Classism in the Gay Community

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Office in a Small City, 1953 Edward Hopper (1882–1967)

Recently I wrote an essay for Enduring Gloucester in which I expressed concerns about what I see as the creeping classism within my own community. (See essay here.) 

I actually described  in that essay a conversation I had about it with John Barnes, my late roommate, who died twenty three years ago this month after a courageous battle against AIDS.

John left Gloucester as a young gay man because, coming from his socioeconomic background, being gay was neither easy nor accepted in Fishtown – despite there being a sizable but largely clandestine gay community.

He, by his own admission, led a pretty wild life as a young gay man blessed with a striking resemblance  to Patrick Swayze. He returned to Gloucester for the last years of his life, however, as a brave adult man determined to educate young people from hardscrabble, often abusive backgrounds like his, about the dangers AIDS posed to them if they let the harder side of life determine their most intimate personal decisions.

In the conversation I wrote about, John shared with me his belief that if he had not had AIDS and had he not been a client of a local AIDS services organization (ASO) that was supported by some of Cape Ann’s wealthiest gay men, he would never have been invited to any parties at the home of two very wealthy Annisquam men for purely social reasons – but because he had AIDS and was a client of the local ASO, his attendance at a fundraiser those two men hosted back in 1992 was both financially and politically important.

I initially questioned John’s assertion but, in the nearly quarter century since Johnny’s death, I have, sadly, had to conclude he was on to something and that he was, in  many ways, a man ahead of his time in terms of understanding where the gay community was headed.

Six years after Johnny’s death, my own concerns about the creeping classism within the gay community had reached such a level that I addressed them in a speech I gave at Joe Tecci’s restaurant in the North End, when I accepted the Jeffery Barmeyer Memorial Award for AIDS Activism from the Massachusetts Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus.

Overall, my comments were not well received, but a few people did come up to me after the speech to thank me for raising an uncomfortable issue and to say they shared my concerns.

Shortly after the awards dinner at Joe Tecci’s, I received death threats at my house in Lanesville that were deemed so credible,  both then Police Chief Jim Marr and the executive director at HES advised me to go visit family in NH for a few days until the clouds had passed and the threat fully assessed. It was then realized I had reached a point where I was questioning what the fights against AIDS and for “gay” civil rights were really all about and, quite frankly, the answers coming to me were the primary motivators in my “chucking it all”, as the saying goes, and heading to points south where I worked really hard to shed the largely political label of “gay man” and make some peace with the fact that what I really am is a homosexual.

That sojourn resulted in me meeting and falling in love with a Costa Rican man who, along with his extended family, forever changed the way in which I view myself as a homosexual,  the so called “gay rights” movement, especially in the United States, and the role money, often big money, plays as a guarantor of social and political acceptance in America.

In many ways, nothing exemplifies the reality of just what a role money plays in attaining a modicum of social, legal, and political acceptance  more than the push for “marriage equality” that was largely driven by affluent, well connected, overwhelmingly white, gay and lesbian professionals and political insiders hailing from the Big Apple, Washington, and Los Angeles.

Now, lest anyone misunderstands the purpose of this essay, I think it is great the Supreme Court has ruled that those gay couples who wish to marry have a constitutionally guaranteed right to do so in all fifty states.

But I also worry this kind of upscale, bourgeois bohemian mainstreaming of the so called “gay community” will result in homosexual Americans losing sight of the fact that our long struggle was, from its outset,  one that aligned us with the “others” of society – the poor, the sick, the disenfranchised, and the disliked.

There is a strange irony, for example, in hearing so many gay Americans hail their “equality” in the wake of the Supreme Court decision, when so many other “inequality indicators” in America, like the assault on voting rights, the lack of equal pay for women doing the same work as men, efforts to deny women the ability to exercise their constitutionally guaranteed right to reproductive choice,  increasing housing and school segregation, police violence against minorities, and long stagnant wages and the rapidly- disappearing notion of some security in retirement, are all  ascendant.

Perhaps the greatest irony of all, at least for homosexual Americans, is that the legalization of gay marriage is much less a guarantor of the rights of the vast majority of American homosexuals than the passage of  federal laws that would, finally, end discrimination across the country in relation to issues like housing and employment.

Sadly, gay couples may now be able to marry in all fifty states, but there remain far too many states where they can be fired from their jobs, lose custody of their children, and be denied housing simply because they are homosexual – their being married means diddly.

In addition, many of the well- to -do gays who so pushed the marriage agenda, I have seen this first- hand here in Provincetown at social gatherings, are loathe to talk about harsh realities like the fact new HIV infections among young gay men, especially young gay men of color, are rising at an alarming rate.

At one such gathering, I pointed out that gay rights activists in New York State had raised millions on behalf of the “marriage equality” cause in the years leading up to 2011, when same sex marriage became legal in the Empire State, but had been all but silent in response to a state budget that slashed millions for programs serving homeless youth – despite the fact demographic data revealed  significant numbers of homeless youth are gay or transgendered kids who have been rejected by their families.

Needless to say, my comments went over like the proverbial lead balloon.

Perhaps nothing exemplifies the troubling classism within the gay community more than the visit of Hillary Clinton to Provincetown on July 2.

Mrs. Clinton came to town in pursuit of gay dollars and, man, was she well rewarded.

Two fundraisers, one a $1,000 a head event, the other a $2700 a head soiree, were said to be going to bring in more than a million dollars for a candidate who just last year said the issue of marriage equality was one best left to the individual states to decide. Go figure.

When I learned of Hillary’s impending visit, I wrote a letter to the local paper to ask if, after the elegant soirees, Hillary might want to spend some time walking around town to chat with many of the working class, liberal Democrats, gay and straight, who labor in Provincetown’s tourism and service industries and, thanks to the out of control gentrification I worry looms on Gloucester’s horizon, live in constant fear of losing their apartments, if they are lucky enough to have an apartment as opposed to just a room somewhere, to high end condo conversion, and scrape by in the winter on their summer savings, unemployment, and visiting the town’s soup kitchen for lunch on a regular basis to stretch their budgets.

Needless to say, like my question about events in New York in 2011 at the social gathering earlier this summer, and my comments at Joe Tecci’s eighteen years ago, my letter to the editor was, well, let’s just say, I am not likely to be invited to any dinner parties in certain circles anymore.

