Category Archives: Politics

Roundup: Roe Halper, Southport Diner, Elusive Objects …

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After Roe Halper’s husband Chuck died in 2017, the noted artist wanted to make a tribute incorporating emotion, interpretation and design. She used lndia ink with Chinese brushes to create a book called Passage, about Chuck’s passage through life.

“Although I was thinking of him when I created it, it has a universal theme,” Roe says.

Passage is available at the Westport Library Store, Westport Museum of History & Culture (formerly the Westport Historical Society) and Barrett Book Store in Darien, and directly from Roe (203-226-5187; chalper@optonline.net).

A page from “Passage,” by Roe Halper.

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Once upon a time, it was the Athena Diner.

It had a grand reopening yesterday with a new name: The Southport Diner.

The website says: “Chef John and his brother Chef Adonis, aka Tony the Greek, grew up running Andros Diner in Fairfield, working with their father Leo Pertesis.”

So though the name has changed, it’s still one of those Northeast favorites: a Greek diner. (Hat tip: Isabelle Breen)

Southport Diner

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How do you capture the most elusive objects in the solar system?

I’m not sure. But Thierry Legault may.

The world renowned astrophotographer joins the Westport Astronomical Society on May 18 (8 p.m.) for a virtual talk on the topic of elusive objects.

From his home “in the light-polluted suburbs of Paris,” he’ll show some of those elusive objects he’s captured — like images of the International Space Station, eclipses and transits.

The event will be presented both as a Zoom webinar (click here to register), and a YouTube livestream (click here for the page).

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Dr. Suniya Luthar is familiar to many Westporters.

The emerita professor of psychology at Columbia’s Teachers College led a longitudinal study on youth and resilience here. She chose Westport because of its high number of high-achieving professionals, and the emphasis on status and achievement. 

That study was referenced in a guest essay in today’s New York Times. The piece looks at the mental health of young people today. Click here to read. But beware: The news is not good.

Psressures — academic, social and other — are high on teenagers today. (Photo/Dan Woog)

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“Goodbye Honey.”

That’s the name of the new movie from Todd Rawiszer. The 2007 Staples High School graduate produced and co-wrote the film.

Shot in Westport and Pennsylvania, it follows 2 women who must trust each other to survive the longest night of their lives. They are “badass, strong women,” as well as good Samaritans.

“Goodbye Honey” was screen at festivals across the country, winning Best Thriller Feature, Best Actress and Best Supporting Actor at the Garden State Film Festival, Best Lead Performance at the Nightmares Film Festival, and Best Actress at NOLA Horror Film Festival.

It will be released May 11 on cable, satellite and digital HD>

Click below for the trailer:

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Nature continues to elate and inspire us. Lavinia Lawson spotted this handsome sight at Grace Salmon Park …

(Photo/Lavinia Lawson)

… while Lauri Weiser snapped this shot at the Lansdowne condominiums.

(Photo/Lauri Weiser)

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Former Westporter Alex Lasry is running for the United States Senate.

In Wisconsin.

The 33-year-old Democrat hopes to unseat Republican Ron Johnson. Lasry has taken a leave from his position as Milwaukee Bucks senior vice president. His father — a billionaire businessman and hedge fund executive — co-owns the NBA team. The Lasry family first lived on Sylvan Road North. Marc Lasry now lives on Beachside Avenue.

Before the Bucks, Alex Lasry worked in the Obama White House for senior advisor Valerie Jarrett. He was host committee chair for the 2020 Democratic Convention, which was planned for Milwaukee but held virtually due to COVID. (Hat tip: Gloria Gouveia)

Alex Lasry

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And finally … in honor of the Westport Astronomical Society’s lecture capturing the most elusive objects in the solar system:

[OPINION] Aquarion’s Diversionary Tactics

Dr. Stefanie Lemcke is a technology entrepreneur. She moved to Westport in 2012, and is an immediate neighbor to the Aquarion property. She, her husband Marc and several other Westporters started Smart Water Westport, to educate the community on water issues. She writes:

Aquarion is the only water provider in Westport. and many towns nearby.

Water prices are proposed by Aquarion, and set by the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority. As Westporters might suspect from watching their water bills, prices always go one direction: up.

Though Connecticut has plenty of water, only residents of Hawaii and Alaska pay more.

Over the past few years, Aquarion filed for a special permit to dismantle the existing water tank on North Avenue, and replace it with 2 much larger tanks that would quadruple the water storage capacity.

PURA members and protesters at the Aquarion North Avenue water tower site visit in 2018 …

At meetings and through petitions, residents requested lower height of the tanks. Neighbors formed Smart Water Westport to argue for better management of our water, and smaller tanks.

The group raised 2 main arguments:

  • The North Avenue property was not zoned for such a large facility in a residential neighborhood (according to town zoning, water tanks are only allowed in AA neighborhoods if they served the immediate neighborhood)
  • The amount of water wasn’t needed for our town. The population had not increased, so why would we need 4 times the storage capacity?

Our state senators and First Selectman Jim Marpe wrote to Aquarion, supporting our request to decrease the tanks’ size.

Danielle Dobin, now chair of the Planning & Zoning Commission, wrote a personal appeal to Aquarion’s CEO to reconsider construction in this location.

Aquarion countered that Westport indeed faced a water shortage: Water usage was skyrocketing, and the company had implemented an irrigation schedule here to save water.

The company even bought television ads to convince us that without these tanks, we would face a terrible shortage of water.

In the end, a settlement granted Aquarion the right to build the tanks at a reduced height of the roof. The total price tag: $10 million, and a 2-year construction period.

… and the current tank.

Curiously, almost immediately after winning approval to build the tanks in the middle of a residential neighborhood, Aquarion applied to divert water from the Westport system to lower Fairfield.

