Category Archives: Politics

Andrew Wilk Presents …

Like many Westporters, Andrew Wilk is very impressed by the recent transformation of the Westport Library.

But, he knows, a building that pulses with creativity is a lot more than “sticks and bricks.”

What really counts is the activity inside.

Andrew Wilk

Wilk is in a position to help make the library buzz even more than it does. An Emmy-winning television executive producer and director — as well as a playwright and symphony conductor — he has one of the most impressive Rolodexes* around.

Now he’s tapping his countless contacts — men and women he’s met through “Live at Lincoln Center,” as chief creative officer of Sony Music Entertainment, and vice president for the National Geographic Channel — to bring exciting, provocative pioneers in science, the arts and humanities to the interactive library stage.

“Andrew Wilk Presents…” debuts next month. Though he’s not crazy about the title — “I just find people, set them up for success and let ’em go,” he demurs — the library series looks like yet another Andrew Wilk smash.

The first guest (Thursday, December 12, 7 p.m.) is Michael Davie. A filmmaker who has worked on major projects for Oprah Winfrey, National Geographic, Discovery and many more, he’ll weave together hair-raising adventures from Kosovo to the Congo, adding personal reflections on travel, family and connecting with people all over the world.

Michael Davie in action.

Davie most recently co-created Oprah’s landmark 7-part series “Belief.” He began his video career by walking from Cape Town to Cairo (!) — alone (!!) — and recording that amazing journey.

Along the way Davie chronicled police brutality in Johannesburg, landmine victims in Mozambique, the sexual abuse of street children in Zimbabwe, and the disparity between rich and poor in Kenya.

He has also interviewed Nelson Mandela, and reported on terrorism, the persecution of gays in Iraq, the environmental cost of mining in Peru, and rescue climbing on Denali.

The second speaker is the celebrated oceanographer Dr. Robert Ballard. He found the Titanic, Bismarck, USS Yorktown and John F. Kennedy’s PT-109, and explored the Lusitania.

Dr. Robert Ballard

His next goal: discover Amelia Earhart’s plane. Wilk has no doubt Ballard will accomplish that too. “He’s an amazing person, with riveting stories,” Wilk says.

The third speaker is filmmaker Kevin Bachar. A 3-time Emmy Award-winning writer and cinematographer, he spent 10 years as a National Geographic producer. He also wrote specials for Discovery Channels’ Shark Week.

“There are so many great series at the library,” Wilk says. “I hope this is one more that will elevate the community.”

And — with speakers like Dr. Robert Ballard — take us to unimagined depths.

(General admission seats for Michael Davie are $20 each. VIP tickets cost $100, and include preferred seating, and pre-show food and drinks with Davie and Andrew Wilk. Click here for tickets.)

* The virtual kind, of course.

Want To Know Who Won?

“06880” provides many services. Quick election night results is not one of them.

Fortunately, the Connecticut Secretary of the State’s office does. To find results for any town in Connecticut — after the polls close at 8 p.m. — click here.  Then:

  • Select the 11/05/2019 Election from the top drop-down menu
  • Select Your County
  • Select Your Town
  • Celebrate or commiserate accordingly.

Turnout was light this morning, at the Westport Library.

Tomorrow Is Election Day. Wherever You Live, A Westport Teen Can Help You Vote.

On Election Day, young people get a bad rap. They vote in lower numbers than any other age group — and Americans’ turnout for all ages is pretty pathetic to begin with.

Ella Berg is on a mission to change that.

Last year — as a Staples High School junior — she created an online primer for Westport voters. It included links to registration and voting information, plus short, factual descriptions of the positions of candidates for governor, senator, congressman, state representatives, and all other races.

This year, Ella’s gone national.

Ella Berg

Months ago before she turned 18, while trying to figure how to pre-register to vote, she noticed that information specific to one state was tough to find.

So Ella got to work. She researched all 50 states — plus Washington, DC and 4 US territories — and then created a website, filled with information and links.

For every state, she had to find a general information page that provides details on voter identification requirements; how to vote online or cast an absentee ballot, and — crucially — offers a polling place locator.

It was hard work.

“Many state-sponsored voting sites are disorganized, outdated, or missing key information,” Ella says.

The result — VoteAcrossAmerica.org — is clear, coherent, easy to use. Click here to access it.

But Ella did not stop there.

As a young voter, she wants to make sure her peers know how and when to cast ballots. She emailed the website to deans of students at the biggest public universities in each state, suggesting they offer it as a resource. Most wrote back, saying they were happy to do so.

Ella is also marketing the site through Twitter (@VoteAcrossUSA).

A screenshot of the home page.

Amid all this she is a typical Staples senior, with all the excitement and stress of applying to college. She hopes to study public policy there — with the goal of reforming the electoral system, “to make American elections more accurately reflect the will of the people.”