But that’s OK.

For me, it is just one more reason why I feel increasingly comfortable whenever I am asked if I am gay saying, “No, I am a recovering gay who remains proudly homosexual.”

-Mike Cook

Mike Cook

Mike Cook  is a long time liberal and gay rights activist who saw the uniqueness of Gloucester from the first moment he drove over the bridge during his move from Cambridge to Cape Ann in 1991 to run NUVA’s AIDS education and services programs.

Full Circle

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By my senior year of high school I had conjured up an elaborate escape plan to leave Gloucester. It would begin with four years in college and after that it didn’t matter. “Anywhere but here,” I told myself. Anywhere but here…So I left.

College came and went. In the following years I moved a bunch of times and traveled all over. My feet walked the majestic lands of Machu Picchu. My eyes witnessed the dramatic and powerful culture of Northern Ireland. I danced my ass off all over Boston. At each new destination around the globe and within our own country, I met some cool people. But I still felt restless. Something was missing.

It wasn’t until I got pregnant with Emerson that I actually figured out what that void was. I missed my hometown. I missed LIVING in Gloucester. I missed the people. I missed the landscape. I missed the food. I missed the traditions. I wanted my children to grow up here.

A place where the people work hard, swear often, love beer, tell the best stories, have the biggest hearts, and use the word “wicked” perfectly, every time… A place where the people are tough and the community always takes care of its own. I would learn firsthand how important this last quality was when I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer last year.

A place that has the best sunrises AND sunsets. A place where the ocean glistens more than anywhere on Earth. Where a classy, historic, and rocky coastline makes its shores the most unique on the planet, just like its residents. A place where the Atlantic surprises the locals daily with her ever-changing colors and temperature.

A place home to the best traditions. Fiesta. Vinegar Fries. July 3rd. Horribles Parade. GHB. The Creek. Boulevard. Seaglass. Fisherman at the Wheel. Backshore. Niles. A place home to the best food around. Where seafood means “fresh haddock” not “Frozen Crab Balls,” (sorry Texas!). A place that still believes in and supports “Mom & Pop” shops.

A place that rallies like no other. Who else but Gloucester can boast that it can raise thousands of dollars for its residents in mere hours! Gloucester is living proof that social media can have a positive impact upon society. Gloucester has given a new meaning to the term “crowd funding.” A place where the locals actually feel empathy for others that are struggling.

And let’s face it….NO ONE can party like we can.

I am beyond proud to say that I am from this city. But I am even prouder to say that I am raising my daughter and son here.

-Lori Sanborn

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Lori Sanborn was born in Gloucester and returned to live permanently in our seaside community three years ago. She has been a public educator for 12 years,  teaching eighth graders.  Lori is most proud of her role as mother to her children, Emerson and Ryder.

 

 

Nino Nets Some “Guppies”

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Gloucester Dock Scene. Russ Webster (1904-1984)

Back about 1970 when I was just a boy working for my dad at Ocean Crest Seafood, there used to be a retired fisherman who worked for us by the name of Nino Trupiano.  A better man would be hard to find. Always with an interesting tale to tell, he once recounted a story I have not forgotten to this day. Back in the days when fishermen were allowed to ply their trade whenever and however they wished, the only thing that would prevent them from leaving the dock was weather,  and by weather, I don’t mean a little rain, I mean “WEATHER”!  Fishermen of the day would never let someone get the better of them,  so if one man left the dock, all would follow. One particularly foul and windy day the men and boats waffled by the shore, hesitant to brave the turning waters,  when Nino, never one to be indecisive,  cast off the lines and intrepidly braved the waters.

He sailed past Fort Point, past Ten Pound Island, and out beyond the breakwall.
At this juncture, it became abundantly clear that this was no weather to fish in.
Not wanting to be made out as foolish for sailing into foul weather alone, he decided that he would return to the dock under the cloak of darkness ( as it was still before dawn) by turning off his running lights and hugging the shore as he returned to port. As the other boats were waiting at the dock to hear his report on conditions beyond the breakwall, they called on the radio “Nino, Nino what’s it like out there?”   Nino replied “Beauuutiful, just Beauuutiful!”
At this point all men and vessels at the dock cast off their lines and headed for the open sea. Once arriving at the outer shore they realized that the weather was not fit for man nor beast and they called out to Nino imploring “Nino, Nino, where are you?” to which he replied “I’m at the Gloucester House;  it’s too windy out there”.
Leonard Parco
IMG_2269Leonard Parco has been working the Gloucester waterfront for over 40 years and is the president of Ocean Crest Seafoods Inc. He is passionate about “Cape Ann School” art, especially that focused on Gloucester’s maritime heritage.

Adventure Sails!

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Guests of the captain aboard Adventure as she pulls away from Maritime Wharf for her first official passenger cruise in 27 years.

The Schooner Adventure sailed proudly from Maritime Wharf in Gloucester Harbor Saturday afternoon, past Pavilion Beach crowded with Fiesta revelers, and 13 miles out to sea toward Boston, with an appreciative group of 65 guests on board.  With that four-hour trip, Adventure reclaimed her place on Gloucester Harbor.

 

No longer a work project, Adventure has again taken her place as a functioning member of Gloucester’s working waterfront, where she made her mark from 1926-1953 as a high-liner,  a workhorse of Gloucester’s historic schooner fleet, becoming, by her last season as a fishing schooner in 1953, the last of the legendary Grand Banks fishing schooners.

 

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Passengers and crew work together to raise the mainsail

 

 

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Captain Stefan Edick  with volunteer crew member Elisabeth Kerr at the helm.

The guests for this first passenger cruise since Adventure was issued official passenger certification by the US Coast Guard a few weeks ago were all friends and family of Adventure’s Captain Stefan Edick and president of  the board of Schooner Adventure, John Morris. For each person walking down the gangplank, the afternoon’s outing held its own significance.

 

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Helen Garland with Adventure’s board president John Morris, and Shirley Morris

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George Smith of Manchester with Helen Garland of Gloucester

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Helen Garland, widow of Joe Garland, renowned Gloucester historian and author, Adventure’s principal fundraiser and advocate for the 27-year, 4.5 million-dollar restoration project, was pleased to be on deck for Saturday’s trip,  surrounded by people, natives as well as newcomers  who “represent various aspects of Joe’s  vision for Adventure.”

