Lowell Week in Review: June 25, 2017

History as It Happens: Citizen Bloggers in Lowell, Mass.

If you have become caught up in the controversy swirling around the site selection process for a new Lowell High School and want to learn more about the politics of the past decade that have brought us to this point, make sure to go to Lowell Telecommunications Corporation at 246 Market Street on Saturday, August 5, 2017 from 11:30 am until 1:30 pm and pick up the new Lowell book that will be released that day.

History as It Happens: Citizen Bloggers in Lowell, Mass. is a compilation of the writing and images from richardhowe.com over the past decade. Beginning with the special election that sent Niki Tsongas to Congress (and Marty Meehan to the Chancellorship of UMass Lowell) and ending with the local response to the election of Donald Trump as president, this book chronicles a decade of life in Lowell through hundreds of blog posts about politics, history, current events, place, poetry and much more. Featuring the work of 40 different contributors, History as It Happens recalls the big events and everyday life in Lowell from 2007 through 2016.

So please save the date – August 5, 2017 – and join us for a celebration of citizen journalism in Lowell.

Revisiting the High School Decision

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., the famous US and Massachusetts Supreme Court justice, once wrote, “on this point, a page of history is worth a volume of logic.” Holmes was writing about the estate tax, but his observation applies to almost any area of the law. As to what he meant, I would paraphrase it this way: don’t apply logic to the language of a law because unless you understand how a law came to be and how it has been interpreted, it will make no sense.

Holmes’ observation came to mind on Friday as word spread that it was the school committee and not the city council that has the final say on the location of a new high school. That assertion gained some heft when Mayor Ed Kennedy called a special meeting of the school committee for this coming Wednesday (at 6:30 pm in the city council chamber) to “vote to approve a location for a renovated and/or newly constructed Lowell High School.”

Soon after that, City Solicitor Christine O’Connor responded that the city had followed the proper process with votes by the School Building Advisory Committee and the city council and that a vote of the school committee was not required.

I have read the portion of the city charter and of the state statute that have been cited to support the “school committee has to vote” theory, but I haven’t studied them, researched their legislative histories, or read past court cases that have interpreted them, and therefore will refrain from sharing an opinion of which interpretation is correct. If you haven’t done that yourself, there’s a good chance that whatever opinion you reach after simply reading the charter or statute is probably incorrect or incomplete.

Since it’s the city solicitor’s job to have done all of those things, her opinion is probably the correct one. But even if that is so, there probably is no harm in having the school committee take a vote on the high school issue. It might not carry any legal weight, but it would at least let everyone know where members of the Lowell School Committee stand on this issue.

Niki Tsongas introducing Elizabeth Warren at UTEC on Friday night

Elizabeth Warren in Lowell

Senator Elizabeth Warren met with a packed house of area voters at United Teen Equality Center (UTEC) on Warren Street on Friday night. Introduced by Congresswoman Niki Tsongas, Senator Warren explained that when she was contemplating a run for Senate back in late 2011, Tsongas offered her great counsel and advice, and once Warren got into the race, Tsongas was the first member of the Congressional delegation to endorse her, something Warren said gave her immediate credibility as a candidate even though her opponent, incumbent Scott Brown, had $10 million in his campaign account and a statewide approval rating of 65 percent.

Warren explained that she got into the Senate race because of the way that working families were being hammered by our political system. She said it didn’t start with Donald Trump; it started a generation ago with the election of 1980 that made Ronald Reagan president.

Before, 1980, the government in DC worked for the people with a goal of helping as many as possible make it into the middle class. The creation and funding of programs in public education, public higher education, the GI Bill, and massive infrastructure projects did that. We all pitched in so that everyone could participate in the middle class. We invested in research of all kinds, believing that a pipeline of ideas would give kids opportunity. And it worked. The middle class expanded and 70 percent of all new growth in the economy went to the middle 90 percent of American earners.

Then in 1980 came Ronald Reagan and Trickle Down economics. Banks were deregulated and anti-trust enforcement dropped leading to consolidation in many industries. A big tax cut for top earners left less money for the government to invest in programs that helped people reach the middle class. Under Reagan, a direct attack on unions began. It all worked. America’s GDP soared but all the new wealth went to those on top. Between 1980 and 2016, nearly 100 percent of all new wealth went to the top 10 percent.