The amount is unbelievably high. The permit asks to divert more than 14 million gallons per day.

Aquarion is telling us that we have more than enough water in our region, and we can easily divert some to Darien, New Canaan and Greenwich. Aquarion even sells water to Westchester and New York City.

All the arguments for building the tanks are suddenly flipped. There will be no shortage. There is plenty of water here: The Westport wells are actually not for Westport, but for Lower Fairfield.

On average, more than 60 million gallons per day is available (a number the company did not disclose during the water tank hearings).

The town of Fairfield and environmental agencies have filed for intervenor status, asking Aquarion to be transparent with their analysis and reasons regarding the need for this substantial increase in the volume of water diversion, as well as its impact on water quality, the environment, water usage and conservation.

Watch your water bills. Refurbishing the old tank would have cost just $1.5 million. Now, customers are paying for more than $10 million.

To make matters worse, we are paying for water that is diverted elsewhere, and sold to New York City.

Please email our town and state representatives, and our local P&Z chair. Ask them to get involved in the diversion petition, and to question Aquarion’s practice.

Also, register for May 4 (3 p.m., Zoom): the last discussion around Aquarion’s water diversion permit. Every citizen should have a say in how one of our most prized assets is being used — and the price we pay for it.

Roundup: Ramadan, Michael Douglas, Daffodils …

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It’s a Ramadan tradition for Muslims to visit civil service offices, meet executive officers in person, and thank them for their contributions.

Yesterday, Feroz Virani, Adil Kassam and Tameeza Asaria — members of the Ismaili Muslim community — presented 1st Selectman Jim Marpe, Police Chief Foti Koskinas and Fire Chief Robert Yost with a gift of appreciation.

At Town Hall …

… Police headquarters …

… and the fire station. (Photos courtesy of Town of Westport)

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Westport Republican Town Committee member Jim Campbell has tossed his hat in the ring: for chair of the Connecticut Republican Party.

A former chair of the Greenwich Republican Town Committee whose early and avid support of Donald Trump was chronicled in Evan Osnos’ New Yorker story “How Greenwich Republicans Learned to Love Trump,” Campbell is an executive with Frontier Communications.

Jim Campbell

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The cover story for AARP Magazine’s April/May issue is Michael Douglas.

In a long interview about his life and career, the 76-year-old actor mentions his teenage years in Westport:

I was into hot rods, tinkering with cars. I worked at a Mobil station at one point, and my first real award was Mobil Man of the Month. I was also a member of a group called the Downshifters. A little bit like the Jets in West Side Story: [sings] “When you’re a Jet, you’re a Jet all the way.”

I had a D.A. — when you’d comb your hair to look like a duck’s ass — the D.A., we called it. We were known to spend a little time locating automobiles that had parts that we wanted. Not proud about it, but it kept me out of a lot of other trouble.

Click here for the full interview.

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Scott Smith writes: “I can’t remember a prettier season for daffodils and forsythia. I read an New York Times article on tulips that suggested the snow cover this winter may have helped. I

“I don’t recall buying any type of daffodil with multiple blooms, though I know some such varieties exist. So when I spotted this pretty bloom in my yard, I wondered if I have some sort of self-evolved mutant. Anybody else around town have this sort of daffodil?”

Daffodil lovers: Click “Comments” to respond!

(Photo/Scott Smith)

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Speaking of blooms: The Westport Garden Club’s annual plant sale has a new venue: Jesup Green. The date is Friday, May 14 (9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.).

Also new this year: the option to pre-order plants online, for curbside pickup. The ordering page goes live May 1, at http://westportgardenclub.org.

Held annual since 1928 (except during World War II, and last year’s pandemic), the event features over 1,000 homegrown perennials from members’ own gardens, with a special section of Connecticut native plants. Club members will be on site, for advice. Each plant has a tag with care information too.

The Westport Book Shop — across Jesup Green — will offer a selection of garden books.

Proceeds from the sale — and the club’s booth at the Westport Museum for History & Culture’s May 1 Spring Market — support the club’s projects, including maintenance of local public gardens and parks. For more information, click here.

Getting ready for the sale.

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Westporter Melissa Bernstein has been very open about her lifelong battle with existential anguish and depression. LifeLines — the multimedia platform recently launched, in collaboration with Doug, her husband and fellow Melissa & Doug toy company founder — has gotten great publicity.

One of the most in-depth and powerful stories was just published in the Washington Post. Click here to read. (Hat tip: Marc Selverstone)

Melissa Bernstein reads her “LifeLines” book.

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Food insecurity and cancer are both difficult situations. Too often, they go together.

In honor of Mother’s Day, Pink Aid is helping struggling moms feed their families. With every the breast cancer support group will purchase food cards for women battling both breast cancer and financial hardship.

Pink Aid will send every donor’s mother a card acknowledging the meaningful gift. For every donation of $100 or more, they’ll send the donor (or donor’s mom) a reusable insulated grocery bag. Click here to donate.

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From the Cincinnati Reds to Greens Farms Academy. That’s the unusual career path for the private school’s new athletic director. Eric Lee — senior director of player development for the MLB team — begins his next job in early July. He replaces Tauni Butterfield, who is moving to North Carolina after 2 decades at the Beachside Avenue school.

Lee’s 8 years with the Reds includes stints at director of baseball operations and senior director of international operations. He played baseball at Haverford, where he earned a BA i political science. He then taught world history and coached coaches baseball at basketball at Hawaii Preparatory Academy before returning to Haverford as an assistant dean of students and assistant baseball coach. He also worked and coached at National Presbyterian School in Washington, DC — and earned a law degree from the University of Maryland.

Eric Lee

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And finally … on this day in 1965 Luciano Pavarotti mad his La Scala debut in Franco Zeffirelli’s production of “La Bohème.” Here he is, 21 years later:

Roundup: Compo Beach Bench, Walter Mondale, COVID Uptick …

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Last month, Martin Crouse’s memorial bench disappeared from the peninsula near Ned Dimes Marina.