 

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Joe Garland, 1923-2011

“We have with us today,” she said, ” our native sons like author Peter Anastas and Captain John Morris, symbols of Gloucester’s proud heritage, along with our new friends like Bing McGilvray, who respect that heritage and have chosen to become part of Gloucester’s story.  The children running over the deck, they all give me hope for the future.  Gloucester and Adventure are proof of the spirit and bravery …that created the vital democratic energy which defined this country.”

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Three members of Enduring Gloucester’s board of editors, Bing McGilvray, Lois McNulty and Peter Anastas

Helen Garland noted that she hopes to honor what the gift of Adventure means to Gloucester, in the way that  Jim Sharp, Adventure’s former captain and owner,  who donated the ship to the city of Gloucester in 1988, envisioned it. Sharp called his gift of Adventure  “a monument to the history of Gloucester and for the education and pleasure of the public.”

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Peter Anastas with Helen Garland and Judy Walcott

Helen Garland adds, ” If Adventure can be allowed to play an active and daily role in teaching children and their parents to nurture the health of our oceans, I know that Joe’s work will not have been in vain.”

 

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Adventure board member and volunteer crew member Greg Bover helps a child with a life jacket.

 

From Adventure’s website,  www.schooner-adventure.org

The Gloucester Adventure, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) non-profit maritime historic preservation and educational organization. We are the stewards of the 1926 dory-fishing Schooner Adventure. Our mission begins with restoration and preservation in perpetuity of the National Historic Landmark Schooner Adventure, one of the last surviving Grand Banks dory-fishing schooners. The Schooner Adventure is a national treasure that is resuming active sailing as an icon of the American fisheries and as a floating classroom for maritime history and environmental education programs. The Schooner will be operated at sea, primarily along the New England coast, as a living monument to Massachusetts’€™ fishing heritage. As such, the Schooner Adventure is important not only to Gloucester, but also to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and all America.

Today Adventure is a rare survivor, an irreplaceable artifact from an extraordinary era in American history. Adventure was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1989, designated a National Historic Landmark in 1994 and was honored to be selected as an Official Project of Save America’s Treasures by the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 1999. A prominent destination site on the Essex National Heritage Area Maritime Trail, Adventure serves as a living memorial to the more than five thousand Gloucester fishermen lost at sea.

 

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Peter Anastas and Bill McLauchlan on the deck of Adventure, with the Schooner Thomas E Lannon sailing alongside .

Lois A. McNulty

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Isaac’s First Fiesta

Peter Anastas

St. Peter’s Fiesta, which opens its 88th year with music on Wednesday, June 24, at St .Peter’s Park and concludes on Sunday night, June 28, with a procession through the Fort, is Gloucester’s most meaningful celebration of our collective identity. Watching the lights and the altar go up this week and feeling the excitement in the air of impending carnival, which so many of us have experienced since childhood, I couldn’t help but remember the first time I took my grandson to Fiesta…

 

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Isaac and “Papou” go to Fiesta

 

 It was June of 2009.  My son Ben and I were taking his 19-month-old son Isaac to his first St. Peter’s Fiesta.  My mother had accompanied my brother and me when Fiesta started up again after the war, and I, in turn, took Ben and his two siblings, beginning in the 1960s.  If you count the fact that my mother, who was born in Gloucester in 1910, had attended the earliest Fiestas, beginning in 1927, four generations of our family have been celebrating the Feast of St. Peter with our Italian friends and neighbors.

Though a bit overwhelmed by the crowds along the midway, the music from the rides, and the amplified voices announcing games of chance, my grandson seemed to take to Fiesta.  Eyes shining with wonder, he refused to be carried by his father or me, rushing instead among the legs of those on their way down Beach Court to where we could watch the seine boat races and greasy pole contest from the shore.

 

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Isaac with “Papou” and his dad watching the greasy pole contest

 

Returning to Commercial Street, we decided to walk to Fort Square for a better view of the events and so that Isaac, who loves to play in the sand boxes of Brooklyn’s city parks, where he lives, could fully enjoy Pavilion Beach.  On the way there I pointed out the old Birdseye plant with its iconic white tower to Ben, where, from 1928, his grandmother had worked as Clarence Birdseye’s secretary.  On our way back to Fiesta we walked around Fort Square to Charles Olson’ house, where we took a picture of Ben, Isaac and me in front of the commemorative plaque to Gloucester’s great poet.

 

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Isaac points to the memorial plaque for Charles Olson at 28 Fort Square

 

That afternoon we covered the entire Fort, from Beach Court to Fort Square.  We shared fried dough and Ben shot a few baskets to see if he could win a stuffed animal for Isaac.  What came home to me during our walk, along with the powerful sense of attraction I’ve always had for Fiesta and for the Fort itself, where I once worked on fish, was an increased concern that if a proposed hotel were to be built at the Birdseye there could be unforeseen consequences.  Prospective developers had already expressed reservations about this traditional marine industrial neighborhood (one was quoted in the Gloucester Times as having said, “When our guests arrive we want them to know they’ve arrived somewhere”—as if the historic Fort were nowhere!); and one wondered how many of their guests would spend a lot of money to stay in a busy neighborhood full of trailer trucks and early risers. What would be the impact of the new hotel on Pavilion beach, which was public and protected as such?  And while I could imagine some hotel guests enthralled by Fiesta, would others on vacation be annoyed by the noise, the crowds, or the smells from the working waterfront—the engines of the fishing vessels, the early morning activity of taking on ice?

 

 

During our walk I tried to envision the Fort with a fancy upscale hotel in its midst.  All I could think of was that the hotel might ultimately displace the neighbors, the neighborhood, the Fiesta, and all the traditional kinds of single and multi-family housing on the Fort.  Once the hotel was in place, there was certain to be greater pressure for upscale housing or condos.  Then, quite covertly, we would have the beginnings of Newport right in the heart of the waterfront.
I was especially concerned about the potential for “collateral damage” in the neighborhood as a consequence of outsize development, especially if traditional fishing industry businesses were pushed out, and long-term residents with them.  These thoughts troubled me as I walked with my little grandson and his father—three generations of Anastases enjoying Fiesta (and a fourth if my mother, who first took me, were still alive)—and suddenly a great sadness came over me, followed by a profound sense of loss.

