Category Archives: Politics

Heading To DC? Send Us Your Photos!

Tomorrow is quite a day for Donald Trump fans.

And the day after is just as big for those who are not.

If you’re traveling to Washington for Friday’s inaugural festivities — or the women’s march the day after — “06880” wants to be there too.

Email us your favorite photos (dwoog@optonline.net), plus a brief description of what you’ve sent. We can’t post everything — but we’ll do our best.

It’s the American way.

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Teens: What Do You Think Of White Privilege?

Since its founding in 2003, TEAM Westport has tackled some of society’s — and Westport’s — most intractable problems.

Now the town’s multicultural committee is asking teenagers to join them — and write about it.

TEAM Westport’s 4th annual essay contest focuses on the hot-button issue of white privilege. In 1,000 words or less, students are asked to describe the term; reflect on the extent to which they think white privilege exists, and address the impact it has had on their life — whatever their own racial or ethnic identity — and in our broader society.

TEAM WestportTEAM Westport chair Harold Bailey says, “A primary focus and concern of our organization since its inception has been the impact of the town’s relatively low levels of racial and ethnic diversity on our children. This year’s essay topic provides our young people an opportunity to reflect upon that impact, and make their personal statements about it in very meaningful ways.”

The 1st place winner will receive $1,000. Second prize is $750; 3rd is $500.

All students in grades 9 through 12 who attend Staples High School or another school in Westport, or who live in Westport but attend school elsewhere, are eligible.

That’s a somewhat diverse group. And if past essay contests are any indication, this contest will spur diverse reactions — and plenty of insightful essays.

TEAM Westport’s acronym stands for Together Effectively Achieving Multiculturalism. In many discussions of multiculturalism, the default identity of whiteness is simply assumed. That can be particularly true in Westport.

Let’s hear what today’s teenagers — tomorrow’s leaders, in an increasingly multicultural society — think.

The winning essays will be published on “06880,”

(Click here for contest applications. Essays are due February 27. To help sponsor the contest, click here or email info@teamwestport.org.) 

Cayla Yang Wears The Pantsuit

Donald Trump’s election took a lot of people by surprise. Many were “paralyzed or scared,” says Cayla Yang.

“I don’t do well with those emotions,” says the 2009 Staples High School graduate. “I’m not like, ‘woe is me.’ I’m more, ‘what can I do?'”

Cayla Yang

Cayla Yang

Cayla — a Staples field hockey player and yearbook editor who graduated from Northeastern University and now lives in Weston, while working as a consultant for a cloud computing company — always assumed that politicians would take care of her.

Now she’s not so sure.

But instead of paralysis, she chose action.

In the aftermath of Trump’s win, she reached out to Pantsuit Nation. The group of nearly 4 million (mostly) women had used Facebook to share stories of their support for Hillary Clinton. After her loss, it became a place to vent, express fears and frustrations, and find hope.

It also spun off local organizations, where (mostly) women began working together to do more than talk.

The Fairfield County group is called PSNCT — Pantsuit Nation without the actual name. And Cayla is one of its leaders.

“Telling stories is incredibly important. But this group is about advocacy,” Cayla says. “It’s about issues, concerns, and how to help.”

PSNCT has forged connections with politicians. A recent Town Hall meeting with Senator Chris Murphy in Bridgeport was “fantastic,” Cayla says.

Congressman Jim Himes came to an early PSNCT meeting. He discussed his priorities, and offered his assistance.

A photo posted to the PSNCT Facebook page shows a statue of PT Barnum in Bridgeport, "supporting" Saturday's women's march on Washington.

A photo posted to the PSNCT Facebook page shows a statue of PT Barnum in Bridgeport, “supporting” Saturday’s women’s march on Washington.

“We’ll do local fundraisers, and put our money where our mouth is,” Cayla promises.

“We recognize we have a privileged position here in Fairfield County. We want to use our influence to help people and organizations that don’t have our resources.”

Though Pantsuit Nation was created by Hillary Clinton supporters, Cayla says, “we shy away from labels. We want Republicans like Gail Lavielle and Toni Boucher” — state legislators representing this area — “to speak to us, and break down barriers.” Rep. Tony Hwang — a Republican state senator — attended Murphy’s Town Hall session.

As Inauguration Day looms, Cayla says PSNCT is focused on the days after.

“We’re looking to do good, and do it well,” she says.

