Unexpected Visitors

You knew I was going to write something about what’s going on, right? Martha’s Vineyard hasn’t hit the national news this way since the first Clinton visit in 1993. As features editor for the Martha’s Vineyard Times I had a front-row seat for that one. My fury with the national media for their inability to see the Vineyard even while they were swarming all over it set me on the road to writing my so-far-only novel, The Mud of the Place. (Epigraph from Grace Paley: “If your feet aren’t in the mud of a place, you better watch where your mouth is.”)

Before that, the Vineyard hit the media big-time with the making and release of Jaws in the mid-1970s, and when Senator Ted Kennedy drove off a bridge on Chappaquiddick and left Mary Jo Kopechne to drown in the back seat of his car in 1969.

This story is bigger than all of the above. Chappaquiddick took a life and cost Ted Kennedy whatever presidential ambitions he had, but Florida governor Ron DeSantis’s callous PR stunt is happening at the confluence of several national stories: immigration, the impending midterm elections, and the moral, ethical, and political backruptcy of the Republican Party. And it landed right here on Martha’s Vineyard with no advance warning, not to local officials or even, it seems, to Governor Charlie Baker, a Republican of the nearly extinct breed repudiated by the Trump-following MAGAs.

The story, whose details and consequences are still unfolding, is all over the media. Here’s a good summary as of Thursday afternoon from the Vineyard Gazette. The short version: Earlier this week in San Antonio a woman calling herself Perla recruited (polite word) migrants to board a plane north, where they were told they would find housing, jobs, assistance with immigration paperwork, and/or educational opportunities. Two chartered planes carrying a total of about 50 men, women, and children apparently flew to Florida then to Martha’s Vineyard, one via South Carolina and the other via North Carolina.

No one on Martha’s Vineyard was notified in advance. The passengers thought they were headed for Boston or New York until they were notified in mid-flight that their destimation was the Vineyard, which most of them had never heard of. They arrived at Martha’s Vineyard Airport around 3 p.m. Wedneaday afternoon. Along with them was a videographer who recorded their arrival for Fox “News.” From there they were transported in two vans to Martha’s Vineyard Community Services (MVCS). How this was arranged and by whom remains unclear. The travelers had already been given brochures about MVCS, along with unhelpful maps of the Vineyard.

At that point the word went out and the Vineyard mobilized to feed, shelter, and provide necessary resources to the migrants. The homeless shelter at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Edgartown was outfitted with enough cots and other supplies to house five times its usual 10-person capacity.

On Thursday afternoon the migrants moved to the Joint Base in Bourne, on the Cape, where there was more room and ready access to necessary legal, medical, and other resources.

The particular stunt was orchestrated by Florida governor Ron DeSantis. It seems the Florida legislature has appropriated $12 million for stunts like this: busing and now flying migrants to what he calls “sanctuary states.” (Earth to Ron: Massachusetts is not a sanctuary state, though several years ago Vineyard town meetings did pass warrant articles directing law enforcement not to cooperate with ICE, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, in attempting to deport undocumented immigrants.)

For a summary of how the migrants were treated by DeSantis and Department of Homeland Security officials in Florida, check this out:

As always, the regional and national media misrepresent the Vineyard as a “wealthy enclave,” an “upscale community,” etc., etc., but this time the media’s obtuseness has been outweighed by the appallingly vile and ignorant comments in every media outlet I’ve checked that allows them, including the two Vineyard papers. I started to write “They get their facts wrong,” but closer to the truth would be “They don’t bother with facts. Facts get in the way of their preferred narrative.” One of the preferred narratives goes something like “See how you like it when the southern border comes to Massachusetts.” Another seems to be “The rich people on Martha’s Vineyard made a show of being nice to the illegals then kicked them off the island.”

It’s not clear at this point whether DeSantis and his ilk can be charged with any crimes. Fraud, trafficking, and kidnapping have all been suggested. You don’t need a criminal statute to recognize political opportunism and moral depravity when you see it, however.

You don’t have to be an historian to realize something like this has happened before, because a few news outlets have kindly recalled it to our attention. Exactly 60 years ago southern white segregationists orchestrated the so-called “reverse freedom rides,” tricking poor Black people into boarding buses bound for the Cape Cod summer home of then president John F. Kennedy. The racist tactics and the compassionate northern response are remarkably similar to what just happened on Martha’s Vineyard.

For now I’m working hard to focus on the positive: 50 migrants who have survived more hardships than most of us can imagine found respite here, and Martha’s Vineyard rose to the occasion and showed the world what hospitality looks like.

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August License Plate Report

Best. August. Ever!

Which you might have surmised because here I am posting on the first of the month instead of waiting a week, or, in the case of June, almost a month.