 

What should ultimately have been an occasion of joy with my family, my grandson’s first Fiesta, prompted a bittersweet reverie, in which I could imagine all that has meant so much to our family and every other Gloucester family of Fiesta and of the Fort itself, taken from us were we not vigilant about protecting our heritage and the very places in which it lives and breaths.

 

Today the hotel, so utterly alien to everything the Fort has stood for, is fast becoming a reality, and we can only hope that Fiesta, along with the Fort itself, will not be swept away by this new wave of urban renewal called gentrification.

Viva San Pietro!

 

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Photo courtesy Document/Morin

Peter Anastas is Editorial Director of Enduring Gloucester

Gloucester and the International Dory Races

International
by Jimmy Tarantino
One of the great traditions of Gloucester is our participation in the International Dory Races. For 63 years the best dory rowers from New England (mostly Gloucester) have competed with the best dory rowers from the Maritime Provinces of Canada (mostly Nova Scotia). I believe that most New Englanders possess an honest, genuine character because our environment forces us to endure nature at its harshest in winter. Add to that the struggle of fishermen working on the powerful North Atlantic and you have the Finest Kind.
Nova Scotians, being even farther North and East have that strong composition as well, perhaps to an even greater extent. As a result the International Dory Races have become so much more than just a competition. Having been blessed to be part of this great tradition for a quarter century, I’ve had the opportunity to experience many of the Finest Kind of the Southeast shore of Nova Scotia, seen their hometowns, met their families, shared their joys and pains over the years.
If you can, put down whatever you’re doing tomorrow morning, (Saturday, June 20)  from 10 ’til noon, and come down the State Fish Pier and meet some of the most genuine souls on the planet!
I’d like to pay tribute to my friends from Nova Scotia with my sincere gratitude for their friendship:

Toast to the Northeast Coast

 

Jones, Atwood, Brackett and Croft

We’ve known throughout the years

 Spindler, Hyson, Mawhinney and Swim

shared laughter and we’ve shared tears

 

Atkinson, Nickerson, Mossman and George

Kindred spirits of Sea and Tide

Henneberry, Zwicker, Knickle and Heisler

All share our Fishermen’s Pride

 

From Sambro down to the Hawk’s rugged coast

All along that beautiful shore

We raise our glass, with respect, we toast

      And welcome our friends once more!

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Jimmy Tarantino is a Gloucester native, a doryman, and a passionate advocate of Gloucester’s heritage.

Neptune’s Harvest Does Gloucester Proud

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By Laurel Tarantino

My friend June and I were fortunate to accompany Ann Molloy and her sister Maria Churchill up to Hampton Beach, NH last night, to see them accept Neptune Harvest’s award from the Gulf of Maine Council on the Marine Environment. The award was for outstanding innovation and leadership in achieving sustainable practices in the Gulf of Maine.

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The Gulf of Maine Council on the Marine Environment was established in 1989 by the governments of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts to foster cooperative actions for a healthy Gulf of Maine. Let me say, Neptune’s Harvest is doing just that and then some.
I grabbed an agenda and started jotting some highlights as the presenter of the awards gave a brief description of why each recipient was being given their award, thinking I could write all about it from my notes. Well, I never did take shorthand, and I can barely read my chicken scratches, but what I did bring out of this ceremony was a great sense of pride, for my friends, for Neptune’s Harvest, and for the City of Gloucester. The company that Neptune’s was in last night was exemplary on so many levels. Volunteerism, Protection, Conservation, Recycling, Awareness, Sustainability, Stewardship, Future… I capitalize these words as they are titles with so many efforts and people backing them up and following through on behalf of our Ocean, Watersheds, Wildlife, Forests, and even included, Community Pride.

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As it turns out, I won’t make a great journalist, but I can tell you I’m terrifically happy there are people out there, not only watching over our environment, but doing things to protect it. When I went outside and saw young kids on Hampton Beach, I thought, “Do they know what’s going on in that big old ocean behind them? Are they aware how privileged they are to be playing in the surf and sand? Will they be the next generation of Stewards who will do great works like the people upstairs in that conference room?” I certainly hope so. If they don’t,  where are the birds going to migrate, fish spawn, plants flourish and children play?

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Why should Gloucester be proud of Neptune’s Harvest? Since 1986, they have been a leader in the industry and a model to follow. A spin off of their parent company, Ocean Crest Seafoods, a wholesale seafood company established in Gloucester in 1965. After processing a fish for its edible portion,  up to 70% becomes waste. With the state of Massachusetts and local universities they developed a process to turn 100% of that waste into a highly beneficial organic fertilizer. Waste once dumped back into the ocean or into landfills is now improving soil locally and worldwide. Producing stronger healthier plants reduces and eliminates the need for pesticides. Increasing the organic matter in soil allows the soil to retain more water, reducing runoff and in turn, maintains healthier watersheds. Neptune’s sells their products out of Gloucester in one-pint containers and up to 4,500-gallon  tanker trucks. The times that we’re in, with folks wanting to be rid of GMOs in their foods, I can only see Neptune’s growing each year.
Let’s just hope we can hang onto our fishing industry so the wonderful things that Neptune’s is doing can continue for generations to come.
I was truly impressed with each award recipient. As much as I wish I could talk about all of them, I have to stick with our home team as I’m short on time. I was never once bored at this function, as can happen as we all know.  I think  these people were so passionate about this all- important subject Marine Environment, they made you want to learn more.
On the ride home, on Rte. 133 just outside of Rowley, there was still enough daylight to cast a beautiful glow on some horses’ healthy coats. All four of us, at the same time said, “Wow!” Guess you had to be there. Green, green grass, happy romping horses, just an all around perfect scene. Ann beat us to what we were all thinking… “We truly live in a beautiful place, don’t we?” A question that didn’t require an answer, but one we should all think about each day and ask ourselves, “What can I do to help keep it this way?”

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Congratulations Neptune’s Harvest. You absolutely deserve the recognition.