“06880” posted the heart-wrenching story. Less than 48 hours later, Westport Police located it.

Westporters celebrated. Soon, we can all celebrate even more.

Martin’s wife Laurie reports that the bench is at the Parks & Recreation maintenance facility, awaiting a more secure installation.

“Debbie Detmer (Parks & Rec administrative assistant) has been amazing,” Laurie reports.

Yesterday, the women met at the site. Debbie brought signage (photo below), attached to a stake. So soon — when a crew delivers the bench back to the beach —  they’ll know exactly where it goes.

And from then on, it’s not going anywhere.

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Walter Mondale led quite a life. His death yesterday, at 93, resonated deeply with Andy Meyers.

In 1979, the Staples High School senior took part in a Washington internship program created and administered by social studies teacher Dave Harrison. Meyers worked with Vice President Walter Mondale.

He continued his association long after Mondale left the Carter administration. This morning Meyers — now living in Wilton — said, “He should be an inspiration to all of us to dedicate our lives to making the world a better place for humans to live together.”


Andy Meyers (left) and another staffer in Berlin, New Hampshire in the summer of 1983, in the very early days of preparing for the New Hampshire primary. Walter Mondale went on to win the Democratic nomination for president in 1984, but lost badly to incumbent Ronald Reagan.

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A Westport native, Staples High graduate and mother of students currently in the Westport schools writes this open letter to town officials:

“I am very very concerned about the uptick in coronavirus cases.

“I have spoken to at least 7 families in the last week that had COVID over the last 2-3 weeks. I have no doubt that with the amount of people who traveled last week and shared photos of all the places they were visiting (and not everyone was fully vaccinated), that we will have a big spike over the next 2 weeks.

“I am concerned about kids playing sports over the next 2 weeks as well.

“The families that caught it have very similar symptoms: fever, weakness, chills, cough for over 2 weeks. It needs to be emphasized by everyone in Westport that we will have another super-spreader again if we continue not adhering to the guidelines, and everyone starts going back to normal. We are not on the other side of this virus yet.

“I encourage you and the town leadership to send emails daily about this rise in cases, and emphasize that people need to get tested and quarantine.”

“Masked COVID Portrait” (Dereje Tarrant, age 14)

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Got excess prescription pain relievers, stimulants, tranquilizers or sedatives lying around the house? Maybe some vape pens?

This Saturday (April 24, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.), the Westport Police Department invites will collect them, at the Senior Center (21 Imperial Avenue). It’s part of National Prescription Drug Take Back Day.

It’s free anonymous — no questions asked.

The collection site cannot accept liquids, needs or sharps — only pills or patches. Click here for the disposal of vape pens. For more information, click here.

There’s a year-round collection bin at Westport police headquarters. Prescription drugs can be disposed of at any time there.

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The Westport Library’s Verso Studios will host 2 film camps for teens this summer. Documentary Filmmaking will be led by documentary filmmaker Mick Davie (National Geographic, Discovery Channel, History, Channel, CNN, NBC), while TV News Reporting is run by former ABC News journalist Jay Schadler.

The 5-week Filmmaking program runs June 21 through July 22. It includes 3 two-hour virtual workshops each week, 1-on-1 virtual sessions with Mick, and additional instruction on editing and technical issues with experts in film and television.

It is limited to 24 students, working in teams of 3 or 4. Their finished products — short documentary films — will be available on the Library’s YouTube channel.

finished product will be a short documentary film that will be uploaded to the Library’s YouTube channel.

The 4-week TV News Reporting camp (also limited to 24 students) runs July 12 to August 5. With virtual and live classes, it culminates in a newscast with video stories found, developed, shot and edited by participants.

For more information and to register, click here.

Part of the Westport Library’s Verso Studios.

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Attention all restaurant owners! Winfield Street Coffee owner Breno Donatti sends along news that the Small Business Administration is administering $28.6 billion in pandemic funds to small restaurants, caterers, food trucks and others hit hard by the pandemic.

The Restaurant Revitalization Fund is a streamlined process. Click here for details.

Small restaurants like Winfield Street Coffee are eligible for federal COVID relief funds.

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New York Adventure Club is headed to the ‘burbs.

A special webinar this Thursday (April 22, 5:30 p.m.) brings viewers — from anywhere in the world — to Westport. The topic F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald’s summer here.

Robert Steven Williams — director of “Gatsby in Connecticut,” one of the New Yorker’s best films of 2020 — will talk about the author’s background; an overview of Westport in the 1920s (Prohibition was not always prohibitive), and the town’s influence on The Great Gatsby. He’ll share video clips too, and never-before-seen photos of Westport and New York from the ’20s.

Williams hosts a Q-and-A afterward too. Click here for tickets. (They include access to the full replay for one week.) (Hat tip: Dennis Jackson)

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Today’s wildlife shot: a pair of eagles at Sherwood Island State Park …

(Photo/Debra Kandrak)

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And finally … because today is 4/20:

 

Roundup: Vaccines, Zoning, Schlaet’s Point, Ospreys …

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Not every “06880” reader lives in Westport. Sarathi Roy notes: “New York or New Jersey residents can book COVID vaccine appointments in their home state or in Connecticut.”

Here is New York state information:

A few days ago, “06880” posted a comprehensive list of Connecticut vaccine options, thanks to Sarathi’s HR department. Click here for information on CVS, Walgreens, Yale New Haven Health, Stamford Health and VAMS sign-ups.

