determine where to escape. No one was certain how many men were there.

Thoughts ricocheted through our minds: Were they armed? Were they terrorists? And most importantly, where in the temple were they? As a result, we were unsure of where run or take cover. It was chaos.

Temple israel

In that surreal blur, we experienced firsthand what Israelis live with daily: the panic in a moment’s notice of something signaling danger, not knowing what might happen next. Ironically, we were there yesterday as Israel’s fellow congregants, financial supporters, loyalists — from a supposedly safe, yet empathetic, vantage point. Or so we thought.

Fortunately, the 2 intruders were not armed. They were subdued immediately by 3 brave temple staff members who reacted with great speed and strength. The police arrived within minutes of the call, and took control of the situation. And no one was injured. Thank goodness.

Yet Temple Israel and its preschool were on lockdown, as were Coleytown Middle and Coleytown Elementary Schools, Bedford Middle School, and the Unitarian Church preschool. In that hour, how many lives were shaken by these 2 radical 25-year old men?

Reflecting back on yesterday’s events, a deep anger wells up inside. During those moments we were not permitted to hear what we wanted to hear, to congregate at our FIDF event. Our liberty was limited by 2 men’s wrath.

I later learned that the FIDF speakers did continue after the police cleared the building. I wish I could have stayed to hear what they had to say. Shockingly, I later learned that one of the intruders wore a Jewish star around his neck. How could someone who identifies himself as Jewish threaten fellow Jews?

One thing is certain: My appreciation and empathy has deepened toward our Israeli friends’ needs. I will never stop supporting them, in any way possible.

Confronting Hatred

To no one’s surprise, the story about the #WhiteLivesMatter flyers found in Westport has moved beyond our borders.

But even the most glass-is-half-empty among us might be surprised at the virulence that’s lurking in cyberspace.

AR15.comAr15.com — a gun-lovers’ site — reprinted a Stamford Advocate article about the incident. It elicited only a few comments. One reader suggested Westport needed “more section 8 housing” to increase our diversity. Another said simply, “boo hoo faggots.”

That’s nothing, compared to DailySlave.com. Click on this gruesomely racist, anti-Semitic, anti-just-about-everything site only if you have a strong stomach.

The site — whose motto is “Fighting Against Total Enslavement” — titled its piece “White Hating Marxist Retards Cry About ‘#White Lives Matter’ Flyers.”

No, it’s not satire.

Here are just a few of the anonymous comments:

  • Westport needs a huge infusion of Burn this Bitch Down Burntitmore and Fergadishu blue gummed Jungle Bunnies. Let’s start a campaign to Diversify Westport! Show them what they’re missing.
  • The old saying -THERE IS NO BLACK POWER>>>>>>JEWISH POWER >>>>ILLEGAL ALIEN POWER …. only white weakness…
  • Westport is located in Fairfield County, which is the wealthiest county in the Empire and includes or included residents like Paul Newman, Henry Kissenger, William F. Buckley, David Letterman and Kathi Lee “the Jewess” Gifford. But it also includes one of the shittiest ghetto cities in the Empire as well…Bridgeport. The jews and White liberals have been trying to get Bridgeport removed from their otherwise extremely affluent county for decades. They were also unsuccessful in keeping Interstate 95 from going right through the middle of their upscale little bedroom communities. GOOD.

Other anti-Semitic comments attacked Westport’s selectmen, and claimed “the only negro I ever saw in that town was old Otis who ran the dry cleaner shop (dumb as a bag of rocks but mostly harmless).”

A

A “cartoon” posted on the Daily Slave website.

I debated with myself for quite a while about the wisdom of posting this piece. Would giving these sites publicity further embolden them, or provide some kind of credence? Am I playing right into their hateful hands?

Perhaps.

But ignoring the fact that these websites — and their readers — exist is dangerous too.

Commenters on those sites accuse Westporters of burying our heads in the sand about the real world.

No, we aren’t.

Not with #WhiteLivesMatter.

And not with you.

#White Lives Matter: Yes, The Flyers Are Racist

The discovery Thursday morning of anonymous flyers — saying only “#White Lives Matter” — disturbed Westporters in the Compo Beach and Roseville Road areas.

The reaction to yesterday’s “06880” story was mixed. Some commenters were stunned, ashamed, appalled and angry.

Flyers like these were tossed onto lawns in Westport early Thursday morning.

Flyers like these were tossed onto lawns in Westport early Thursday morning.

Others complained of an over-reaction. “All lives matter,” they noted. They said this was political correctness run amok, and wondered why anyone assumed the flyer was “racist.”

As the story reported, similar flyers were distributed equally anonymously — in Ziploc bags, weighted with pebbles — in Milford a few days earlier.

There was one difference. While the Westport flyers said only “#White Lives Matter,” the Milford flyers included more text. They said:

America is under attack. This fact has been known for some time. Each year, we the American people lose more rights. Each election we get sold out and stabbed in the back. Between misfits robbing us and the government taxing us, we the honest hardworking Americans are barely getting by. Tired of being tired, and sick of being sick, Americans united in 1987 to form The Nationalist Movement. And ever since, it has served the American people proudly.

While other groups pop up only to vanish, The Nationalist Movement continues striding to unify the American people and liberate us from the communist regime that is currently occupying our White House and Congress Halls. The American people have been shackled with chains of “equality”, beaten bloody with the whip of “diversity”, and forced to bow a knee before the tyrants ruining our homeland.

However, Americans all across this sacred nation are arising, to make a difference. This exclusive organization carries the Red, White, and Blue with the same pride that our fore fathers did. And in doing so, we vow to never let the Amrican [sic]  dream perish.

