The Strange Boys on My Street

Cruel, bizarre, dangerous, creepy, perverted—these are the words I’d use to describe the boys I knew when I was six. We walked to elementary school together. Every afternoon we came home for a snack and then left the house and ran wild. Sometimes those boys ran wild at my expense.

Start with bizarre. Also dangerous: D. He collected butterflies—pinned hundreds to a black velvet background. Maybe his father helped. (I never once saw his father.) D. had unremarkable brown hair in that 50s cut: short on the sides with slanting bangs parted on the left side. Clark Kent glasses. He knew a lot about science so I tolerated him. D.’s mother was afraid of him—whatever he wanted for lunch he got. I was afraid of him at times, too. Once he ran after me with a pitchfork. I ran ahead of him through the dusty barn while he chased me. He was naked—skinny, skim-milk-colored—and shrieking, “Get out! Get out!” I had walked in on him while he was doing… what? I don’t know.

Then there was the red-haired boy. I’ve deliberately forgotten his name. His parents owned our house, and he came over when his dad collected the rent. He was older than me, so maybe he was eight the day he lounged on our front steps, curled his lip, and told me that Santa Claus was a hoax. The truth struck me like hard rap to the head. I ran into the house, his laughter following me. I hate him to this day.

I was the oldest of four then, soon to be five. Desperate to escape the house, my mother resorted to hiring a neighborhood boy to babysit. She thought my brothers would prefer to have a boy take care of them. I knew it was creepy that W. wanted to give me a bath. I could bathe myself. He followed me up the stairs, asking me to just take off my shirt or something. I told my mother he acted weird and she said, “Stop imagining things.” But then he let my two little brothers make fluffernutter sandwiches. Peanut butter and marshmallow fluff still covered the kitchen when she got home and W. never babysat again.

The worst were the C. boys next door. Muddy paths crisscrossed the thicket behind our houses and my friend, G., and I played back there. One day, two of those C. brothers ambushed me and ordered me to pull down my underpants for a nickel. They were bigger than me—maybe nine and ten—and, while I was scornful of their stupid ways, I was scared of them, too. They threw the nickel at me and it landed in the ooze. I didn’t bother to look for it. Their older brother was even more perverted but that’s a story for another time.

I sometimes wonder how those boys on Stevens Avenue shaped my adult feelings about men. I mean, am I right to be suspicious of them and their predatory instincts?

Catching the Bus for Election Reform

What would induce me, a 45-year-old woman, to spend two nights sleeping on a bus, with 11 hours of standing around in wind, rain, and sleet sandwiched between? The same cause inspired more than 50 other Maine people as well—teachers, teenagers, artists, college students, retired folks, mothers, fathers, fishermen, a former Peace Corps trainer, a librarian, a poet, a doctor, a state representative—to travel to Washington, D.C. in the VoterMarch bus organized by Barbara Skapa of Vienna and Jo Ann Campbell Simon of Camden. Along with the 23-hour bus ride, we shared a determination to voice our protests over the manner in which the result of the presidential election was decided.

If you watched the inauguration of George W. Bush as our 43rd president on television or read the coverage in the papers, you may not realize the extent, volume, and variety of the protests that concurrently took place. Our busload was a microcosm of the estimated 20,000 people who showed up to stand up for voting rights and fair elections. Many of us were first-time protestors, most are political moderates, but all of us have a deep love for our country and its principles of democracy, which have been an inspiration to freedom-lovers worldwide for two-and-a-quarter centuries.

After the 2000 presidential election outcome was summarily decided by the five justices of the Supreme Court, I felt concerned that a dangerous precedent had been set. The man who won the popular vote by garnering more than half a million votes beyond his opponent’s number—who won the most votes in America’s history, except for Ronald Reagan’s re-election—did not win the presidency. In addition, documented voting irregularities in Florida led to substantial questions about the apportionment of the Electoral College votes. Yet it seemed clear that the politicians and the media were willing to sweep these anomalies out of sight and pretend that the election had been democratically concluded.