In addition to that list, Sarathi adds:

  • Check your town’s website for information and clinics available only to residents. You may be able to register in advance or receive a call for available appointments or excess doses.
  • Connecticut’s  Vaccine Assist Line (877-918-2224) operates 7 days a week, from 8am-8pm. Agents can schedule appointments at state-run clinics. If you call early and are given the chance to leave a message, you should. They accept a certain number of messages each day, then call those people back throughout the day to assist in booking appointments. Once the maximum number of calls for the day has been reached the message option is turned off.
  • You can now search additional locations, including supermarkets and local pharmacies. A great tool to see who is administering the vaccine in your area is Vaccinefinder.org. Search a zip code, make note of the providers nearby, then search for booking websites.
  • Here are a few of the more common ones:
    Rite Aid

ShopRite

Big Y

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Did you miss last night’s webinar on the many housing bills making their way through the state’s General Assembly, and their possible impact on Westport?

Planning and Zoning chair Danielle Dobin gave a comprehensive overview. Our 4 local legislators — Senators Will Haskell and Tony Hwang, and Representatives Jonathan Steinberg and Stephanie Thomas — tackled the pros and cons. Viewers asked questions. It was a wide-ranging, engaging 80 minutes. (And I would say that even if I had not served as moderator.)

It’s now available to watch — or re-watch — at your leisure. Click here for the link.

Everything you wanted to know about zoning — including sewers — and more.

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One of the few positive parts of the pandemic: Many more Westporters have had time to walk.

Because we practice social distancing, we’re not always on the sidewalk. And — as Tammy Barry’s photo of Hillspoint Road at Schlaet’s Point shows — the result is some barren patches where grass once grew.

I’m sure saltwater flooding had something to do with t too.

(Photo/Tammy Barry)

Here’s hoping the town can find some resources to bring this beautiful stretch of waterfront back to what it once was.

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CNN anchor (and Westport resident) Alisyn Camerota’s last day on “New Day” is today. The show was filled with many nice tributes. Yesterday, co-host John Berman started things off (click here to see).

Alisyn is not going very far — just a few hours later. She’ll anchor CNN’s weekday coverage with Victor Blackwell.

Congratulations, Alisyn, on your new gig — and the chance to sleep in a little longer. (Hat tip: Seth Schachter)

Alisyn Camerota

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Today’s osprey report comes courtesy of Chris Swan.

He wants Westporters to know that there are 3 platforms near Sherwood Island State Park.

One is in the saltmarsh behind the Nature Center, midway to the last house off Beachside Common.

The second is in the saltmarsh on the eastern shore of Sherwood Mill Pond, several hundred feet above the Compo Cove homes. It’s visible from the path on Sherwood Island’s western edge, above the fire gate to Compo Cove.

Both platforms are occupied by returning osprey pairs.

A 3rd location can be seen from the saltmarsh shore of the northeastern corner of the Mill Pond, looking west. This was erected last fall. No osprey pair has yet staked their claim.

A 4th platform is at the entrance to Burying Hill Beach, in the marsh across New Creek. Chris has watched it for 10 years, but has never seen it occupied.

He thinks it’s too low. He believes old utility poles make the best platforms — citing the ones at Fresh Market, Longshore’s E,R. Strait Marina, and Gray’s Creek.

Chris should know: He spent his professional career with Eversource.

The newest osprey platform in Sherwood Island Mill Pond. A house on Grove Point is visible behind it. (Photo/Chris Swan)

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Congressman Jim Himes holds a Facebook Live session today (Wednesday, April 7) at 3 p.m. He’ll discuss how constituents can benefit from the American Rescue Plan. Click here to watch live. To watch later, click here.

Congressman Jim Himes

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And finally … on this day in 1940, Booker T. Washington became the first African-American depicted on a US postage stamp.

In November 1944, Booker T. Jones Jr. was born in Memphis. He was named after his father, Booker T. Jones Sr., a high school science teacher — who himself was named in honor of Booker T. Washington, the educator.

 

TEAM Westport Teen Essay Winners: “Black Lives Matter”

Black lives matter.

They matter in Westport. And they matter to Staples High School students.

That’s evident from the responses to this year’s TEAM Westport Teen Diversity Contest.

The 8th annual event — open to all students attending high school here, or who live in Westport and go to school elsewhere — focused on the broad yet controversial movement that gained strength and power last summer, following the deaths of unarmed Black Americans.

The prompt from TEAM Westport — our town’s multicultural organization — was:

The statement “Black Lives Matter” has become politicized in our country.  In 1000 words or fewer, describe your own understanding of the statement.  Consider why conversations about race are often so emotionally charged. Given that reality, what suggestions do you have for building both equity and equality in our schools, community and country?

Nearly 2 dozen students submitted essays. The winners were announced last night. A small group attended the ceremony at the Westport Library, which co-sponsored the contest. Many others watched via Zoom.

Nearly 2 dozen students submitted essays.

TEAM Westport Teen Essay Contest finalists (from left): Curtis Sullivan, Maxwell Tanksley, Jaden Mello.

Maxwell Tanksley won 1st prize — and $1,000 — for his essay, titled “Words of Power.” The Staples High junior writes powerfully about his experiences — and emotions — as a Black teenager growing up today. He recognizes too the emotions of his white friends, in his deeply personal essay.

Second place, and $750, went to Staples freshman Curtis Sullivan. In “Black Lives Can Matter More. Here’s How,” he takes a somewhat contrarian view, arguing that both the “Black Lives Matter” name and the lack of clear leaders led to misinterpretation, and allowed detractors to tarnish its message.

Placing 3rd, with a prize of $500, was Jaden Mello. The Staples sophomore’s essay — “The Responsibility of a Nation” — looks at the BLM movement from the perspective of a white student, eager to understand and help.

TEAM Westport chair Harold Bailey.

1st Selectman Jim Marpe, TEAM Westport chair Harold Bailey, Essay Committee chair Susan Ellis, chief judge Dr. Judith Hamer and Library executive director Bill Harmer all spoke about the importance of the contest, and hearing young voices.