There was a link for the Nationalist Movement website. The site shows photos of a flag that looks like a cross between a cross and a swastika.

Nationalist Movement

On the home page, there is a link to “Racist America Radio.”

This Radio show is for activists, not those who are lukewarm, sell outs, or inactive keyboard commando’s [sic]. This is real life activism, in the public, without police protection. We are friends to only the truly sincere devotees of freedom. We stand with only the true zealots for our people.

So yeah, there is a racist element to the flyers.

Perhaps the Westport flyers were just a juvenile, copycat attempt?

Probably not. Both flyers used the exact same typeface and 3-line style.

The Westport (left) and Milford (right) flyers.

The Westport (left) and Milford (right) flyers.

Meanwhile, Westporters swung into action.

Yesterday afternoon, representatives from TEAM Westport, houses of worship, Staples High School, the Westport library, the town Social Services department, and community members gathered at the Saugatuck Church to frame a response.

They are drafting a joint statement. They’re organizing a community conversation at the library (Sunday, May 17, 4 p.m.). Additional steps will follow.

Clergy have been encouraged to speak about the incident in services this weekend.

They’re also compiling a webpage of resources — blog entries, videos, podcasts, etc. — to provide history and context for the #BlackLivesMatter movement.

More will follow.

All lives matter. Including those that stand up against vile, offensive, and very racist behavior.

(Hat tip: Dan Donovan)

Jim Marpe: “Westport Not Immune” To Dealing With Serious Racial Issues

First Selectman Jim Marpe issued this statement last night, shortly after learning of the presence of racist flyers in Westport:

I am deeply concerned and disappointed that statements like this have found their way to Westport homes. This kind of racial ugliness has no place anywhere, and certainly not Westport.

I have always been proud to speak of Westport as an open and welcoming community, and I continue to believe that the vast majority of Westporters practice that belief through tolerance, inclusion and everyday civil behavior.

This past year has reminded us that our nation still needs to deal with some serious racial issues, and now we know that Westport is not immune.  I have asked TEAM Westport to work with the Interfaith Clergy, the Board of Education and the appropriate town agencies, to lead our community’s response to these outrageous statements and, more importantly, the behaviors and beliefs that underpin them.

Flyers like these were tossed onto lawns in Westport yesterday.

Flyers like these were tossed onto lawns in Westport yesterday.

 

As Ugly As It Gets

An  “06880” reader writes:

This item was tossed onto my driveway sometime between 7 p.m. yesterday and 8 a.m. today. The note was folded in quarters in the plastic bag. The pebbles presumably were added to keep the whole thing from blowing away.

Here is that item:

White Lives Matter

Similar notes were discovered in Milford, more than a week ago.

Has anyone else found these in Westport? Has anyone heard anything about them?

Suddenly, the anger in Ferguson and Baltimore — and the backlash to it — does not seem so far away at all.

Rev. Haffner: A Washington Witness For Same-Sex Marriage

As president of the Religious Institute — the Westport-based organization that advocates nationally for sexual health, education, and justice in faith communities and society — Rev. Debra Haffner has done plenty to advance the cause of same-sex marriage.

Religious Institute logoShe helped gather signatures of 1,900 faith leaders on a friend-of-the-court brief, aimed at countering religious arguments against same-sex marriage prior to today’s Supreme Court hearing on 4 related cases.

She helped organize last Saturday and Sunday’s National Weekend of Prayer for the Freedom to Marry. More than 315 congregations from 46 states participated in responsive readings and prayers for “the wisdom of justices, the skills of attorneys and the well-being of plaintiffs” in the days ahead.

A scene from Sunday's prayer service at the National City Church in Washington, DC.

A scene from Sunday’s prayer service at the National City Church in Washington, DC.

On Sunday, the Religious Institute co-sponsored a prayer service at Washington’s National City Christian Church.

Rev. Haffner — who also serves as community minister at Westport’s Unitarian Church — was a worship leader at Sunday’s service. She was very moved — but there was more to come. She stayed in Washington 2 more days. “I wanted to witness history,” she says.

This morning she joined a faith rally at the Lutheran Church of the Reformation, 6 blocks from the Supreme Court.

She and hundreds of others then marched to the Court itself.

Rev. Haffner has been to the Supreme Court twice in the past 2 years. Those cases were huge: Windsor, which advanced the right to same-sex marriage, and Hobby Lobby, in which the justices ruled that a business can choose to be exempt from a law its owners religiously object to.

Today, Rev. Haffner says, the crowds were much bigger. “There was a small band of ‘antis,’ with pretty disgusting signs,” she says. “But we outnumbered them 10 to 1.”

Rev. Debra Haffner and Rev. Yvette Flunder, founder of a multi-denominational fellowship of 56 primarily African American churches.

Rev. Debra Haffner and Rev. Yvette Flunder, founder of a multi-denominational fellowship of 56 primarily African American churches.

The Supreme Court heard 2 1/2 hours of arguments — an exceptionally long time. Throughout the morning, Rev. Haffner and others stood outside. “There was some singing,” she says. “But mostly, witnessing.”

She wore her clerical collar and stole. “So many people came by and thanked us for our witness,” she says.

On the train back to Westport, she read expert analyses of the arguments.

“It sounds like less of a slam-dunk than we thought,” she says. “Justice Kennedy — the swing vote — seemed to be unreadable.

“But I think this is a decision whose time has come. It’s time to ratify what a majority of people across the country already know: that everyone deserves the right to marry.”

The justices will rule in June.

Rev. Debra Haffner and Harry Knox. He is the president and CEO of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.

Rev. Debra Haffner and Harry Knox. He is the president and CEO of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.