Laurel Tarantino is on the Board of Editors of Enduring Gloucester

Fifty years of ACTION

Fifty Years of Community Action in Gloucester: 1965-2015

Peter Anastas

Action celebrates (2)

On Thursday, May 28, 2015, Gloucester’s antipoverty agency, Action, Inc., celebrated its 50th anniversary with a reception and concert at The Shalin Liu Performance Center in Rockport.  The following remembrance of my three decades of involvement in Community Action for Cape Ann is dedicated to the caring professionalism of those with whom I worked and to the extraordinary people we served, all of whom enriched my life immeasurably.

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Peter Anastas, 1992, at his desk in Action’s original offices at 24 Elm Street, formerly the Red Cross, and before that, the Rogers School, where his mother attended first and second grades.

 

“Social work, especially as we practiced it at Action, can be seen as opposition to arbitrary power.”

When I was growing up in Gloucester during the Second World War, I experienced how some of my schoolmates lived in sprawling, rickety tenements, crowded in with parents and grandparents, as the war raged and most of the men were overseas.  But it wasn’t until I went to work at Action, in 1972, that I began to understand the true extent of poverty on Cape Ann.  It was then that I was forced to confront the potential consequences of this condition in terms of family violence, substance abuse, alcoholism and crime. That was the real poverty, I came to understand, not simply the fact that people didn’t have money or jobs or decent places to live.

At first the agency didn’t want to give me the job I’d applied for as “home visitor” in a new research and demonstration program called “Home Start.” The purpose of the program was to explore a home-based option for the popular and extremely effective Head Start preschool programs, which soon became the signature of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty. The Home Start concept considered mothers to be the primary educators of their children. What the agency hoped to create for the group of mothers who entered the program (there would eventually be a total of 300 families enrolled) with their one- to five-year old children was a base of support that centered on the home visitor, a teacher and resource person, who would visit the family on a regular basis, providing the mother with educational materials, personal and moral support, and parenting skills enhancement. The program would also provide mental health counseling and family therapy for those who needed it, comprehensive health care, nutritional information, further education for mothers who wanted to re-enter the workforce (many were on public assistance), and a steady, helpful, friendly presence in the person of the home visitor for normally young single mothers, who had become isolated as a result of poverty, abuse and abandonment. Most of our client families lived in public housing, which, if more affordable to them, presented its own problems, not the least of which was isolation, as poverty became increasingly ghettoized in the nation.

In reviewing my application for the position of home visitor, the board of directors found me suitable for the agency; but some members had reservations about hiring a newly single man, who would be entering the homes of what they considered to be vulnerable young women. Wouldn’t it be better, they suggested, for me to be given the job of family services coordinator, along with an office of my own, where the mothers could come to me if they wished? On the surface it seemed a good compromise, though I had no experience in social work or counseling and the position paid less than that of a home visitor.

As it turned out, the job was a good fit. I loved the program and its new staff which, like me, had been recruited entirely from the community, based largely on our knowledge of Gloucester and our experiences living in the city. For several months we were trained together in the principles of child development and early childhood education by professionals from the Harvard School of Education and other institutions that offered cutting edge approaches to working with parents and children. I was also given training in basic counseling and social work skills. Later, as I took on more responsibilities in the agency, Action paid for social work courses and professional enhancement seminars at the Boston University School of Social work and at several area hospitals that offered intensive training in mental health issues.

As much as I provided referrals and direct services for the families in our program, including visits to the pediatrician for families who had no means of transportation, I also began to advocate for them if they faced eviction, residential health code problems, or issues with public housing. I learned how to deal with the welfare and Social Security systems, with health insurance providers, skills I had never previously developed but that were indispensable in helping us to educate our clients , about the services and benefits they were entitled to by law and by virtue of their poverty.

There were those in Gloucester who felt threatened by Action or who disliked the agency’s presence in the community.  Some city councilors ludicrously insisted that there had been no poverty in Gloucester until the federal government declared its presence here under the guise of Community Action.

Although we received a significant portion of our funding from the federal Office of Economic Opportunity, which was established in 1964 to administer the nation’s antipoverty programs, we were a private, non-profit educational and charitable organization, with its own board of directors, consisting equally of members from the public sector, the private sector, and clients of the agency. This tripartite structure was unique to the War on Poverty, allowing maximum feasible participation of the poor in the agency’s program planning and the implementation of its policies. Local agencies were not only allowed but encouraged to set their own agendas, so long as they came under the broad mission of Community Action, which was to advocate on behalf of the poor, while addressing the root causes of poverty in each community.  (Enzo Giambanco, father of Gloucester mayor Sefatia Romeo Theken, was president of Action’s board of directors during my early years in the agency, and our mayor has long been one of the agency’s staunchest supporters.)

It was a noble mission, one that has scarcely wavered in the half century of Action’s life and the life of Community Action in the nation at large, even in the face of obdurate legislators and the onslaught of an anti-government ideology under Ronald Reagan and his heirs in the Tea Party.  And while it may have seemed ironic that an antiwar activist like me, who had railed against the federal government for taking our country into an illegal and unnecessary war in Vietnam, was working in an agency much of whose funding came from that same government, those of us who became soldiers in the war to liberate the poor (another irony) felt that our mission was part of what government should be doing, in its role as intervener of last resort.

I went to work each day feeling good about my job and about myself.  I believed in what I was doing. I could see daily the results of working with mothers and their children, to empower the mother and help the child with learning and socialization skills. There were mothers who entered the Home Start program as high school drop-outs on welfare. Today they are teachers with master’s degrees or practicing law. Some started their own businesses. Others became social workers themselves or directors of early childhood education programs. And in almost every case, their kids finished school and went on to college. Some who were three years old when we started the program in 1972 are married today and raising their own families. None of them live in poverty.

Statistics exist to prove the value of Head Start and the Home Start option, which is still offered by many Head Start programs. It’s an option that I still feel good about having helped to create, along with fifteen other R&D programs nationwide (for several years, ABT Associates in Cambridge conducted an in-depth evaluation of Home Start, which showed the program to have been both highly beneficial educationally as well as extremely cost-effective). Our philosophy was to offer our families the broadest range of options so that they could choose freely among those which they most needed to free themselves from the privations of the welfare system. Instead of perpetuating poverty, our mission was to end it. Though we were ultimately unable to eliminate poverty, and there is a higher percentage of impoverishment in the United States today than when Lyndon Johnson declared war on it, and less money or will to impact it, those of us who spent our lives in Community Action continue to believe that the successes of the program have outweighed its failures.