As Maine voters, it is hard for us to imagine that people in other parts of the United States don’t always experience democracy in the straightforward way we do here. We can register at the polls when we go in to vote on Election Day. We have candidates who run their campaigns under the Maine Clean Election standards. Our Electoral College votes are apportioned according to the outcome of our popular vote. Often, we even know the people who are counting the ballots late into the night after the polls close. We trust the system.

Unfortunately, our experience is not universal. My niece, who moved to Tampa, Florida, in September, registered to vote soon after moving to her new home. But when she appeared at the polls on Election Day, she was not listed as an eligible voter. After standing in various lines for several hours, she was told that there was no record that she had ever registered and she would not be allowed to cast a vote. A bureaucratic snafu? Perhaps. But as we now know, such individual problems added up to a critical mass weighty enough to shift an election.

On Saturday, in Washington, our busload of protestors arrived at Dupont Circle at about 7:00 in the morning. By 9:30, a huge crowd of people had joined us. The rally was organized by VoterMarch, a group calling for election reform. People had come from all over the country—Washington, California, Florida, Georgia, and many states in between. Ages ranged from babies in strollers to gray-haired seniors. Although obviously upset about the way the election was terminated, the group was friendly and good-humored. Most people carried home-made protest signs, some of which were quite witty. Street-theater groups performed skits: a group of “Caribou” begged us to leave the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge alone; another group dressed in top hats and tails who billed themselves as the “Billionaires for Bush” sang satirically of their gratitude for the election results. A variety of speakers inspired the crowd, including a voting official from Miami-Dade County, and Granny D., the remarkable 91-year-old New Hampshire woman who walked across the country last year to support campaign finance reform.

VoterMarch and other groups had been given a number of permits allowing them to stage demonstrations in various sites. Several thousand protestors left DuPont Circle to march to another location. Stopped by police enroute who prevented them from reaching their permitted destination, a minor skirmish ensued. But, as a whole, the relations between law enforcement and protestors were quite respectful and sometimes downright cordial.

Just before noon, five of us decided to make our way from DuPont Circle to the parade route to see what was happening there, instead of attending another rally scheduled to occur on the Ellipse. After skirting several detours, we finally arrived at Pennsylvania Avenue not far from the White House. Once we passed through the police checkpoint (backpacks and bags were searched and some of us were frisked), we could walk along the parade route. Helicopters hovered overhead. Sharpshooters lined the roofs of nearby buildings, ominously silhouetted against the sky. Police were stationed every eight feet on each side of the street, facing the crowds, with marines in khaki uniforms interspersed among them. A phalanx of mounted police stood at attention.

The military order of the police ranks contrasted sharply with the chaos of the crowds. We were astonished to find that, at least within the stretch of the parade route that we walked along, Bush supporters were in little evidence. The official bleachers, for which attendees needed tickets, were sparsely filled. Some of those seated held protest signs. On the ground, the sidewalks were thronged with ad hoc protestors packed together like rush-hour subway riders. Many people held signs. Waves of chanting rolled up and down the line. “What do we want? DEMOCRACY! When do we want it? NOW!” The atmosphere was one part carnival, one part serious civil action. A sense of camaraderie filled the air as these citizens, hopping up and down to stay warm, traded stories of how they decided to join the protest. The vast majority had no affiliation to a particular group—they simply felt a need to vent their frustration at a system gone awry.

One young woman, a law-student from Washington, told me that she was a Republican who voted for Bush. But she wasn’t angry to see all the demonstrators. “I guess I agree with them to some extent,” she said. “If Gore had won by those means, I would be very upset.”

I thought of all the people at home who had expressed support when I told them that I was heading to Washington. I had been bowled over by their fervor. A neighbor baked me a batch of cookies to bring on the bus. A Republican friend confessed that she was ashamed of the way the election was concluded. People who had heard about my plans from mutual friends called to thank me for going. Many said they wished that they too could be there. All seemed to feel betrayed by the process, and concerned about what its outcome means for the future.

