"The truth will set you free. But first it will piss you off."

Gloria Steinem

Saturday, July 20, 2013

When Were the "Good Old Days"?

I previewed this question at the conclusion of my last post, but such a question requires more explanation before I actually begin to discuss it.  So here goes.

I begin with four words, despite the fact that invoking them might generate unpleasant memories for too many of you.  They are the dreaded “Facts of History:” Who, What, Where and When.  My ex-students know how little I focus on them in the study of history, but together these four words can serve as an adequate starting point on our quest.  The question I have posed is a When, but as I am sure you are already grasping, such a question in our community context makes little sense unless it is linked with a What.  Knowing what changed for the worse makes it easier to determine when that change began.  We will thus treat When and What largely together.

We will do the same with both the Who and the Where, but after we identify them we will largely dispense with them both.  They will be superfluous.  Who should be considering the question I have posed?  Let’s answer by discussing the Where.
The question of when were “The Good Old Days”? is not asked about where you live now.  It’s about there, and back then.  You may have come from ANYWHERE (and I am by no means limiting this to the U.S.), and you may actually live ANYWHERE now; the point here is not about the specific details, but about attitude.  Do you have a connection—even just an emotional one—with the terms “community” and “neighborhood”?  Do you find where and how you live today less than desirable as either or both?  Those are quite broad questions, and those who answer “yes” to either can be of any age, gender, location, race, ethnicity, or just about whatever.  You are the ones I seek.

Age is the only qualification worth mentioning now.  Depending on your age, the answer to my question might be in your memory, or it might lie in the memory of your parents and thus perhaps of yourself as a child.  Or, if you are young enough, the answer might be back when the old folks talk about but you yourself were not present.   In other words, the question can be addressed to just about everybody, regardless of age.  Just remember my point from my previous post, that important things did happen before you came along, regardless of how old you are.

Now back to the When (and the What).
When were “The Good Old Days”?  When was your town a community, when the interdependent parts seemed to produce a social stability and at least modest prosperity?  When was “before things began to go wrong”?  Doesn’t that depend on what changed?
When that change began, do you (or your sources) connect it with any memory, of an event or a sequence of events?  This did not have to happen quickly, although it may have been felt suddenly, as with the closing of a big industrial plant nearby.  Perhaps decline seemed have sneaked up on you, only to accelerate once you actually noticed it.  Examples here might include the seemingly quick decline of an industry on which your community depended, or perhaps of “downtown” itself.

Your memory need not have much to do with a company, an industry or a downtown.  It’s your memory, not mine.  You experienced it.  Did it instead stem from changes in population?  Did the better people begin to move out and the worse move in?  We are attempting to more fully understand the truth about what happened, so political correctness be damned.

To aid you in sorting out the when/what, I offer….a date.
Dates—and certainly not exact ones—will not play a significant part in my presentations, but they cannot and must not be avoided entirely, and are bound to crop up now and then.  Now is one of those times.  This is due to the fact that the subjects on which I blog are the direct result of what I hear from you.  From the very beginning, when I was first introducing my book, I began to hear the two phrases that have continued to dominate the discourse: “Section 8”, and “Halfway Houses.”  The latter phrase has a direct connection to Norristown residents, but Section 8 (or “Subsidized Housing”) evokes deep, visceral responses from everyone, everywhere. 

As an example of my approach (I offer questions, the answers depend on you), I offer this thought:  Were the “good old days” before or after 1975?

Those of you who have already read my book know that 1975 is a significant date in my analysis of downtown Norristown sad decline.  The reason, however, may be coincidental to our discussion at this point.  In my book, 1975 marks the end of a period, the date of downtown’s “death.”  By contrast, I employ 1975 in my question above because 1975 marks a beginning, the earliest possible date to identify the effects of “Section 8” or “Deinstitutionalization” (the placing of formerly-confined mental patients in “half way houses”).  In truth, 1975 is a little early, as the triggers for both programs occurred late in 1974, but it’s a round number, and easy to remember.

So, depending on the date you choose “when things began to go wrong,” the issue of “subsidized housing” is either very important, or perhaps less so. 

What do you think?

Monday, July 1, 2013

Coming Together

I’ve just concluded a week in Southeastern Pennsylvania, and what a week it was!  From my presentation to the Norristown Municipal Council on Tuesday evening to my talk and book signing at Towne Book Center & CafĂ© in Collegeville on Sunday afternoon, the week was a flurry of speaking, listening (I learned a lot!) and, of course, selling copies of my book.  So, thanks to everyone involved in spreading the word, including Hank Cisco, The Norristown Rotary Club, The Norristown Preservation Society, Norristown Nudge and PK Sindwani at Towne Book Center.

Now it’s time to get back to what is important.  My biggest impression after my week talking with people in the area was once again how strong—and growing—is the local desire to improve the quality of life in local municipalities.  I was very pleased to hear that Norristown Nudge had been in contact with the Pottstown activist website Golden Cockroach.  I hope that this kind of communication will both broaden and deepen.  Both communities have much to learn from each other, and you are stronger together than alone.  When others join, you will be stronger still.  I’m honored to be a part of this, and will utilize my blog to both broaden and deepen my commitment to your cause. 

My blog, “The More Things Change…” now appears on the websites of both the Times Herald and the Pottstown Mercury, on twelve Montgomery Media websites, and on eight local Patch websites, so far.  I’m working on adding more.  As my blog has begun to appear quite recently in wider distribution, many of you may be encountering my approach for the first time.  I strongly recommend, in fact I implore you to visit my blog site (themorethingschange.michaeltolle.com) and read my previous posts in chronological order.  They will help you understand where I am coming from, and realize that my posts build successively on one another.  Future posts will make a great deal more sense if you do.  I will resume the subject development with my next post.  All future posts will be available on this site, whatever “this site” is to each of you. 

In recognition of this step towards my stated goal of linking many individuals and communities together in understanding their common problems, my posts will tend to take a broader approach to the subjects I have been pursuing from the beginning.  The subjects themselves will subdivide as we examine what are quite complex issues, but they will remain the same, the ones that resonate today.
My specific examples will continue to originate in Norristown.  I can claim some knowledge of its history, particularly since WWII; I can make no such claim about Pottstown, or Conshohocken, or any other community that may enter the discussion.  However, my oft-repeated thesis is that a great many local communities experienced the largely unwelcome effects of much fewer shared afflictions.  The names and the specific circumstances will certainly differ, but our goal is to achieve a deeper understanding of what actually happened, and why.  This is what I endeavor to provide: the shared historical context.  My contribution will be to put current issues into perspective (and perhaps suggest when history instructs what not to do).  The rest, as they say, will be up to you, although I will always be available to assist as I am able.

I’m going to leak the title of my next post right now, because it’s a question, and I would like you to give some thought to it before I explain what I mean and why I ask it.   

It’s a short question, but not an easy one to answer:

When were “The Good Old Days”?

Here’s what I mean:  When was your town a community, when the interdependent parts seemed to produce a social stability and at least modest prosperity?  When was “before things began to go wrong”?

It’s a single question, but it is addressed to you, you and you, and the answers will be different.  By comparing the differences we may discover what is actually the same.

Only a few possess the personal perspective to address the question directly.  They are your elders, and you should consult them before arriving at an answer.  They offer a perspective, and thus an antidote to the tendency we all possess to see the truly significant events as occurring in our lifetime.  Of course, always keep in mind that everyone’s memory gradually paints their pre-adulthood years in progressively more rose-tinted hues, theirs as well as yours. 

Those of you who have followed my blog or heard me speak know what I am getting at:  The “Good Old Days” may be longer ago than you think.