CUNNINGHAM’S CORNERFree Access

On the State of the Nation, Our Communities & What’s Next

 

School budgets passed across Putnam County. Voter turnout, if you will, was huge. Every single ballot was cast by absentee, mailin ballots. Mail-in balloting seemed to work fine. More people took part in these school votes across the county than has been the case in many, many years.

Hmm. There might be a clue in there: It worked fine and participation via voting increased dramatically in our Putnam County school districts. By any measure, this has to be counted a success.

There’s a lot going on in the Carmel School District, and if you live there, I urge you to pay attention to the many developments. Its athletic director is leaving. Its former football coach was pushed out. Both were highly regarded. Its superintendent, Andy Irvin, announced last week he is leaving. He is also well-regarded, and his announcement came suddenly. He’s an Army veteran, too. The district’s high school principal has left, and it needs a new assistant superintendent as well. Its students are restless, and energized by the national and local protests for racial justice.

There’s a lot going on here. I cannot tell you, yet, what it all means. But it means something.

We learn that even as meat supplies were tightening in our grocery stores during the height of the pandemic, meatpackers were shipping huge amounts of pork parts and carcasses to China. Hmm. This is on its face pretty striking, but not, necessarily, surprising: One of the meatpackers, Smithfield Foods (you may recall I’ve written about its slaughterhouse in Sioux Falls, SD) is owned by the WH Group, a Chinese company traded on the Hong Kong exchange. The Chinese market has been a boon for American farmers. But I wonder: Was it wise to allow a Chinese company to buy one of our largest national meatpackers (the sale was in 2013)? Much as we discovered with the supply chain for personal protective equipment, food has a supply chain too. And parts of it are outside of our control.

I am sure it seemed like a fantastic idea at the time. But in 2020, things look different.

This is even more true in supply chains that are so finely tuned, as industrial meat production is. Again I say, if you can buy meat from a farm within 50 or 100 miles of where you live, do it. It will be of higher quality and taste, the animals will almost certainly have been raised humanely, and you will be supporting an approach to food that looked like it was on the way out.

It is a time unlike any I have seen in my lifetime. The country is riven. We have now seen four weeks of protests in cities across the nation — and in our own communities, from Cold Spring to Carmel, Mahopac and Brewster — about the death of George Floyd at the hand of police in Minneapolis. These protests, after the first week or so, have been largely peaceful, as have all of the local protests across Putnam County. I believe this protesting will continue until the fall, possibly until the election. At the top of page 1 this week, right next to Scoop the Newshound, we printed the text of the First Amendment. Free speech. The right to assemble. The right to seek redress from government. The right to a free press.

Likewise, we are at a critical time regarding policing and our entire criminal justice system. It is clear, now, that institutional racism permeates large parts, perhaps most parts, of our criminal justice system. NOW is the time to fix this. If those in power fail to fix this, history will not be kind, methinks. The Minnesota Legislature, for instance, has just adjourned without tackling any reform measures. Incredible.

A story: Newspapers can be a stodgy business, somewhat reluctant to change. This was true for decades. A little less true now; the competition for readers’ attention and the advertising dollar can be intense, and that’s forced more quick adaptation.

I worked 20 years at the Times Herald-Record in Middletown, across the river in Orange County. At the time, 1987 through 2007, it was rousingly successful, supplying in some years a good chunk of the net profit of parent Dow Jones. A new publisher arrived in 1996, James Moss. It was the middle of a snowstorm when he pulled up in a Jeep; I saw him in that moment because I had skied to work cross-country, and we arrived at the front door at the same time. I would go on to work for him on several initiatives, including launching the newspaper’s first website.

He was always impeccably dressed. Nice suit, a hightest silk tie, French cuffs, distinctive cufflinks. There was a little grumbling about it, even, in some quarters of the company. Middletown and the newspaper were not places given to putting on airs.

But that was not, in fact, what he was doing. I came to realize, over the years, that his clothes were a signal. You see, he was Black. He was unquestionably successful; he had worked in circulation for the Washington Post, and had been a publisher for Knight-Ridder, at the time the pre-eminent national newspaper company, before coming to Middletown. But despite his success, his lovely family, his accomplishments in the industry, he knew he would be seen by many people by just one measure. He was Black.

He’s dead now, after a brutal battle with cancer. I attended his memorial service a few years back in Newburgh; it was packed as scores of former employees came to remember him. Know this: His accomplishments didn’t just put him in the somewhat rarefied ranks of large newspaper publishers. They came about because he overcame substantial institutional racism in nearly every aspect of society. He didn’t dress well because he was a clothes horse. He dressed well to signal to the rest of us — including the racists among us — that he was successful, he was a businessman, he was safe.

It’s a grim time right now. But we also have what seems to me a rare chance to get it right. To be the country we said we wanted at the founding, to be the country we said we wanted at the Civil War, to be the country we said we wanted in the 1950s and 1960s. We can seize the opportunity.

Or we can be riven by race and division and injustice.

Until next week.

Douglas Cunningham is editor of the Courier and the Putnam County News & Recorder in Cold Spring. Reach him at 845.265.2468 or by email at editor@pcnr.com. We print almost every letter we receive. Send us yours, to the same email.

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