She adds, “I believe that equal voter access is one of the most important factors in a strong democracy. Even though I am still in high school, I’d like to do everything I can to boost voter turnout.”

She’s already doing it. When it comes to civic responsibility and engagement, Ella Berg gets my vote.

(PS: Live in Westport? Click here for a quick link to all local voting information.)

From Gun Barrels To Garden Tools

The prophet Isaiah said it well:

They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.

Over 2,000 years later we use guns, not swords. And we use them not only against other nations, but on ourselves.

This morning, the Unitarian Church in Westport took Isaiah literally (with a 21st-century twist).

Retired Episcopal Bishop Jim Curry preached on his work of taking guns off the street, and transforming them into garden tools. He was joined by Jeremy Stein, executive director of CT Against Gun Violence.

After the service, Rev. Curry fired up his forge in the courtyard, and demonstrated the transformation.

Linda Hudson and Bishop Suffragan (ret.) Jim Curry, hard at work.

Truly, he practiced what he preached.

“Swords into plowshares; guns into gardening tools.” (Photos/Stephen Axthelm)

Molly Jong-Fast: Political Tweeter Talks Trump

Molly Jong-Fast knows she doesn’t know everything.

So she sticks to writing about what she knows.

Like women’s issues. The absurdity of the Trump administration. The fact that Republicans can’t quite figure out when life begins (conception? Or after children are ripped from their families at ICE detention facilities?).

And nepotism.

“I come from a famous family,” she says. “I know it well.”

Jonathan Fast, Erica Jong and Molly Jong-Fast.

Her mother and father were novelists. (You may have heard of them: Erica Jong and Jonathan Fast.)

Her paternal grandfather — Howard Fast — was a noted writer too. He became a political figure when he was jailed for refusing to name names in the McCarthy Era.

Jong-Fast’s in-laws are politically active too. Stewart and Connie Greenfield have spent decades working for — and running for office as — Democrats in Westport.

Erica Jong and Jonathan Fast lived in Manhattan and Weston. Molly went to pre-school and kindergarten here. She attended Singing Oaks Day Camp, and rode horses there. Her roots in this area are deep.

Which is why her appearance this Sunday (October 20, 2:30 p.m., Westport Library) is a bit of a homecoming.

The event is the Democratic Women of Westport’s Fall Forum. The title: “How We Can Use Social Media to Beat Trump.”

Molly Jong-Fast

Jong-Fast is no newcomer to the topic. She is a social media veteran. She has over 300,000 Twitter followers (and has tweeted 169,000 times). She’s active on Instagram and other sites, and is a regular contributor to the Daily Beast, Playboy and The Bulwark.

Her bona fides include Tucker Carlson calling her “not super smart.” But she has been skewered by Democrats too: Marianne Williamson once called Molly’s mother to complain.

Jong-Fast began her writing career as a novelist. Her satirical bent found an outlet after the 2016 election.

“Because I’m dyslexic, my brain has always been a bit off,” she says. “In English class, I’d always give the wrong answer to what a book was about.”

However, she notes, “that helps me make connections that are not always the usual ones. They’re not necessarily right or better. But they’re different.”

Her talk on Sunday will build on a theme she’s tweeted and written about often: the need for ordinary citizens to be “the public editor,” calling out disinformation wherever it appears.

But isn’t social media just an echo chamber? Whether we’re Democrats or Republicans, don’t we all listen only to the people we agree with politically?

Not necessarily, Jong-Fast says. “Every Democrat has a cousin who watches Fox News. You have to find that person, and engage with them.”

She worries about the state of our nation. “How do you get the white nationalism genie back in the bottle?” she wonders. “And misogyny, discrimination, the judiciary — it’s a disaster.”

However, she says, “the Democrats won the House in the mid-terms. Polling shows more and more people interested in impeachment. And the younger generation is awesome.”

Tweet that!

(Sunday’s event with Molly Jong-Fast is free, but space is limited. Click here to reserve a seat.)

Signing Up A Thief

Lawn signs — which really should be called “traffic island signs,” but that takes too long to say — are an easy, cost-effective way of advertising a political campaign, non-profit fundraiser, school play or sports tryouts.

Plenty of Westporters don’t like them. They clutter the landscape. Plus, many individuals and organizations ignore town regulations governing their placement and duration.

But one person really hates them. He (or she)* deliberately removed several signs from the North Avenue traffic circle at Long Lots Road. Others were taken from Bulkley Avenue and Greens Farms Road.

We can’t tell whether the vigilante took signs for non-profits, candidates, or both. All the evidence is gone.

Well,  not all. The metal frames remain.

The traffic circle at Long Lots and North Avenue.

That’s a deliberate act.

You can love the signs. You can hate them.

But you can’t take them.

And you sure can’t take them, leaving only the frames behind.

That just advertises you’re a jerk.

* Though for some reason I’d bet anything it’s a guy.