The new president’s motorcade rushed by my section of the parade route at about 4:00 in the afternoon. An incredible din of booing and jeering from the crowds lining the route preceded it. A platoon of secret service motorcycles flanked several limousines with darkly tinted windows. I couldn’t tell which car held my new president, though I think I caught a glimpse of Vice President Cheney’s face. As the motorcade passed, people around me chanted, “Shame! Shame! Shame!” at the speeding cars. We energetically waved our protest signs. No matter how thick the bulletproof glass, the president and his coterie must have heard the blast of the crowds’ disapproval.

My new friends and I walked back to the subway with hundreds of strangers carrying similar signs. Though cold, hungry, and soaked to the bone, everyone seemed cheerful, as though something of significance had been accomplished and we had played a part in its success.

After returning home early Sunday morning, I continue to feel buoyed by the experience. It was wonderful to know that 20,000 other people shared my anxiety about our country’s future and were moved to do something about that anxiety. But I know this optimism may be short-lived. Why isn’t everyone upset about the way this election was conducted? Don’t they believe that the right to vote and have that vote counted is the very foundation of democracy? Democracy is by its very nature a participatory process. No one who cares about our country should be able to resist the call for election reform.


[© Barbara Burt; unpublished]

On the Road with Miss Rumphius: A Children’s Book Tour Through Coastal Maine and Islands

Nita, my youngest daughter, shyly climbed onto the swing in the dim, cavernous barn and began to pump her legs. High, higher, soon she was flying to the rafters, looking exactly like Fern in Garth Williams’s illustration Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White. If I could have peeked into her imagination just then, perhaps I would have heard contented grunts from Wilbur down in the piggery and seen an intricate web being woven by the world’s favorite spider, Charlotte.

Nita and I were on a quest. We were scouring the Maine Coast for sites and signs of her favorite children’s books. E.B. White, Barbara Cooney, Robert McCloskey, Rachel Field, Margaret Wise Brown—these authors and more have lived in and taken inspiration from Maine’s isolated and hard beauty.

Maine, as everyone knows, is an excellent place to vacation with children who thrive on outdoor adventure. But you can find more than beaches, mountains, wildlife, and forests; emanating from the Maine woods are echoes of some of the most beloved children’s books of all time. By combining visits to some of these evocative sites with a reading of the books and related activities, you can weave together outdoor activities with literary exploration, creating a vacation that will increase your children’s sense of the fun of literature and build family memories that will last forever. Today, a picture of Nita riding on Fern’s swing is a prominent feature in our collection of family photographs.

All of the following locations are on or near the coast. For an historical perspective of life near the sea, begin your trip with a few hours at the Maine Maritime Museum in Bath, about forty minutes northeast of Portland on U.S. Route 1. Here you can learn about the craft of wooden boat building, the proud heritage of tall-masted schooners, the lore of the lobstering trade, and more. Children particularly enjoy climbing in and out of the various boats exhibited for that purpose.

Then head back onto U.S. Route 1 for about twenty minutes and turn off at the exit for the twin villages of Damariscotta and Newcastle. Drive slowly down the ramp, for ahead you’ll spy a distinctive square steeple topped with four gilded fleurs-de lis. This steeple appears in Barbara Cooney’s classic picture book Miss Rumphius (Penguin 1982), as do many spots in this area.

In the picture book, Miss Rumphius vows three things, “To travel around the world, to live by the sea, and to make the world more beautiful.” (Like her heroine, the late Barbara Cooney had a waterside cottage on the Damariscotta River.) To fulfill the third promise, Alice Rumphius walks about the countryside scattering lupine seeds. If you are lucky enough to visit in mid-June, you’ll see thousands of lupines adorning the fields, descendants perhaps of seeds planted by the woman who provided the inspiration for the title character. Stop in at a garden center to purchase a packet of lupine seedlings so you can plant your memories at home. You might also want to make a stop at the Maine Coast Book Shop on Main Street in Damariscotta. They have a close affiliation with Barbara Cooney and always carry a good supply of her books.