Peter Anastas, Action, Inc.  12-23-76.  photo by Charles A. Lowe, Gloucester Daily Times.

Peter Anastas, running Action’s Christmas drive, December 23, 1976. Photo by Charles A. Lowe, Gloucester Daily Times.

2.

From 1966 until 2002, the agency’s central offices were located in a former elementary school building on 24 Elm Street, in the heart of Gloucester’s downtown. Built in 1820, the yellow clapboarded building with Italianate windows had housed the Red Cross after it was closed as the Rogers School.  For years all the agency’s program managers and staff, including the receptionists, secretaries, bookkeepers and community organizers, were crowded into tiny offices on both floors of the old schoolhouse, separated sometimes only by room dividers that were hung from the ceiling by wire. Before the advent of the Xerox machine we used fluid duplicators; and before the agency could afford electric typewriters or computers, before even the advent of the PC, we wrote our reports and composed our correspondence on antique manual typewriters. The furniture consisted of dark green military surplus desks, file cabinets and metal desk chairs of nondescript design. We liked to joke that it had come to us directly from the Philippines, though in actuality we often requisitioned what we needed from the Portsmouth Naval Base. The city of Gloucester had given us the building for one dollar a year in rent, though its upkeep was the agency’s responsibility.

A Neighborhood Youth Corps program provided after school tutoring and part-time work for teens. Jobs 70, a precursor of the CETA employment and training programs, helped out-of-work parents. Head Start was run out of the agency with classrooms in several local church basements, while Home Start was housed in the former Gloucester Daily Times building on Center Street, where we had offices on the first floor and a day care center with state-of-the art educational materials on the top floor. The agency provided legal assistance to low-income families and home care for elders. There was family day care for working parents with children and an after-school program for school-age kids. Soon after I came to work, in 1972, a volunteer program for retired elders called RSVP would begin, along with programs providing fuel assistance and weatherization to eligible individuals and families. For several years, after the demise of the Gloucester Auto Bus Company, the agency also ran the city’s public transportation system, calling into service a fleet of military buses that we painted blue.

But at the heart of the agency were the community development, community organization and advocacy programs. L. Denton Crews was executive director when I first came to work. An ordained minister with years of experience in the civil rights movement, Denton was a bright, articulate manager, who guided Action from its inception, primarily as the grantee for Head Start, to its expansion into a multi-purpose agency addressing a range of community needs. When Denton left to become an aide to Rep. Michael Harrington, community organizer Bill Rochford took over as executive director. Bill had a degree in social work from Boston College, and under his direction Action moved in two significant directions, community development and advocacy. Community Development director Dr. Carmine Gorga made a study of the fishing industry with a view to enhancing its sustainability as the city’s primary industry. He and the community organizers helped to create the United Fishermen’s Wives, a group of women who became fierce advocates for the industry. Carmine also started the first worker-owned business in Gloucester, a small company that made finger foods and other hors d’oeuvres from fresh fish that were flash frozen and distributed nation-wide.  It was at this time that the agency also took over from the city the former Gloucester High School and Central Grammar building on Dale Avenue to develop, under the direction of architect Kirk Noyes, the community’s first private elderly housing complex. Many natives soon found themselves living in rooms in which they’d gone to school.

3.

What was equally important for me and for our mission was what went on behind the doors in that little yellow schoolhouse on Elm Street.  The staff met often to critique our programs and to speak about the grants we wanted to apply for. We discussed questions of poverty and how we hoped to address them. All of our program activities were driven by a rigorous planning process, the main document for which was an annual work plan, which laid out exactly what we hoped to achieve with each initiative, how we meant to reach our goals, and how much money and staff participation were required to fulfill our objectives.

After three and a half years in the Home Start program, Bill Rochford asked me to join the advocacy and housing program, which I would later come to direct.  Settling into my new assignment, I began to participate in the daily excitement of an agency that had survived an attempt by the Nixon administration to destroy Community Action. Conservative Republicans, adamantly opposed to the War on Poverty, managed in 1973 to force the closing of the Office of Economic Opportunity. However, after friends of Community Action in both parties lobbied strenuously for its continuation, the opponents succeeded only in transferring the Community Action programs to a newly created Community Services Administration, thus preserving pretty much intact the nation’s flagship antipoverty programs like Head Start, along with agencies like Action that administered them.

Just when we most needed an attorney to help clients file answers to eviction complaints or to appeal welfare terminations, Marshall Williams arrived.  Newly retired to Rockport and anxious to serve, Marshall was in his early sixties, a native of Maryland and a Princeton graduate with a law degree from the University of Virginia. He’d served in the military for more than thirty years, first as a fighter pilot and later as a member of the Judge Advocate General’s Corps.  Marshall prepared his cases so meticulously and argued them so relentlessly that he became the bane of existence of the administrative law judges in Boston, who heard disability appeals, the welfare claims adjudicators, or the magistrates, who sat on eviction cases. More than once he was commended from the bench for his preparation. He won thousands of dollars in retroactive benefits for elderly clients, who’d had their Social Security Disability applications denied or their payments terminated, or for mothers on welfare, who had wrongfully lost their benefits. Always fair and never judgmental, Marshall took on seemingly intractable cases for disabled veterans, who often addressed him as “Sir,” some even saluting when they appeared at his office door, though Marshall, who had held the rank of Colonel, was the most deferential of people and had long laid aside his military career. He represented women, who had been beaten mercilessly by drug-dealing boyfriends, and little old ladies, who were being evicted from their apartments because they had to make a choice between paying for food and rent or heating oil during severe winters.

I did the intake on all the cases before we were able to hire our intake counselor and associate advocate, Mary Adams. Those who needed legal help were directed to Marshall whose office was next to mine. The rest Mary and I worked with personally, though there were many cases we all shared. Mary and I would find families money for back rent while Marshall drafted their responses to summary complaints for eviction, defending them himself, or preparing them to mount their own defenses with the help of legal services attorneys. Part of our philosophy included a strong self-help provision. Wherever possible we encouraged and trained our clients to represent themselves, arguing their own cases. Most found the experience empowering, even exhilarating, especially if they prevailed, which they often did.