But the evening began to those young voices themselves. The 3 winners delivered their excellent essays with poise and passion.

Each looked at the subject through a different lens. Taken together, they offer an important look at a complex issue — one that 3 Westport teens are not afraid to tackle.

You can read — and reflect on — their essays below. (To read the winners of all 8 TEAM Westport essay contests, click here.)

MAXWELL TANKSLEY: “WORDS OF POWER”

Does your life matter? For many in Westport, this question borders on absurd.

How could my life not matter? For us people of color, however, this question has become more pressing, and the answer has become more disturbing.

For me, the answer to that simple question comes from the deepest depths of history and identity and it emerges not as a fully formed manifesto or
speech, but as a strong bundle of emotions.

My life matters. I decided on that one pretty quickly. I’ve also decided that would be the end of it—if I were white. There is not a doubt in my mind that my life matters to me. I recognize my own worth, I recognize my own ability.

I believe, for those same reasons, that my life matters to God and the universe.

But does my life matter to society? To put it bluntly, do I
matter as much to society as a white man?

No.

My life, black lives, simply matter less to the society we live in than those of our white counterparts, and we see it every day. We see it in Trayvon Martin, shot dead in the street. We see it in George Floyd, whose pleas and cries were met with stone-cold silence.

We see it in incarceration rates, with black Americans—only 12% of the population—making up 33% of the prison population. We see it in the courts, where our killers go free. We see it in jobs that won’t
hire us and laws that target us. We even see it in our friends, who say: “He wouldn’t have been shot if he weren’t resisting” or “You’ll definitely get into that school, you’re black”.

This vast dichotomy between what our lives ought to be worth and what they are worth is why the statement “Black Lives Matter” means so much to me. It fills that gap and expresses—contrary to society—that my life matters.

When I say the words “Black Lives Matter,” I feel many things. I feel pride in my black heritage. I feel awe at the tenacity of my ancestors, who suffered for being black. I feel enraged that I will be judged not by the content of my character, but by the color of my skin. All these latent feelings—characteristic of the black experience in America—explode cathartically when I think of the phrase “Black Lives Matter.”

Maxwell Tanksley

Of course, as my interpretations of Black Lives Matter are colored by my experiences, so too are those of others. I remember playing video games with a group of friends when the topic of recent Black Lives Matter protests came up.

One of them began to casually rant about how “black lives matter [are] criminals.” Agitated, I remarked that I had an inherent interest in Black
Lives Matter, and he flew into a tirade that gave me a slight chuckle.

He raved on about the sins of Black Lives Matter for nearly 10 minutes until another friend pulled him into a private call to deliver a nugget of information.

See, he had not known I was black — we had never met in person, so he assumed that I, like everyone else in the group, was white.

In a shocking twist, his demeanor changed. Somehow, the mere presence of someone with dark skin had caused his arguments to morph into backpedaling at such speed I began to fear for his health.

His and my reaction both were indicative of two different understandings of the phrase Black Lives Matter produced from 2 different worldviews from 2 different worlds. He understood it to be the rallying cry of self-victimizing criminals, using the wrongs of a distant past to create unjustified chaos. He saw groups of rioters marching down the main street, with police cars burning in the background. My rallying cry of empowerment was his siren song of destruction, both connected by strong emotional convictions.

Our discussions around race are often emotional because we have so many emotional memories relating to race, memories that we use to form our opinions about the matter. A child who was mercilessly bullied for coming from the poor side of town and one who felt that they unfairly lost their spot on a sports team to a child of a different complexion will have different outlooks on race in the future, and both will react emotionally when it is discussed.

Because my past experiences with race were emotional, my view of race is an emotional one. I react emotionally when the topic is brought up, I am emotional in my support for Black Lives Matter, and I am emotional in denouncing systemic racism.

On the other hand, my friend was equally emotional in his denunciation of Black Lives Matter. The emotions involved with discussions of race can be a problem, but they are also the solution. These emotions can cause feelings to be hurt and friendships to be broken, but they can also be the key to finding common ground.

When my friend learned I was black, he immediately began to consider how his words affected me. He and I had both felt the same emotions at points in our lives and he — if only subconsciously — began to empathize with me and understand why I felt the way I did.

Needless to say, not all issues of race will be solved with a magical cure of understanding and empathy. Reality isn’t a children’s cartoon. However, honest, open-minded discussions of race are the best step we can take towards promoting equity and equality in our society. By having these emotional conversations about race and by using these emotions to promote empathy instead of using them to fuel conflict, we can create a bridge to connect people with disparate experiences.

By having these conversations, we will encourage effective interracial
communication, and we will use empathy to create a better environment for people of all races.

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CURTIS SULLIVAN: “BLACK LIVES CAN MATTER MORE. HERE’S HOW”

ln the 1950s and 1960s, African-Americans protested unjust laws, which eventually helped frame the Civil Rights Act. But racial discrimination remains embedded in society, even
half a century later.

On May 25,2020, at the height of the worst pandemic the world had seen in over 100 years, tragedy struck the streets of MinnEapolis. George Floyd, an African-American man, was apprehended by police forces afTer unknowingly using a counterfeit $20 bill in a convenience store. He found himself with a knee on his neck, pinned by a police officer while he gasped, “l can’t breathe” — a phrase that became a symbol for the movement that ensued.

After 9 long minutes, he died. The coming weeks saw mass protests around the country, demanding an end to police violence and racial discrimination, calling for racial equality through laws and police reform, and raising awareness of implicit discrimination.

The movement, dubbed Black Lives Matter, was anything but novel. But the
added strain of the COVID-l9 pandemic, plus additional instances of the lack of police restraint when dealing with Blacks only fueled the flames of racial unrest.