Another of Barbara Cooney’s books, Island Boy (Penguin 1988), is full of imagery from this region. The islands of this area were settled long before the mainland (some before Plimoth Plantation!), and island life is still a rich element in the Maine imagination.

As is so well depicted in Island Boy, life on an island is a unique existence. While you’re visiting the coast of Maine, make a point to get out on the water, for our coast is only fully appreciated from that perspective. So, after you’ve visited Damariscotta, drive down the Pemaquid peninsula on Route 130 to New Harbor and board the Laura B. ferry to Monhegan Island, ten miles out to sea.

Monhegan is inhabited year-round, but in the summer the population swells with artists. Well-known New Yorker cartoonist Charles Martin used Monhegan as the setting for a series of picture books. In Summer Business (Greenwillow, 1984), Sam Saves the Day (Greenwillow, 1987) and others, resourceful island kids tackle and solve problems. Bring these books on a treasure hunt to find the island locations pictured by Martin. Along the way you’ll see ospreys and other sea birds, lobster boats and sailing sloops, dramatic cliffs, artists’ studios, deer, wild roses, and an historic lighthouse/museum. You can make a day trip to Monhegan from New Harbor, Port Clyde, or Boothbay Harbor. Or make reservations to spend the night at one of the island’s inns.

Farther down the coast (as you go northeast along the coast of Maine you call it going “downeast” because, due to the prevailing wind, you’re traveling “downwind,” an important benefit for sailors) you’ll soon get another chance to travel by ferry to an island. Stay on U.S. Route 1 past Damariscotta (but take a quick glimpse of the river as you pass over it; along its banks are the ancient oyster heaps or shell middens built up by feasting Indians for thousands of years), and travel on to Rockland in Penobscot Bay, about forty minutes down the coast. Here is the home of the Vinalhaven ferry. You’ll find that Vinalhaven is a year-round community that has retained much of the flavor of a Maine fishing village. You’ll want to bring bicycles or a car, as the island is too big to traverse on foot. Vinalhaven was once the summer residence of Margaret Wise Brown, author of many classics such as Goodnight Moon (Harper, 1947), The Runaway Bunny (Harper, 1972), and The Little Island (Doubleday, 1946). It’s a good bet the latter was inspired by one of the many small islands dotting Penobscot Bay. While on Vinalhaven you can swim in old granite quarries and watch eagles diving for bluefish in secluded ocean inlets. Don’t miss the Lanes Island Preserve, a marvelous place for a picnic and exploring.

When you’ve returned to the mainland, jump back on U.S. Route 1 and drive a few miles up the road to Rockport, hooking a right down to the harbor. There you’ll see the real home of a seal named Andre, the main character of the eponymous book by Lew Dietz (Down East, 1979). (By the way, Rockport is not to be confused with the setting for the movie about Andre, which was shot on the coast of California.)

After you’ve inspected the late Andre’s home port and peered over the railings of any windjammers tied up to the dock (consider taking a day sail, if time and budget allow), swing back onto U.S. Route 1 and head for the Camden Hills State Park (several miles beyond the bustling town of Camden).

       All I could see from where I stood

       Was three long mountains and a wood;

       I turned and looked another way,

       And saw three islands in a bay.

Edna St. Vincent Millay wrote these opening lines to her poem “Renascence” as a teenager in Rockland in the first decade of this century. Abandon your car, stretch your legs, and take a mile-long hike up Mt. Battie in the Camden Hills to see a similar view. Bring along your binoculars and a copy of Millay’s poem, and while you munch your snack at the summit, imagine yourself a literary-minded Maine girl at the turn of the century. When you’ve returned to the real life and the bottom of the mountain, you can view Millay memorabilia at the Whitehall Inn in Camden.