I went back over the last 10 years of license plate maps. The August tallies ranged from a low of 0 in 2014 to a high of 4 in 2020. 1s and 2s were common.

In August 2022 I saw SEVEN, and that’s not even the best of it because one of them was NORTH DAKOTA. Two of the others were Alaska and Mississippi. These are big deals.

The unicorn of license plates

Interestingly enough, all three showed up in the parking areas that ring the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital. Ellen M. of Vineyard Haven gave me the heads-up on North Dakota and Mississippi, and I think I gave her a heads-up on Alaska. She reported North Dakota — with the accompanying photograph — on a Saturday, when the hospital is so relatively deserted that I rarely cruise through the parking lots, but on the following Saturday I swung through — and there it was, in almost the same place she’d seen it: around back.

The August roll call, in order:

  • Idaho
  • Delaware
  • Alaska
  • Iowa
  • Louisiana
  • North Dakota
  • Mississippi

I spotted Louisiana through the hedge outside the Fine Fettle marijuana dispensary in West Tisbury — Tam and I were walking to the post office — and I think I saw long-overdue Delaware on Circuit Ave., which is also fertile ground for license-plate hunting. Not sure about Idaho or Iowa. I really should make a note where I find the less common plates and the late arrivals . . .

The total now stands at 45, with 6 left to go: Wyoming, Nebraska, Missouri, Arkansas, Alabama, and West Virginia. Usually things drop off sharply after July, but this record August showing gives me high hopes for the rest of the year.

By the way, I just learned that Paulo O. plays the game and the only one he’s missing is Kansas. So if you spot Kansas in Edgartown during regular work hours, call the register of deed’s office! I got Kansas at Kenny Belain’s garage when I was there to get inspected at the end of May, but I haven’t seen it since.

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My Primary Picks

This post is for you, Massachusetts voters! Our primary is less than two weeks away — the day after Labor Day, and the day kids go back to school. Who the hell thought that was a good idea? No one in a summer-exhausted place like Martha’s Vineyard, that’s for sure.

Note for the TL:DR crowd (don’t worry, I get it: this is a long post!): Scroll down to the bottom and you’ll find my recommendations and nothing but my recommendations.

Back before I fell in with Democrats in 2016, the primary would roll around at the end of the summer and I’d barely know who was on the ballot. I’d be like your college student who hasn’t been to class all semester and just started the reading yesterday. This year? Well, for me primary season began a whole year ago. I’ve met most of the candidates, virtually if not in person. I’ve heard all of them speak at least once, and I’ve digested a slew of campaign materials. Since I can only vote once, I’m writing this blog to put all that information to good use.

Thanks to the VOTES Act passed earlier this year, making most of the temporary COVID-19 measures permanent, mail-in voting has already begun. Early in-person voting starts this Saturday, Aug. 27, which is also the last day you can register to vote in the primary. Everyone reading this is already registered, right? Right??

The late Travvy campaigns for Dylan Fernandes and Julian Cyr in 2018. They’re running unopposed in their respective primaries, but definitely vote for them.

If you’re on the Vineyard, your town clerk knows everything there is to know about where and when to vote.

You can check your registration status here on the secretary of state’s website — not a bad idea, especially if you’ve moved recently — and you can register to vote, change your registration, or twist the arm of anyone you know who just doesn’t have time to get registered here. Massachusetts is an open-primary state, which means that if you’re not enrolled in any party, you can take any party’s primary ballot. Hint: The Democrats have some excellent candidates running, and we have contested primary races for lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state, auditor, and Dukes County sheriff.

Uncontested Primary Races

Several of my favorites have no primary opponents. Martha’s Vineyard is represented by have two of the best state legislators in the commonwealth, Julian Cyr in the state senate and Dylan Fernandes in the house, so you bet I’m endorsing them. As you can see above, the late Travvy was an enthusiastic campaigner. You’ll probably see Tam Lin out there one of these days.

Cape & Islands District Attorney

Rob Galibois and me at the Vineyard’s first-ever Pride celebration in June 2022. Photo by Nikki Paratore Galibois.

Also unopposed in the primary, though not in the November election, is Rob Galibois, candidate for Cape & Islands district attorney. The outgoing Republican DA ran unopposed for years, despite his lackluster performance. Efforts to recruit a good Democrat paid off when Rob stepped up to run. We couldn’t ask for a better candidate. He has extensive experience as both a prosecutor (he was an assistant DA in the Cape & Islands DA’s office from 1997 to 2003) and a defense attorney.