There is no doubt that Black Lives Matter will be one of the most important movements of our time. While powerful and necessary, the BLM movement has some critical weaknesses that have been startlingly overlooked. These include: failure to communicate the movement’s message and purpose, and a lack of proper leadership to maintain relevance. Left unaddressed, these weaknesses
undermine the movement’s call to reform.

A clear and easy-to-understand message is critical to any effective communications, but particularly to a social movement. Suffragists argued for the right to vote, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke about a dream that all Americans were equal.

“Black Lives Matter” is a catchy phrase that left too much room for interpretation or confusion by too many. Some people who are
opposed to the BLM movement felt that Black Lives Matter silences anyone who isn’t Black. They believe that the movement is saying only Black lives matter, and suggests that non-Black lives don’t matter.

As such, oppositionists have responded to the BLM movement with their own,
dubbed “All Lives Matter.” This tried to convey the message that every life matters, including non-Black lives. All Lives Matter misses the point that Blacks have seen systemic oppression since the founding of this country. ln their efforts to remind BLM dissenters about the importance of Black lives, the protesters stoked fears in some non-Blacks, albeit unfounded, that Black lives might matter more than non-Black lives.

A simple fix might be changing the slogan to “Black Lives Matter, Too,” or “Black Lives Also Matter.” This change clarifies the message behind the Black Lives Matter movement, while disallowing oppositionists from claiming that their life might not also *matter.”

Curtis Sullivan

Undermining the call to reform, the Black Lives Matter movement failed to be clear about their purpose. During the initial phase of the movement, protests helped spawn rioting and violence. However, most of the rioters were not actual BLM protesters. Instead, opportunists were hiding behind the name and the momentum to initiate their own rampages and push political agendas.

Oppositionists were quick to accuse the BLM movement as supporting anarchy, distracting them from the movement’s intentions to improve racial equality.

These fears of anarchy were echoed by then-President Trump, who used the violence as an escape hatch, to get out of addressing racism as the crisis and the root of the movement. Several times Trump denied the existence of systemic racism in the US. Rather, he pushed a message of “Law and Order,” suggesting that the BLM movement was only demonstrating lawlessness, and ignoring the peaceful side of the movement.

Why were policy makers so focused on the “violent side” of the movement, instead of the original call to actisn? Because when riots first broke out, people within the BLM movement, who were calling for social justice reform, failed to denounce the riots. The movement’s message was not clear that it was advocating for police reform. Certain members of the movement even supported the riots and their violence. This distracted the public, and drew policy makers’ attention away from reform, and towards suppressing riots’

Most importantly, the BLM movement lacks key figures that the public can identify as its rightful leaders. During the civil rights movement, leaders were the public face of the movement. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr-, Rosa Parks, and Malcolm X were able to vocalize the vision, and keep people engaged in the fight for the end of racial segregation.

This also culminated in the famous March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, and the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which ended racial segregation in the US.

Every effective movement has some form of leadership representation to help
communicate the message of the movement. A person for the public to listen to, and for policy makers to meet with for negotiation and courses of action. Leaders can denounce violence in the name of the movement, and keep a public audience focused on the initial call.

Many will say that the BLM movement shouldn’t have leadership, as it is more focused on Black voices coming together against injustice, but leadership is important to maintain relevance in the movement.

One modern example is the Global Climate Strike of September 2019, spearheaded by Greta Thunberg. This movement caused people around the world to protest, encouraging world leaders to take action against climate change. Similar concrete leadership can help the BLM movement, and effectively convey an impactful message.

The BLM movement will be remembered for centuries to come. The call for social justice reform has left a lasting impact on society. However, without a clearer message, and strong leadership, the BLM movement will face significant obstacles in effecting major reform.

With these changes, I am hopeful it will be able to fight for a safe and harmonious future for all and for generations to come.

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JADEN MELLO: “THE RESPONSIBILITY OF A NATION”

George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Elijan McClain. Names most of us recognize.

But have you heard of Rayshard Brooks? Atatiana Jefferson? Botham Jean?

Somehow, so many victims of racially charged violence go unrecognized. Though we didn’t treat them as such, all these black lives mattered. Despite the simple, honorable roots of “Black Lives Matter,” it has been twisted into a politically charged statement due to white people’s threatened reaction to the movement,
caused by lack of awareness.

In our current political environment, the phrase “Black Lives Matter” has been twisted into a complex, controversial phrase. But its origins are simple, and meant to acknowledge the oppression of people of color. It is a reminder to our world that black voices need to be heard and are worth listening to just as much as anyone else’s.

It simply means that black lives matter as much as white lives. All lives can’t matter until black lives matter, so this phrase, this movement, is simply putting the focus onto a group of people that are not being treated as if they matter.

Many turn against this movement, screaming “All Lives Matter” in response. But this is a knee-jerk, defensive reaction. Often the people who feel so threatened by the BLM movement are accustomed to feeling a level of comfort in this world that has been built for them.

However, these people must understand that “Black Lives Matter” does not mean that black lives are superior. Despite centuries of protests, people of color are still oppressed and silenced. Our nation’s system is still pitted against them. Like Malcolm X said amidst the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960’s, “Black people are fed up with the dilly dallying, pussyfooting, compromising approach that we’ve been using toward getting our freedom. We want freedom
now.”

People of color have been denied their rights for centuries, and thus it is inevitable that they have become more and more impatient. They are tired of being told to wait for justice, respect, safety, and freedom, and with this frustration boiling for centuries, emotions have begun to overflow and surge through our nation.

Despite calls for change, people of color are still harmed, yet we expect them not to fight back. Malcolm X said that he believed it was a “crime” for anyone who was being abused to allow themselves to continue to be victimized without defending themselves.

The author Ta-Nehisi Coates said that “You do not give your body to the billy clubs of Birmingham sheriffs […] We must never submit ourselves […] to defiling and plunder.”