Then it’s time to return to U.S. Route 1. Meander through Belfast, Bucksport, and Winter Harbor. Then turn down Route 15 to Blue Hill and Deer Isle, home of E.B. White and Robert McCloskey, among other prominent authors.

Blue Hill and surrounding villages will seem quiet after the traffic and crowds of Camden, yet there is much to see and do here. E.B. White’s farm, where he wrote Charlotte’s Web (Harper, 1952), is on one of the main roads from Blue Hill to Deer Isle. Perhaps there’s still a swing in the barn same as when Fern “lived” there, though the house and barn now belong to another family. If you happen to plan your trip around Labor Day weekend, you can attend the Blue Hill Fair, a real country fair like the one where Wilbur the pig was awarded his $25 and “handsome bronze medal.”

Then pull out your copy of McCloskey’s One Morning in Maine (Penguin, 1952) and head for Buck’s Harbor. It’s in the town of South Brooksville on Route 176. You’ll be astounded to see that Condon’s Garage is still there, some forty years after Mr. Condon joked with Sal about her new tooth. After you’ve scouted the harbor (keep an eye out for a dory with two little girls, a hard-rowing man, and a busted engine), get back in the car and drive across the big bridge over Eggemoggin Reach and out to the western tip of Little Deer Isle, where you can look back at Buck’s Harbor and imagine what a long “pull” it would have been to row that distance.

Another McCloskey book to help you savor island living is Time of Wonder (Penguin, 1957). If you drive to the southern tip of Deer Isle to the town of Stonington, you can take a boat excursion among the islands and see many sights similar to those seen by Jane and Sal as they skippered their sailing skiff in nearby waters. And don’t forget to find a beach where you can try your hands at clamming. If you’re traveling in early August, you might like to do some blueberry picking a la Blueberries for Sal (Penguin, 1948) at Bayview Farm on Ridge Road in Sedgwick. Keep an eye out for wandering bear cubs!

If you’ve gotten as far downeast as Blue Hill, you might as well go a bit farther to visit Mount Desert Island (this Desert, by the way, is pronounced “dessert”) and Acadia National Park. Author Rachel Field spent her summers on Sutton’s Island, just south of Northeast Harbor. Her historical fiction Calico Bush (Macmillan, 1931), a great family read-aloud, tells the story of a mid-18th century family and their “bound-out” girl who settled on Swan’s Island, which can be reached today by ferry from Bass Harbor. Consider taking the ferry, too, from Northeast Harbor, past Sutton’s Island, and hop off at Isleford on Little Cranberry, where the Little Cranberry Museum will give you a sense of island history.

These are just a few of the places and ways that you can partake of Maine’s rich heritage of children’s literature. As you wind your way along roads lined by beach roses or tall pines, you’re bound to make some more connections of your own.

© Barbara Burt

[Word count: 1775. Unpublished.]

The News from Maine for Summer Folks

As I drove home this afternoon along Route One between Brunswick and Newcastle in my mud-splashed car, I thought about those of you who descend upon our town in August, confiding to each other how you adore Maine.

What would you think if you saw us now, I wonder. For five days in a row I have worn the same outfit: black knit pants and a gray knit sweater. A perfect expression of the way I feel right now, the sweater is the same color as the concrete-like snow banks that line the lumpy road. It’s the same gray as the clouds bearing down on the horizon. It matches the Damariscotta River reflecting that sky. The shape of my sweater is as unspecific and secretive as the snow that has buried the stone wall in my yard.

Come summer, I may resent your oversized SUVs—here we tend to drive Subaru wagons or pickups—but I will appreciate your fresh faces and your appetite for blueberries and corn. I will welcome you. Now, in an April that seems more like late February, I dream of your arrival. For those of you whom I count as friends, I imagine hosting a magical evening twinkling with witty conversation as we sit in wooden chairs in the firefly-lit grass or lean against the slumbering rocks on the shore under stars. You’ll carry news, and new ways of thinking. And you’ll bring to me an excuse for laughing, for drinking gin and tonics and cracking open lobsters on a dock. For you I will rip the bilious blue plastic off that bulbous mound of white fiberglass that balances on its toe in my yard, and set it afloat.