(Click here for the PSNCT Facebook page. Hat tip: Julia McNamee)

Remembering Nat Hentoff

Nat Hentoff — the wide-ranging, free-thinking, controversial and passionate author, columnist, jazz critic and social bomb-thrower who died yesterday at age 91 — had a strong Westport connection.

Nat Hentoff

Nat Hentoff

A Boston native long associated with New York City — the AP describes him as “a bearded, scholarly figure, a kind of secular rabbi, as likely to write a column about fiddler Bob Wills as a dissection of the Patriot Act, to have his name appear in the liberal Village Voice as the far-right WorldNetDaily.com, where his column last appeared in August 2016,” and whose friends included Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Malcolm X and I.F. Stone — he had a Westport home for many years.

Hentoff appeared several times at the Westport Library, as a speaker. There he provoked local audiences, just as he did readers worldwide.

Once, in a talk on censorship — which he vehemently opposed — he startled the attendees by advocating firmly for the anti-abortion side of that volatile topic.

Hentoff’s sister, the poet Janet Krauss, was also a longtime Westport resident.

(Hat tip: Maxine Bleiweis)

DMV Just Got A Whole Lot More Crowded

When AAA moved its Compo Shopping Center location to Norwalk, Westporters were slightly inconvenienced.

As of this past Sunday, drivers throughout Fairfield County have many more hassles than that.

New Haven County, too.

On December 31, a contract between AAA Northeast — which serves those 2 counties — and the state Department of Motor Vehicles ran out. Because the 2 sides could not agree on new terms, AAA offices no longer offer driver’s license renewals, and other services.

That’s about 160,000 transactions a year, in both counties.

DMW wanted AAA to provide license renewal and similar services to members and non-members alike. That had been the policy — free to members, $5 for non-members — but AAA said that was not enough to cover its costs.

AAA’s services had been a godsend to drivers unwilling — or unable — to brave the long lines at DMV offices in places like Norwalk.

With the start of the new year, those lines got much, much longer.

This shot of the Norwalk DMV was taken last February -- when AAA was still providing driver's license renewal and other services.

This shot of the Norwalk DMV was taken last February — when AAA was still providing driver’s license renewal and other services.

(Hat tip: Peter Flatow)

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Former Westporter Looks Back On 2016

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Happy Holidays From Jim Marpe

Westport First Selectman Jim Marpe has released his annual video holiday message to Westport. Click below to hear the town’s chief executive talk about the “turmoil” of the previous year — and express hope that “passionate” and “devoted” Westporters will continue to make this a town we are all proud of.

Bridgewater-DC Connection?

Today’s Norwalk Hour reports that the frontrunner for Deputy Secretary of Defense in the Trump administration is David McCormick.

That’s “06880”-worthy because he’s the president of Bridgewater Associates — the Westport-based firm that just happens to be the largest hedge fund on earth.

Interesting. But even more intriguing is seeing if anyone makes a connection between McCormick and another Bridgewater guy: the former general counsel.

He too once lived in Westport. Guy by the name of James Comey.

For a hedge firm with a low profile, a current and former Bridgewater employee have been in the news lately.

For a hedge firm with a low profile, one current and one former Bridgewater employee have been in the news a lot lately.

 

It’s A Wonderful Bridge

Alert — and historic-minded — “06880” reader Wendy Crowther sent along this perfect holiday/Westport piece. She writes:

A few days ago, my TV remote dropped me into the last half of the 1946 holiday classic, It’s a Wonderful Life. I entered the story just as George Bailey ran onto the Bedford Falls Bridge and contemplated suicide. Luckily George’s guardian angel, Clarence, showed up just in time to help George see the value of his life, and its impact on his town and loved ones.

Though I’ve seen the movie a bazillion times, this time I noticed something I hadn’t seen before. George Bailey’s bridge was very similar to our own Saugatuck swing bridge (the William F. Cribari Bridge).

George Bailey on the Bedford Falls bridge (1946).

George Bailey on the Bedford Falls bridge (1946).

Due to my involvement over the last year and a half in efforts to not only document the history of our 132-year old span, but also save it from the impending doom of the state Department of Transportation’s scrap heap, I’ve become  sensitized to old bridges in general — particularly truss bridges like ours (and George’s).

Seeing the movie from this new perspective, I became intrigued by the film’s use of the bridge as a symbol. Sixty years ago, when It’s a Wonderful Life was first released, plenty of small truss bridges still existed. Clearly, it was one of many elements used by the filmmakers to convey the quaint, homey feel of a small, American town — towns like Westport, and thousands of others across the country.