Jaden Mello

Despite their peaceful attempts to fight for equality, black people are still violently punished for these actions, constantly forced to accept abuse. Black people should not have to put themselves in harm’s way to fight for justice.

But it is also a crime to stand by and watch someone else be abused without defending them. White people must recognize that they have led privileged lives, and thus need to be willing to sacrifice parts of themselves in order to
defend their fellow black citizens.

As a white person, I will never be able to understand this pain and suffering, and the frustration that must come with it. However, I do understand that we cannot leave people of color to defend themselves from “defiling and plunder.” We must take part as equals in their fight, act as shields to protect them in their virtuous fight.

We must stand with them, for it is our responsibility to not force them to defend themselves and their rights alone.

In order to be allies of the Black Lives Matter movement, white people must yearn to be educated. We must not take over the movement, but simply listen and empathize so that we can better understand the oppression people of color are forced to endure as best we can. Only by doing this can we strive to become better, more useful teammates of those who have been oppressed.

Like Malcolm X said, “On the American racial level, we had to approach the black man’s struggle against the white man’s racism as a human problem.” None of us are innocent, none of us should be comfortable watching these events unfold without doing anything about it. Thus, like Malcolm X believed, we are all responsible to spread awareness and education.

The greater understanding people have of our nation’s history of oppressing people of color, of what has created this sense of entrapment and desperation, the more they will be able to sympathize with this movement, and hopefully eventually support and be a part of it.

Only by each person working to educate themselves and those around them, will Black Lives Matter be able to become de-politized, which will in turn enable people to be more open minded.

Only by doing this, will the movement be able to achieve its greatest and most influential potential in our communities and our nation.

From left: 1st Selectman Jim Marpe, Jaden Mello, Curtis Sullivan, Maxwell Tanksley, TEAM Westport chair Harold Bailey, Westport Library executive director Bill Harmer. (All photos/Dan Woog)

 

Roundup: Sandwiches, Easter Service, Voter Protection …

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And now — after more than 1,000 votes, for 21 competitors in 9 categories — the winners of the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce’s Great Sandwich Contest have been announced. The are:

  • Best Chicken Sandwich: Stiles Market
  • Best Steak Sandwich: JR’s Deli & Grille
  • Best Vegetarian Sandwich: Manna Toast
  • Best Combo Sandwich: Stiles Market
  • Best Club Sandwich: Joe’s Pizza
  • Best Wrap: Layla’s Falafel
  • Best Breakfast Sandwich: JR’s Deli & Grille
  • Best Pressed Sandwich: Mystic Market
  • Best Fish/Seafood Sandwich: Rizzuto’s

Honorable mention (coming within 5 votes of the winners): A&S Fine Foods, Calise’s Market and Fortuna’s

Winners receive plaques. Each winner will also offer a free winning sandwich to 9 lucky voters, who won the lottery in the category they voted in. For photos of the winners, click here.

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Saugatuck Church’s 1st-ever Easter drive-in worship service was — well, if not a miracle, then still pretty cool.

The back parking lot was filled with 45 cars (that’s around 13o people). The FM radio broadcast worked flawlessly, thanks to Mark Mathias. The service was punctuated with plenty of cheerful horn honks.

Dozens more watched the livestream on Facebook and YouTube. But that photo isn’t as interesting as the one below:

(Drone photo/Alexey Syomichev)

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You’ve probably heard there are zoning bills working their way through the General Assembly. You’ve heard that they may affect Westport.

But how?

Tomorrow (Tuesday, April 6, 6:30 p.m. Zoom), Westport Planning & Zoning Commission chair Danielle Dobin hosts an in-depth discussion, The focus is on what they mean for our town.

She will be joined by Westport’s 4 legislators: State Senators Will Haskell and Tony Hwang, and Representatives Jonathan Steinberg and Stephanie Thomas.

I’ll be the moderator. Click here to register.

One bill being considered would affect housing plans for the area around any town’s primary train station.

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Westport Book Shop Artist of the Month is Katherine Ross. Her watercolors will be on display throughout April at the Drew Friedman Art Place, in Westport’s popular used book store on Jesup Road.

Ross is a well-known artist and art teacher. She conceived the children’s mosaic wall at the Longshore pool, with work from over 1,000 middle schoolers. She has served on the Arts Advisory Committee and Westport Cultural Arts Committee, and co-chaired the Westport public schools’ Art Smarts program.  

The exhibit is open during the Book Shop’s business hours: Tuesdays through Fridays (11 a.m. to 6 p.m.), Saturdays (10 a.m. to 6 p.m.) and Sundays (noon to 5 p.m.

Katherine Ross, with her springtime watercolors.

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Tonight (Monday, April 5, 7:30 p.m., Zoom), the Democratic Women of Westport and Staples Young Democrats host a virtual session called “The Anti-Racist Policy Agenda: Connecticut Voter Protection.”

State Representative Stephanie Thomas — who represents part of Westport, and serves as vice chair of the General Assembly’s Government Administration and Elections Committee — will discuss the 2020 election in the state, possible expansion of access for voting, and building support for voter protection laws.

To get the link for the talk, or more information, email dww06880@gmail.com.

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And finally … speaking of “protection”: On this day in 1922, the American Birth Control League — predecessor of Planned Parenthood — was incorporated.

Hundreds Rally In Support Of Asian-Americans

Eloquent, heartfelt speeches — from a US Senator, Asian-American elected officials, Westport politicians and parents, and Staples High School students — highlighted this morning’s rally at Jesup Green.

A crowd of about 500 — Asian-Americans, white and black; longtime residents and newcomers; senior citizens, toddlers and everyone in between — held signs, wore t-shirts, and joined together to condemn violence against the AAPI community.

Behind the Jesup Green crowd, a flag flew at half staff in memory of Asian-Americans killed last week in Atlanta.