Yesterday I was visited by an explosion of color. A flock of goldfinches, twenty or more, invaded the birdfeeder by the dining room window. As I read the newspaper, a flash of yellow caused me to look out at the landscape I had long since lost interest in. Do me a favor. Wear a tee-shirt that shade of yellow when you come, will you?


[© Barbara Burt. Unpublished]

America Speaks — Let the true message be heard!

It is our American habit to arrive at what we think by talking things out together…. These discussion centers are the actual birth places of public opinion — they are where the American mind, harnessed to the American will, goes constructively and critically to work. –Frances Perkins, People at Work

I spent a surprisingly entertaining day yesterday at the AmericaSpeaks: Our Budget, Our Economy daylong national town meeting. More than 3,500 people gathered in a number of cities around the country; Augusta, Maine, was my location. As Alice Rivlin, a much honored participant, said, “Who would believe that thousands of people spent 6 1/2 hours on a summer Saturday talking about the deficit, and had fun doing it!”

One of the things that made it fun for me was the realization that the entire group was not going to be co-opted by ultra-conservative deficit hawks. In fact, it turns out that moderate-to-liberal-leaning folks are more willing to spend a Saturday in June talking about the U.S. budget with strangers. I know this because we were all outfitted with keypads upon which we answered poll questions, and the results were instantaneously beamed to all the town meeting sites. So we immediately learned that as a group we were slightly more male than female, slightly more affluent than average, very slightly less diverse than the general population, and somewhat older than average.

While the discussion was tightly channeled and there were serious deficiencies in the way some topics were presented (particularly health care and Social Security), I think that the results are of great interest, particularly the fact that 64 percent of the participants favored creating a carbon tax and 61 percent favored a securities transaction tax. Considering the way these taxes have either been discounted or little discussed in the mainstream media, that’s impressive.

Another nifty feature provided by AmericaSpeaks was a printed Preliminary Report we could pick up on our way out the door that contained all the polling results from the work we had just completed. So, I don’t have to remember exactly how all 3500+ of us felt about cuts to Medicare or new taxes; it’s all collected in the Preliminary Report in black and white.

That’s why I feel well equipped to point out the ways in which the publicity released by AmericaSpeaks about the polling results from the national town meeting is misleading.

AmericaSpeaks received much of its funding for the Our Budget, Our Economy national town meeting from the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, which also has pushed hard for deficit reduction in the form of cuts to social programs like Social Security. The press release sent out after the town meetings sounds as if the results were spun by someone sharing the perspective of the Peterson Foundation. (It’s also interesting to note that all the experts interviewed or taped for the video presentations came from the “deficit hawk” side of the table.)

Here’s an excerpt from the press release:

Reforms that were preferred by participants at the National Town Meeting included options that:
• Raise the limit on taxable earnings so it covers 90% of total earnings.
• Reduce spending on health care and non-defense discretionary spending by at least 5%.
• Raise tax rates on corporate income and those earning more than $1 million.
• Raise the age for receiving full Social Security benefits to 69.
• Reduce defense spending by 10% – 15%.
• Create a carbon and securities-transaction tax.

And here are my main arguments with that portrayal:

• Reduce spending on health care and non-defense discretionary spending by at least 5%.While the majority of those supporting reductions in Medicare and Medicaid spending voted to reduce that spending by 5 percent (instead of 10 or 15 percent), a much larger percentage — 38 — voted for “no change” in health care spending, no doubt due in part to the very poor way in which this question was posed. Although people around me and some who spoke on the live transmission from other sites believed that healthcare spending needed to be cut, they were not happy with the options provided in this exercise.