George Bailey’s bridge, set in fictional Bedford Falls, plays a pivotal role in the story. The 2 most transformative moments occur as George stands upon it:  the first as he prepares to jump from it, the second when he returns to the bridge and desperately pleads, “I want to live.”

It’s believed that the town of Seneca Falls, New York was director Frank Capra’s inspiration for It’s a Wonderful Life. He supposedly visited Seneca Falls during the time the screenplay was being developed. Seneca Falls has a real bridge that looks much like the one depicted in the movie.

It also looks a lot like our Saugatuck swing bridge.

George Bailey on the Bedford Falls bridge (left); the actual Seneca Falls bridge (right). (Photos/Ottawarewind.com)

George Bailey on the Bedford Falls bridge (left); the actual Seneca Falls bridge (right). (Photos/Ottawarewind.com)

Though the Seneca Falls bridge and Westport’s are similar in many ways, Seneca’s can’t hold a candle to our own.

Our bridge, built in 1884, is 132 years old — the oldest active bridge of its type in the nation.  Seneca’s, built in 1915, is a mere 101. Both are truss bridges, though ours is longer and made of iron; theirs is made of steel. Our bridge swings open for boat traffic; theirs doesn’t. The roads over both bridges are known as Bridge Street — but ours has the additional honor of being designated a State Scenic Road.

Our bridge crosses the Saugatuck River; theirs crosses the Seneca. Both bridges are still in use and open to traffic. Neither is tall enough to allow semi-tractor trailers to cross.

But here’s where Seneca’s bridge has it over ours. It was rehabilitated in 1997.  Ours may meet the wrecking ball within the next few years — if the State has its druthers. DOT wants to make room for big rigs.

Original plans for the 1884 Saugatuck River bridge. (Image courtesy of Westport Historical Society)

Original plans for the 1884 Saugatuck River bridge. (Image courtesy of Westport Historical Society)

In the fictional town of Bedford Falls, and in the real-life towns of Seneca Falls and Westport, bridges are iconic symbols that tell a story, provide a sense of place, and teach us about our history. They span rivers and time. They connect what separates us, and they can deter what we prefer to fend off.

In It’s a Wonderful Life, the critical moment occurs as George stands for the 2nd time on the Bedford Falls Bridge and begs to have his old life back again. Suddenly, snow begins to fall. He is transported from his alternate reality and returned to the present. His gratitude sends him jubilantly running through the streets of Bedford Falls, shouting greetings to all the buildings and friends he cherishes.

As the film ends, all is well in Bedford Falls. Goodness triumphs over selfishness and greed, bells ring and the angel Clarence gets his wings.

The William Cribari (Saugatuck River) Bridge, Christmas Eve 2015. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

The William Cribari (Saugatuck River) Bridge, Christmas Eve 2015. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

Having newly seen It’s a Wonderful Life from the bridge’s perspective, I realize that it offers Westporters valuable insights and inspiration.

Will we fight hard to keep what many of us cherish — our Saugatuck swing bridge? What powerful forces will try to overcome valiant efforts to keep it just the way it is? What changes to the bridge could transform (or devastate) portions of our community forever? If we lose it, will we wish we had better understood the wisdom of its ways?

The film ends with 4 important words. The entire cast sings “Auld Lang Syne.”  Loosely translated from Scottish, the phrase means “for the sake of old times.”  Let’s remember those words.

(Wendy is a founding member of the Westport Preservation Alliance. For more information about the history of the Saugatuck Swing Bridge and the efforts to save it, click here.)

Westport’s Syrian Saga

Last year, Indiana Governor Mike Pence ordered all state agencies to halt the resettlement of Syrian refugees in Indiana. Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy countered by inviting them here.

Since then, a number of other Syrian families have arrived in our state. They’ve been welcomed, even embraced. And the folks helping them say they’ve gained as much as they’ve given.

Very quietly — but energetically and lovingly — a large group of Westporters has helped provide a new home for one Syrian family. They’ve kept a low profile. But now that Mohamed, Nour, Hala and Yahya feel comfortable, safe and more assimilated, they’re okay that their tale can be told.