As DA he intends to develop “diversion” programs to help people, especially young people, veterans, and people with mental health issues, stay out of the court system. Since so many of us are at best dimly aware of what the DA’s office does, he also wants to prioritize community involvement by creating a “community engagement officer” position and by encouraging attorneys and staff to volunteer a few hours a month in their communities. Much more about Rob’s plans and priorities can be found on his website.

Dukes County Sheriff

I’m backing, rooting for, and otherwise supporting the incumbent, Sheriff Robert (Bob) Ogden, who’s running for his second six-year-term. He’s done well in addressing the myriad challenges of a demanding job. These go beyond the obvious law-enforcement tasks — keep in mind that each of the six island towns has its own police department — to include running the Communications Center and maintaining the county jail and courthouse, both of which date back to the 19th century and need extensive repair and renovation. This involves much politicking on the state level.

Bob’s opponent, Erik Blake, recently retired as Oak Bluffs police chief and is by all accounts a good guy, but after hearing both men speak twice, I’m not sure Erik is well prepared for this aspect of the job. I also haven’t heard Erik make a case for why we should discharge Bob and hire him instead.

The Martha’s Vineyard League of Women Voters is hosting a forum featuring the two candidates on Tuesday, Aug. 30, 7:30 to 9 p.m. at the Oak Bluffs library. The recording will be broadcast on MVTV afterward.

Statewide Races

Governor

Attorney General Maura Healey speaks to an MV Dems meeting in July 2017. That’s our state rep, Dylan Fernandes, at left. He ran her campaign for attorney general in 2014 and worked in her office before he was elected to the legislature in 2016.

I’d bet good money that Maura Healey, our standout attorney general since 2015, is going to be our next governor, and I think she’ll be a good one. However, State Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz is also on the ballot, although she ended her campaign in late June. I supported her at the Democratic state convention earlier that month, and I’m going to vote for her in the primary. Why? Well, when Sonia spoke to the Martha’s Vineyard Democrats last December, she said of Beacon Hill political culture that “it lacks a critical ingredient, and that ingredient is urgency.” She noted that our state legislature is dominated by “powerful people who are convinced that we can afford to go slow.” Those people are virtually all Democrats. They and the rest of the Democratic establishment are going to be exerting continual pressure on Governor Healey to go slow. Massachusetts does not need a Democratic Charlie Baker. We need to continually remind our future governor and the rest of the Democratic leadership of that. I’m starting with my primary vote.

Lieutenant Governor

In an election cycle with no shortage of excellent candidates, the lieutenant governor field has stood out. Going into the state convention, there were five contending for the nomination. My favorite, State Senator Adam Hinds, didn’t get the 15% necessary to qualify for a spot on the primary ballot, so I’m urging a vote for the guy who was my close second, State Senator Eric Lesser.

That’s State Senator Eric Lesser on the left.

Something Adam and Eric have in common is that they’re both from western Mass. This matters. Pay attention to state politics, especially as filtered through the Boston-based media, and you’ll realize how metro-Boston-centric it is. The world beyond 495 might as well be in North Dakota, and that includes the Cape & Islands as well as the western half of the state.

Eric has been a leader in the fight to establish high-speed rail from Boston to Pittsfield, something that will help link one end of the state to the other and also have huge implications for mitigating climate change, alleviating the state’s housing crisis, and promoting economic development. He’s also got a solid record on other issues, including dealing with the pandemic and the opioid crisis. There’s a lot more about Eric’s priorities on his website.

What does the lieutenant governor do, anyway? Good question! The office’s main constitutional responsibility is presiding over the Governor’s Council, a little-known body that has the important task of providing “advice and consent” to nominations to the state bench and various boards. The lieutenant governor works closely with the governor and can fill in as needed, but they have plenty of leeway to develop the job as the commonwealth’s needs and their own priorities decree.

Secretary of State

Tanisha Sullivan

In most states, including Massachusetts, the secretary of state oversees elections. The Trump administration and Trump’s attempt to overturn the 2020 election showed us how crucial this office is, which is why the GOP is working hard across the country to stack it with election deniers and those who want to make voting harder for populations that tend to vote Democratic: young people, people of color, etc., etc. No danger of that happening here, but our longtime secretary of state, Bill Galvin, dragged his feet on reforms to make voting more accessible, more accurate, and safer — until COVID-19 forced his hand. The temporary measures instituted in 2020 led to the highest voter turnout in our state’s history. Most of them were made permanent earlier this year by the VOTES Act, and guess who’s acting as if he was in favor of them all along?

Tanisha Sullivan is, no question, my pick for secretary of state, and not just because her speech at the state Democratic convention in June was electrifying. The secretary of state is in charge of more than elections, and Tanisha intends to be the commonwealth’s “chief democracy officer,” ensuring that public records are accurate, complete, and accessible. Since Massachusetts ranks near the bottom of the 50 states on transparency and accountability, this is crucial. When it comes to registering a business, very small businesses currently pay the same fees as very large corporations. Tanisha sees leveling the playing field for small business as crucial to building a thriving economy that benefits everyone. For more about her plans for the secretary of state’s office, check out her website.