When it comes to non-defense discretionary spending, again the highest votes went to “no change” — 32 percent. I suppose they are adding up all the people who voted for 5, 10, and 15 percent cuts and saying that all of those people would have supported a cut of “at least 5%” but that seems disingenuous.

• Raise tax rates on corporate income and those earning more than $1 million.
 If they use the standard above, conflating categories, then they should report that 66 percent would raise the personal tax rate for everyone in the top two brackets by at least 10%. In fact, the vote was 18 percent for a 10% increase and 48 percent for a 20% increase. That’s newsworthy — especially as this group skewed toward a higher average income. This group would raise taxes considerably on those earning more than $209,250, not just millionaires.
• Raise the age for receiving full Social Security benefits to 69. Of course, there’s no reason why Social Security should even be considered in this discussion, since it is a pay-as-you-go program by law and thus has no impact on the deficit. That said, once again, the press release fails to go by its earlier method of conflating categories. If you do follow that convention, then you can say that 67 percent were in favor of raising the payroll tax gradually to at least 13.4%. That’s worth pointing out.

Also, although mentioned in the first bullet on the list of findings, it was a huge majority (85 percent) that approved of raising the limit on taxable earnings to 90% of total earnings in America. At my table, the vote for raising the age of retirement lost steam as people thought about those jobs involving physical labor, the lack of jobs for 60+ workers, and the need to free up jobs for younger workers. Others reported the same thing at their tables. Perhaps with more time for discussion, this vote would have gone the other way. As it is, as one of the options for changing Social Security, with only 52 percent in favor it ranked behind raising the payroll tax (67 percent) and far behind expanding the limit on taxable earnings (85 percent). But you wouldn’t know that from the press release.

• Reduce defense spending by 10% – 15%. This is an understatement. 51 percent approved cutting the defense budget by 15%, certainly another newsworthy fact. Another 18 percent approved a cut of 10%, and 16 percent approved a 5% cut. Here’s the staggering number — only 15 percent voted for no change in defense spending. (Compare this to 32 percent who voted for no change in non-defense spending, 23 percent who voted for no change in Social Security spending, and 38 percent who voted for no change in healthcare spending.
• Create a carbon and securities-transaction tax. Again, this is true but understated. As I mentioned earlier, the approval for each of these new taxes was more than 60 percent.

Finally, I would quibble with this statement from the press release:

Sixty-one percent of participants said that in the short-term they believe the government should be doing more to strengthen the economy. Participants expressed more mixed views about the recent stimulus bill that failed to pass the Senate last week. Fifty-one percent of participants supported the legislation, while thirty-eight percent of participants said they were not supportive of it.

Why is 51 percent “mixed”? It’s a majority. Can we now also say that the attitude toward raising the full retirement age to 69 was also “mixed”? (52 percent voted for that.) And to break down further the polling on the failed stimulus bill, 32 percent said they were “supportive” and 19 percent said they were “somewhat supportive.” Twelve percent were “somewhat unsupportive” and 26 percent were “unsupportive.”

What’s so bad about a press release skewing the results just enough to shift the emphasis and bury the big stories? This description of yesterday’s results is laying down the track for the story that will be spun, as we were repeatedly told, to the president’s deficit commission (the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform), and to House and Senate leaders.

Here’s the real story: More than 3500 people in cities across the United States came together to sit at tables with strangers for six and a half hours to work on reducing the 2025 deficit, and this was their overwhelming answer to the problems we face: “We do not shrink from raising taxes on those most able to pay. This means those in the top two tax brackets. This means Wall Street. We do not shrink from cutting the military budget. And we do not shrink from taxing the use of fossil fuels.” What a challenge to Congress, which dares not do any of these things. May it give our representatives courage.

There’s no question that the thousands of people who came together across the country yesterday to wrestle with difficult questions of the budget and the economy did so with all good intentions. What remains to be seen are the intentions of the organizers.  Let the true message be heard!

[You can find the quoted press release here:]

[This piece originally appeared on June 7, 2010 in the blog The Best Possible Life.]