State Attorney General William Tong and State Senator Tony Hwang described their own experiences as children of immigrants, and blasted myths like “the model minority.”

State Senator Tony Hwang, 1st Selectman Jim Marpe, State Representative Jonathan Steinberg.

US Senator Richard Blumenthal noted that his own father arrived in the US alone, at 17, and believed, like so many others, in the American Dream. He said that he and a Republican colleague will introduce a “No Hate Act” next week, adding — in a nod to the diverse crowd — that “this is what America should look like.”

Senator Richard Blumenthal addresses the crowd.

Staples students Jacob Lee, Anya Nair, Gary Lu and Carrie Everett, plus college student Minnie Seo and parent Rosie Jon, spoke honestly about their own lives too.

A contingent of Staples students spoke eloquently.

It was a powerful outpouring of support. But — as several speakers noted — much more remains to be done.

Vijay and Kerstin Rao.

TEAM Westport chair Harold Bailey spoke. His wife, TEAM Westport member Bernicestine McLeod Bailey, was at the rally too.

Rally organizer Sarin Cheung (left) and Westport artist Rosie Jon both spoke.

There were many young people at the rally.

A small part of the large crowd.

(All photos/Dan Woog)

 

Roundup: Beach Access, Play In Hand, Pesach …

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A bill that would have banned municipalities from imposing high fees that might restrict non-residents from using public beaches — and from barring out-of-towners in order to prevent the spread of COVID — will not come up for a vote in the state legislature.

Politicians are spending their time on 2 other controversial measures — zoning reform and affordable housing — instead. The deadline for moving bills out of committee is April 5.

Click here for a full Norwalk Hour report.

Westport Parks & Recreation staff collect fees from non-residents.

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Speaking of our Parks & Recreation … they say:

“It has been nice to see so many people out using our facilities as the weather has improved, including some people using the Longshore golf course as an open space for walking. As of Monday (March 29), it will be open for play, and no longer available for those not actively playing golf.

“Please keep in mind, even using the roadways through Longshore can be dangerous as errant golf balls can cause serious injury or damage. For your safety, we urge you to use other locations for getting outside.”

Even with social distancing, Longshore golf course is off limits. (Photo/Mary Sikorski)

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Westport Country Playhouse’s popular “Script in Hand” series returns next month, with a virtual play reading of “Rent Control.” The Off-Broadway hit comedy tells the true story of a struggling-to-survive New York actor who invents a moneymaking scheme that (of course) backfires.

After premiering April 26 (7 p.m.), “Rent Control” is available on demand from April 27 through May 2.

Virtual tickets are available online, at 203-227-4177, or by email: boxoffice@westportplayhouse.org.

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Happy Passover — chag Pesach samech — to all who will celebrate tonight.

Gold’s was hopping yesterday. Here is a small part of the large crowd of people (and dogs), waiting to pick up food for the Seder.

(Photo/June Rose Whittaker)

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Meanwhile, we never get tired of these horses-at-Sherwood Island photos:

(Photo/Mandy Cummings)

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And finally … Larry McMurtry died on Thursday in Texas. He was 84.

He was a novelist, not a musician. But when he and Peter Bogdanovich adapted his novel “The Last Picture Show” into a movie, the soundtrack included a number of Hank Williams’ songs.

It’s still one of my favorite films of all time. And I’ve been a Hank Williams fan ever since.

TEAM Westport Plans Asian-American Program Tonight

TEAM Westport — the town’s multicultural commission — says:

TEAM Westport and the partnership of the Interfaith Council, Westport Library and Westport Country Playhouse extend our staunchest solidarity with and heartfelt embrace of our town’s Asian-American and Pacific Islander community.

That solidarity and embrace are matched only by the depth of our outrage over the rising tide of AAPI racism and violence, capped by the unspeakable murders in Atlanta last week. Both the first selectman and superintendent of schools have issued statements for the town and school system.

Our work over the past few years has been focused on dismantling the centuries-old legacies of layered racism and supremacy which have led us to this current circumstance. As such, our involvement with both the advent of the Equity Study mentioned by the superintendent, and the ongoing antiracism conversations mentioned by the first selectman, make it clear that this should be a time for focused reflection with our AAPI community.

Please join us for these upcoming events today (Wednesday, March 24) and next Wednesday (March 31). We will hold space for our AAPI friends and community members for times of sharing and exploration regarding racism and its impact on each of us here in Westport and nationwide.

  • Wednesday, March 24, 7 p.m:  Community Focus on Anti-AAPI  Racism (Virtual Event):
    • Forum hosted by:
      • Harold Bailey (Chair, TEAM Westport)
      • Alison Patton (Pastor, Saugatuck Congregational Church)
      • Jenny Nelson (Director of education and community Engagement, Westport Country Playhouse)
      • Bernicestine McLeod Bailey (TEAM Westport)
    • Join the discussion for solidarity and reflection on the rising tide of AAPI racism and violence. All are welcome.
    • Learn more and register through The Westport Library:
      https://westportlibrary.org/event/me-and-white-supremacy-the-challenge-continues/
    • [Note: The originally planned 4 sessions on “Me and White Supremacy”: The Challenge Continues have been postponed to (April 7 and 21, and May 5 and 19)].
  • Wednesday, March 31, 7 p.m. (Virtual Event):
    • TEAM Westport Schools Work Group. Join us for our next Schools Workgroup meeting. We will continue our discussion of white supremacy culture and how it shows up in our community, focusing on the recent tragedies against AAPI and Anti-Asian hate. All are welcome.
    • This is a Zoom meeting through the Westport Library: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/84428376997?pwd=WlZOaks3a2JKZHEwMUZrd1RuVTR5UT09
    • Meeting ID: 844 2837 6997; Passcode: 048473,