The story has its roots in 1993. A Muslim family from Bosnia came to Westport. The Methodist minister housed them, and helped the parents find jobs. An orthodontist fixed their teeth for free. When the mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, a Jewish surgeon operated on her. There was no bill for the operation, chemotherapy and radiation.

A similar effort has borne fruit in 2016. Initiated last fall by Rev. Ed Horne of the United Methodist Church as an offshoot of the Westport/Weston Interfaith Council, it includes St. Luke Parish, Temple Israel, Saugatuck and Greens Farms Congregational Churches, Society of Friends (Quakers) in Wilton, and 15 Muslim families in the Westport area.

Additional support comes from Assumption Church, Christ and Holy Trinity Church, the Center for Humanistic Judaism, Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Weston, and the Al-Madany Center in Norwalk. The coalition is led by John McGeehan of the Methodist Church, Lynn Jeffery of Temple Israel, and Sister Maureen of St. Luke.

United Methodist Church volunteers Ellyn Gelman, Janis Liu and Brenda Maggio help prepare an apartment for the Syrian family's arrival. (Photo/Eva Toft)

United Methodist Church volunteers Ellyn Gelman, Janis Liu and Brenda Maggio help prepare an apartment for the Syrian family’s arrival. (Photo/Eva Toft)

Scores of volunteers make the project work.

Among them: Samer Hiba — owner of the Mobil Self-Serve by Barnes & Noble — who arrived in the US 23 years ago, and is now an American citizen.

The family — including 2 young children — fled Syria 5 years ago. They spent much of that time in temporary housing across Egypt.

The family arrived in mid-July. They live in Norwalk, close to the children’s elementary school.

Finding a home was not easy. A couple of possibilities in Westport were rented to others during the long wait. The Norwalk rental is less expensive than here.

Plus, admitted Rev. Horne, “Norwalk is more multi-cultural. There’s a mosque there. It’s walkable, and public transportation is great.” Neighbors, teachers and many other Norwalkers have embraced the refugee family.

Westporters have flocked to help too. More than 100 help drive the family to medical and immigration appointments; assist with language training and shopping, and provide other types of support like employment, education and translation.

“The goal is self-sufficiency,” says Delores Paoli, a 25-year Westport resident active in the Muslim community. They’re getting there.

But it’s not easy. Mohamed – the father —  is a highly educated man. An Arab literature major in Syria, with experience in the import-export business, he has found work as a chef at Whole Foods in Westport.

The family attended the Interfaith Thanksgiving service, held this year at Temple Israel. Mohamed stood in front of the Torah ark, and in a beautiful voice recited a section of the Koran.

That moment was significant, says Temple Israel rabbi Michael Friedman. He’d been active in interfaith efforts at his previous synagogue, in New York. After talking with Rev. Horne about Westport’s Bosnian resettlement effort, the rabbi felt confident committing his congregation to the project.

The annual Interfaith Thanksgiving Feast draws together many people, with a wide variety of religions.

The annual Interfaith Thanksgiving Feast draws together many people, with a wide variety of religions.

“There is such a strong interfaith sensibility in Westport,” Rabbi Friedman says. “Our work as clergy together, and our trust, allows our congregations to do this.”

He notes, “There are clear principled reasons in Jewish texts, and our history, to care for children, widows and strangers. Vast numbers of Jews have fled persecution and bad situations, and been taken in. Now we want to provide safe refuge for others.

“We see these terrible images of a humanitarian crisis halfway around the world. We feel helpless. This effort is a way to say that while we can’t solve the entire problem, we also can’t absent ourselves from it. We have to try.

“What we’re doing is empowering. We hope it changes some lives, now and for generations in the future.”

“We saw the refugee crisis, and thought about it,” Rev. Horne adds. “As Methodists we welcome all, without restrictions. This is a chance to put that value into practice, with people who are fleeing for their lives.”

After fleeing Syria, Mohamed and his family spent nearly 5 years in different parts of Egypt.

After fleeing Syria, Mohamed and his family spent nearly 5 years in different parts of Egypt.

Both Rabbi Friedman and Rev. Horne say they and their fellow clergy members have heard “nothing but positive things” from congregants.

“Our families who help may be getting more out of this than Mohamed’s family,” Dolores Paoli says. “As we all work together, we realize how much we can do.”

“Human contact is so important,” Rev. Horne concludes. “We see these beautiful children, and engage with the charismatic Mohamed and his lovely wife. It’s transformative. It breaks the Westport bubble. It gives us a new look at the world.”