It was policies set in Washington that caused this. Warren said, “This is not the America of our dreams; it is the America of our nightmares.” Regarding the recently released AHCA, she said that it’s not a health care bill, it’s a tax cut bill and that the tax cuts will be paid for by deep cuts to Medicaid. Warren then pointed out that two out of three Americans in nursing homes have their nursing home charges paid by Medicaid. Medicaid is what provides essential care to special needs kids, allowing them to remain in their homes.

Warren closed her remarks by saying the vote on the AHCA “is a values decision; it’s a measure of who we are as a people.” And added that she was grateful to the people of Massachusetts for allowing her to be in this fight.

Senator Warren taking questions from the crowd

Senator Warren then took randomly selected questions from the audience. Several questions asked about veterans, their care, and their post-military employment opportunities. After emphasizing the importance of a high quality VA system, Warren spoke about a bill she has co-sponsored with two Republican Senators (including John Cornyn of Texas) which would grant veterans leaving the service professional licenses for skills they acquired in the military. She used as an example a soldier who spent years driving a massive ammunition truck in a hostile environment. When that man or woman is discharged from the service, he or she should not have to start from scratch to obtain a state license to drive a big truck on our highways.

One self-identified progressive asked what he could do to help, other than yelling at his TV as he does now. Warren said there are three things people should consider doing: (1) join a group like Move On or the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, because many voices are more powerful than one voice. (2) Recruit others. Don’t just talk to people who already agree with you. You are more effective when you talk to those who don’t agree with you. (3) Make a commitment to be in the fight all the time. Do something each day.

Another question asked about fake news. Warren said it was important to base decisions on facts and data but it was tough to do that when one-third of the American people don’t have (or choose not to) have access to that information. She said that in America, each generation has had to “re-invent democracy.” Politics in the 1960s was very different than politics in the 1940s. We have to do that again by finding new ways to connect with each other. The digital world can help but we have to master how to use technology to build communities.

When asked about the recent string of losses by Democratic candidates in Congressional special elections, Warren said that Democratic candidates must talk about their values like the minimum wage, affordable college, expansion of social security and health care. Those are at the core of what it means to be a progressive—opportunity for all. “The progressive agenda is America’s agenda.” Warren said “we’re not selling something people don’t want; it’s that we haven’t been as clear about our values as we should be.”

Warren closed by saying “Now more than ever we have to keep our eye on Donald Trump and the Republican congress and what they’re trying to do to America. We must be in this fight and stay focused on that.” She added, “It’s not just an honor to fight for you; it’s an honor to fight alongside of you.”

People waiting to enter UTEC, formerly St Paul’s United Methodist Church

Lowell Walks – Churches of Lowell

UTEC, the site of Senator Warren’s visit, was once St. Paul’s United Methodist Church. Last week on our Lowell Walk on the Underground Railroad and Abolitionism, Bob Forrant told us of the link between that church and the Amistad. In 1839 while en route to America, African captives who were to be sold into slavery took control of the ship and killed most of its crew, hoping to return to their homes in Africa. They were captured by a United States Navy vessel and charged with murdering the crew of the ship. After a series of legal proceedings that went all the way to the United States Supreme Court, the Africans were found not guilty and won their freedom. Afterwards, a group of them embarked on a speaking tour around the country to compensate those who had helped with their legal defense. While on this national tour, they spoke at St. Paul’s in Lowell, now the home of UTEC.

Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church

Churches were the central theme of yesterday’s Lowell Walk, which was expertly led by Rosemary Noon and Dave McKean. The 111 people on the tour learned about the St. Anne’s, St. Patrick’s, the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, the First Congregational Church (now the Smith Baker Center), and the Second Universalist Church (which stood on the parking lot of the Athenian Corner restaurant).

St Patrick’s Church

First Congregational Church (now known as Smith Baker Center)

Lowell Walks will now take a week off for Independence Day and will resume on Saturday, July 8, 2017, with Paul Marion leading a walk on poetry in downtown Lowell.

If you’re like me and can’t wait two weeks for your next walk, consider two different walks offered by Lowell National Historical Park. This afternoon at 1 pm from the National Park visitor center at 246 Market Street, there will be a 2 mile “wellness walk” along the Western Canal and the Merrimack River. Then next Saturday, July 1, 2017 at 10 am from the Boott Mill Courtyard, the Pawtucket Power Walk will begin. This walk follows the Riverwalk to the Northern Canal Walkway all the way to the Northern Canal gate house at the Pawtucket Dam.