Marshall Williams retired from Action in 1988, succeeded by Ken Riaf, a young attorney, who had also been a fisherman. Ken brought a unique perspective to the agency, as we became more deeply involved with the fishing community, which was then entering the protracted crisis it still faces today, with declining stocks and restrictive federal regulations that have reduced Gloucester’s fleet to a shadow of its former greatness. We were also forced to address the deepening housing crisis in the state, as real estate prices rose and landlords were converting apartments into condos, thereby squeezing out low-income families and elders and adding to a burgeoning homeless population. In response to homelessness, the agency joined with Ron Morin, executive director of NUVA, the city’s primary substance abuse and mental health agency, and Bill Dugan, executive director of the Gloucester Housing Authority, to create the Cape Ann Coalition for Housing and the Homeless. Ron, Bill and I produced a study of the problem, “Homelessness on Cape Ann,” with recommendations for its solution. Two new homeless shelters were created, NUVA’s for women with children and Action’s for homeless men and women eighteen and over. A number of programs, including counseling, case management and substance abuse treatment, were also initiated to impact the problem, along with recommendations for the creation of more affordable housing. Of great help to us in this effort was Dr. Damon Cummings, a naval architect and former MIT professor, who had become one of Gloucester’s leading advocates for the fishing industry and a fighter to preserve the city’s working waterfront.

4.

My last ten years at the agency were years of intense lobbying for funds to implement these housing programs. In concert with the responsibilities of managing an expanded advocacy and housing program and seeing clients on a daily basis, I also directed the Action Homeless Shelter. We spent hours at city council and planning meetings advocating for the new shelters, and for a soup kitchen and food pantry, which were independently created. New funding regulations from Congress required the adoption of more stringent and sophisticated planning and management tools and an automated information storage and retrieval system, as the agency entered the digital age and we all had to learn how to use computers.

Losses in the fishing industry and fluctuations in the economy made it clear to us that Action had to expand our employment and training programs to include those who had been downsized out of jobs or who had lost them in industrial consolidations and takeovers. With the support of Varian, a high-tech consortium whose corporate offices were located in Gloucester, the agency opened a computer training center in downtown Gloucester, at Brown’s Mall, the former site of the city’s largest department store. Expanding our client base, we trained homeless men and women at the site along with those who had once had well-paying jobs. We added training for medical secretaries and hospital workers, while offering GED and Adult Basic Education courses, including ESL classes for new Hispanic and Brazilian immigrants.

By 2001, after I had been at the agency for 29 years, the need for our services continued to increase. And the landscape of human services had been shifting for some time, confronted, as we were, with the rising animosity of conservative politicians and once compassionate voters toward service agencies and the people we were committed to helping. Constrained also by shrinking government funds and more onerous reporting requirements, agencies found themselves in competition for charitable dollars as a way of ensuring their independence.

Under Bill Rochford’s leadership, and with the experience, political savvy, and commitment of Action’s veteran program directors — Deputy Director Tim Riley in administration, Gerry Anne Brown at Homecare, Ronna Resnick in Employment and Training, and Elliott Jacobson at Energy — Action charted a cautious passage through these perilous waters, arriving not only safely to port in new headquarters in the former Woolworth building on Main Street, but winning support and funding for innovative youth programs and housing for AIDS patients, while creating public-private partnerships that offered new employment and training opportunities for local residents.

Retiring on November 15, 2002, I left Action with a sense of new expectations but also with great sadness. I knew I was bidding farewell to an important part of my life.  When Bill Rochford retired in 2009, Tim Riley took over as executive director, and has continued to lead the agency in ever creative directions.

Social work, especially as we practiced it at Action, can be seen as opposition to arbitrary power.  It seemed a fitting segue for me, as a former anti-war activist in the 1960s, to have become a social worker in the 1970s; indeed, natural to my temperament and my politics. Just as I had helped to organize opposition to the war in Southeast Asia, I helped to bring neighbors together to encourage local government to remedy conditions in their neighborhoods, or mothers on welfare to fight iniquities in the welfare system. Our agency empowered citizens to speak out against slum landlords, who withheld heat, or to demand that the city’s regulatory agencies enforce health code regulations that made their apartments unsafe for themselves and their children. We provided legal assistance, family counseling and one-on-one assistance to help low-income families overcome poverty. We created education and training programs for fishermen, who were driven from the sea by onerous government regulations; and we helped displaced workers retrain in digital technologies.

Our work was motivated by the need for social change and for self-determination on the part of those who felt powerless — to help the disenfranchised find good jobs and obtain affordable housing, and to make government accountable to those whom it was designated to serve; indeed to change repressive legislation where we could. We didn’t win every battle, and not everyone we tried to help overcame poverty; but we forged partnerships between citizens and interest groups and we brought the public and private sectors together in many instances to build new housing or rehabilitate older stock. We helped formerly homeless men and women create their own businesses and we provided services to elders that allowed them to remain in their own homes with dignity rather than entering nursing homes. Perhaps our greatest success was in helping those we worked with to understand the systems in which their lives were enmeshed — how those systems operated, what their internal dynamics were, and how to overcome the enmeshment. And in the process, we ourselves felt a greater liberation.

Peter Anastas is the editorial director of Enduring Gloucester.

Sound Harbor Makes Some Noise

sound harbor kids

Sound Harbor

Charlee Bianchini

 

Gloucester has long been famous for being a visual arts haven for painters, printers, sculptors and patrons of those arts.  Less recognized for it, Gloucester has also been a haven for her musicians, and I cannot express how lucky I have felt to be a member of that piece of our community.  Gloucester’s musicians do a good job of keeping competition at bay, while doing their best to support each other and it has often created opportunities of collaboration with amazing results.

Gloucester can also boast her support and success of entrepreneurs.  If the fishing industry is not convincing enough of this, just take a walk to the crossroads of Main Street and Pleasant where you will find three organizations that are bringing the visual, performing and entrepreneurial arts together: Art Haven, The Hive, and a new collaborative, Sound Harbor.

Many know of the incredible work that Art Haven (for kiddos) and The Hive (for teens and adults) have done to provide opportunities in education of the visual arts.  From painting and printing, from pottery to sculpture, from photography to graphic design, over the past 7 years kids and adults have had incredible opportunity to explore their creative sides in these highly supportive and empowering environments.