Westporters Strike For Climate Change

Scores of Westporters — young, old and in between — gathered on the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge today. They were part of an international Climate Strike effort, raising awareness of the need for urgent action.

Greens Farms Elementary School students Camryn Brink, Charlotte Pendergast, Ella Vitulich and Capri DiVincenzo deliver an important message. (Photo/Alli DiVincenzo)

Over the years, the Post Road bridge has been the scene of numerous political protests. Today’s message was simple: Act now, so that when the youngest protesters are the age of the oldest, they’ll still have a planet to live on.

David Mark Brown adds his voice too. (Photo/Alli DiVincenzo)

Facing Up To A Swastika: Jesup Green Event Set For Today

Longtime Westport activist Darcy Hicks writes:

Tonight at 5 p.m., on Jesup Green, we will come together to define who we are as a community, in a struggling country.

Anti-Semitic incidents have been increasing in America at an alarming rate. The Anti-Defamation League says that in 2017, anti-Semitic incidents jumped 57% over the previous year, and 2018 showed the third-highest rate of incidents on record. This year is faring no better.

Westport — as we know from last week — is not immune.

The discovery of a swastika, carved into a bathroom wall, has challenged our community. The question is how we deal with that challenge.

We need to focus not on “who?” but “how?” How did the plague of hatred in this struggling nation manage to puncture our town? Whether the perpetrator was a white nationalist (unlikely), or looking for attention (more likely), the ball is in our court.

And all Westporters are on that court, whether we want to be there or not. Our response matters.

According to Steve Ginsburg, director of ADL Connecticut — and a Westport resident — “The measure of that school, or that community, is not what happened there, but how they respond to it, and what they did to try to prepare people and prevent it from happening.”

True to that statement, Westport schools have handled the incident swiftly and expertly, with the collaboration of the Westport Police, the ADL, and the support of our elected officials.

Education is always the key. But education should not be limited to school grounds and school hours.

How much do you know about your child’s understanding of the symbol of a swastika? How do they feel when they see one? Afraid? Numb? And are there other forms of intolerance — to race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity — occurring in our kids’ lives? How can we help?

Tonight at 5 on Jesup Green, we come together as a community to learn from those who know how to begin answering these questions.

By this effort — not the hate crime — we will be measured.

(Speakers include Ginsburg; Lauren Francese, K-6 social coordinator, Westport Public Schools; Rev. John Morehouse, Unitarian Church of Westport, and Conor Pfeifer, Triangle Community Center. For more information, click here.)

Climate Strike Set For Friday

When Lisa Podurgiel heard Bill McKibben interviewed on “Fresh Air,” her ears perked up.

And her heart sank.

The environmentalist’s new book is called “Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out?” Though the Westporter thought she knew plenty about climate change, McKibben opened her eyes to “new, very frightening — and infuriating” ideas.

For example, McKibben said:

fossil fuel companies knew everything there was to know about climate change in the 1980s. They knew how much it was going to warm and how fast, and they believed it. Exxon began building all its drilling rigs to compensate for the rise in sea level they knew was coming.

What they didn’t do was tell any of the rest of us — just the opposite. Beginning right about 1989 or so, they began to pour huge sums of money into this architecture of deceit and denial and disinformation that kept us locked for 30 years in a sterile debate about whether or not global warming was real, a debate that both sides knew the answer to at the beginning.

Realizing that we’ve wasted the past 30 years, Podurgiel was inspired to act. She joined 350.org, McKibben’s citizen movement. (The name comes from 350 parts per million — the safe concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.)

Through 350, she learned of an international, youth-led, all-ages Global Climate Strike. The Westport event is set for this Friday (September 20, 11 a.m.,  Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge).

Several years ago, activists held a climate change protest on the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Post Road bridge. (Photos/Bruce McFadden)

Podurgiel says that New York City public schools will excuse the absences of  students who participate in the strike.

The Westporter hopes Westport youngsters — and anyone else — will join her on the Post Road bridge, the traditional site of political protests.”Strike like your future depends on it,” she says.

“Because it does.”

Honoring Rachel Doran

In August 2018, Rachel Doran — a rising senior at Cornell University, former National Merit Commended Scholar, talented Staples Players costume designer, and founder of “Rachel’s Rags,” a company that makes intricate cotton and fleece pajama tops and bottoms — died.

She was diagnosed a month earlier with Stevens Johnson Syndrome and Toxic Epidermal Necrolysis, a rare reaction to common medications. She then developed Adult Respiratory Distress Syndrome — another rare syndrome.

Rachel was mourned by many. Her presence continues to be felt by those who knew and loved her.

Among them is State Senator Will Haskell — a classmate of Rachel’s at Staples High School. Recently, he petitioned the state to name a road after her.

A sign recently went up on the Sherwood Island Connector. Now her name will be known by many.

(Hat tip: Elaine Daignault)