Less known—but only so because of its youth—is Sound Harbor.  Created just over a year ago, Sound Harbor is a new initiative bringing that same supportive environment to kids and adults alike, but this time through music. Founded by a handful of Gloucester’s own musicians, Sound Harbor came about for a variety of reasons. When Art Haven started taking off, I often thought what a shame it was that music was not a part of that.  Having been a teacher of independent music instruction for five years now, I’ve been a first hand witness to how music helps people find their voice, literally and figuratively.  I’ve watched once shy and introverted students blossom into incredible performers and songwriters, pouring their hearts out on stage and taking risks they only dreamt of taking before.  It’s become less about the actual art of creating music, and much more about learning and pursuing who you want to be.

I wasn’t the only one who felt that Gloucester lacked this opportunity.  A big group of other musicians felt the same way, and for some reason we all, independently, went to David Brooks (founder of Art Haven and the Hive) for help.  He brought us together, and Sound Harbor was created.

Our board is like minded in why this initiative is so important.  We all feel that arts funding is too often cut in our schools, and that which remains is not enough to provide adequate opportunity to our students.  I am a firm believer that it is art and music opportunities in schools that give our youth the courage of self-expression, the self-empowerment to contribute to bettering the world, the confidence to explore and discover.  Not only that, but it offers a safe space for youth and adults alike to process emotion in a society that limits these spaces to short outpourings on Facebook and Twitter, if offering any space at all.

Our president, Steve Lacey, a Gloucester Jazz guitarist, agrees with that sentiment.  He writes, “I believe we all need to be given the chance to make art and music. It is a way of expressing and getting to know your inner self… Places like Sound Harbor positively impact our community by giving kids and adults an education and something to do that is both self-gratifying and uplifting to the people who get to hear or see it.  Since support in public schools has decreased, it is up to non-profits such as Sound Harbor and Art Haven to pass on the age-old tradition of making art.” And that it just what we are doing.

Sound Harbor has much to be excited about. It is recently an official 501c3 non profit, and it now has a new home, located inside Art Haven at 180 Main Street.  Art Haven and the Hive have been incubators for Sound Harbor, supporting each other’s missions in order to provide the most for our community.

Sound Harbor will be hosting an open house on May 23rd from 2:30-4:30, celebrating their grand opening in their new home, and giving some of their students and staff an opportunity to share what they have been doing over the past year with a performance at 3pm.  We welcome all to come check it out and enjoy some light refreshments as well as an instrument petting zoo. Those who have always wanted to play an instrument but never got the chance, or those who have played but want to try out something new will be able to try as many instruments as they can hold during the open house.

Also, Sound Harbor is currently seeking board members and volunteers.  Even if you are not musically inclined, the organization is in need of graphic designers, grant writers and general support.  All interested are highly encouraged to apply.

What is most incredible about these three organizations—Sound Harbor, Art Haven and The Hive—is not just the programing that they provide, but the community they are creating.  It is where both young and old alike come together to not only create, but to contribute.  They are part of the foundation that makes Gloucester’s community stronger than ever.

Sound Harbor website

 

 

OPEN HOUSE

Saturday, May 23, 2015

180 Main Street

Gloucester, MA

 

Instrument Petting Zoo:    2:30–4:30PM

SOUND HARBOR Performance:    3:00PM

Join us to…

 

  • Check out our new location – we’ve been building!
  • Play some instruments
  • Hear about our summer music programs
  • Meet our board
  • Share your ideas on how Sound Harbor might serve the Cape Ann music-community

 

 

charleeCharlee Bianchini is a native of Gloucester. She is a singer, songwriter, guitarist, and music teacher.

How Much Fluoridation is Safe?

The Gloucester vote on fluoridation is on Tuesday November 5th

A “Yes” vote will continue the practice of adding sodium fluoride to our drinking water. 

A “No” vote will stop the practice of fluoridation in Gloucester.

 

0.7 Parts per Million

On April 27,2015, The United States Health and Human Services issued a proclamation that the “optimal” concentration of fluoride in drinking water should now be 0.7 parts per million (ppm), versus the old “optimal” range of 0.7ppm to 1.2ppm, which has been in place since 1962.  The very next day, The Massachusetts Health and Human Services dutifully passed this on to each and every Board of Health in Massachusetts.  On May 7, The Gloucester Board of Health followed suit by voting in favor of this proclamation.  Rockport will no doubt chime in any day now.

Interestingly enough, none of these bodies has provided any scientific evidence whatsoever that 0.7 ppm is a valid number. One must then surmise it has been randomly chosen.  Even worse, none offered a clear definition of “optimal”, but perhaps we can fill in the blanks for them here.

The EPA tells us that concentrations of natural fluorides above 4ppm can cause severe skeletal fluorosis….Bone spurs, deformed limbs, calcified ligaments, conditions often mistaken for plain old severe, crippling, arthritis.  So clearly, we’d better have less than 4ppm in our water.  The EPA’s administration has no comment on less severe forms of fluorosis which can result from lower fluoride concentrations.

It was determined (as a guess) during the 1940s that, with water fluoridated with synthetic fluorides to 1.0 ppm, only about 10% of our population would develop fluorosis.  Today, at 1.0 ppm the CDC tells us that 41% of US teens 12-14 years old have fluorosis, which shows up first as permanent white or brown spots on their teeth.  So clearly, something is going wrong.  Apparently, “optimal” must be lower than 1.0 ppm.  The EPA Union of Scientists and Engineers tells us that zero parts per million would be their best guess. They have been at odds with their administration over this for over 2 decades now.

There are quite a few “maybes” with all of this.  Maybe fewer teens will have fluorosis over the next few decades with the new improved “optimal” concentration, but without any study to back it up, it’s pretty hard to judge the impact, if any.  Maybe they will need to drop the concentration to 0.3 ppm someday, which is about what nature gives us in the first place.  Maybe we’d be better off just stopping the practice altogether.

 

 

 

mike foleyMichael Foley is a retired mechanical engineer who resides in Gloucester, MA.   He is a songwriter, musician and stone sculptor, and has been heavily involved in the effort to stop the practice of  fluoridation on Cape Ann, MA.