Tanisha is a small business owner herself; she holds both an MBA and a JD, and since 2017 she’s been president of the Boston branch of the NAACP.

Attorney General

I was in Andrea Campbell‘s camp before current AG Maura Healey announced her support, so that wasn’t what persuaded me, but seriously — when the person who knows the job best endorses a candidate running to succeed her, I pay attention. Andrea has also been endorsed by my state senator, Julian Cyr, whose opinion I respect, U.S. Senator Ed Markey, the Planned Parenthood Advocacy Fund of MA, and quite a few others whose names you’d probably recognize.

Andrea Campbell

Andrea’s personal story is harrowing — and a key to her commitment to public service. When she was eight months old, her mother was killed in a car crash, en route to visit Andrea’s father, who was in prison. Andrea didn’t meet him till he got out when she was eight years old.

She credits her relatives, her community, and her teachers for helping her become the first member of her family to graduate first from college and then from law school. In 2015 she was elected to the Boston City Council; in 2018 she became its chair.

She brings to the attorney general’s office extensive familiarity with the challenges facing the commonwealth around transportation, health care, education, housing, and climate change. She plans to continue and expand the important work of the current AG’s office. For more about her priorities, see her website.

Auditor

Truth to tell, I haven’t made up my mind about the auditor’s race yet, in part because I’m still not entirely clear what’s part of the auditor’s job and what isn’t. IOW, how much of what the candidates are promising are actually within the scope — and the actual possibilities — of the job? I may add to this post in a few days. Meanwhile, you can check out the candidates’ websites for yourself: Chris Dempsey and Diana DiZoglio.

Treasurer

Incumbent Deb Goldberg is running unopposed in the primary, so that’s easy. You can learn more about her and what the treasurer does here.

Susanna’s Primary Picks

  • Governor: Sonia Chang-Díaz / Maura Healey
  • Lieutenant Governor: Eric Lesser
  • Secretary of State: Tanisha Sullivan
  • Attorney General: Andrea Campbell
  • Treasurer: Deb Goldberg
  • Auditor: still undecided
  • Dukes County Sheriff: Robert (Bob) Ogden
  • Cape & Islands DA: Rob Galibois
  • State Senate: Julian Cyr
  • State Representative: Dylan Fernandes
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Thinking About Liz Cheney

On the landing of my grandmother’s house, two very tall matching mirrors faced each other across 10 feet of carpet. When I looked into one of them, I could see duplicates of myself endlessly receding into the glass. If I looked over my shoulder, I could see my backside doing likewise.

Each mirror reflected what the other saw, nothing more, nothing less. One saw the back of me. The other saw the front. I could only see the back of me if I looked over my shoulder.

Everybody with access to a platform, it seems, has an opinion about Liz Cheney. Reading and listening to those opinions has me thinking about those facing mirrors. In one mirror, she’s the star of the January 6 hearings, a profile in courage, and, since she rather spectacularly lost her primary in Wyoming, a political martyr. In the other, she’s the conservative Republican with the atrocious voting record and a father who was the arch-villain of the Bush II administration, and even if (as some grudgingly admit) she’s doing an OK job on the 1/6 committee, that doesn’t outweigh all the evil things she’s done.

The two mirrors react to each other. They even egg each other on: rhapsodic praise on one side elicits harsher condemnation on the other. I must admit, when it’s suggested that Cheney might have a place in a Democratic administration, I shake my head and wonder what these people are thinking, or maybe drinking. There’s a “prodigal son” aspect to the story: the renegade daughter gets celebrated for doing what the devoted siblings have been doing all along with no fanfare.

I’ve been following the 1/6 hearings pretty closely, and I have to say that Liz Cheney has been very impressive. You’d never guess from her performance that her voting record was substantially different from those of all the other committee members, with the exception, of course, of fellow Republican Adam Kinzinger’s.

Before the hearings started, all I knew about Cheney was that her younger sister, Mary, was a lesbian married to another woman and that for a long time they were estranged because of Liz’s opposition to same-sex marriage. Liz eventually came around and now regrets her earlier position. Without getting effusive about it, I can still commend her for examining her beliefs, finding them wanting, and going public about it.

And this gets me to why I’m impatient with all the Cheney commentary that’s bouncing back and forth between the two facing mirrors. What I’m most intensely curious about is the story that’s unfolding out of the public eye and can’t be told yet: how are these tumultuous experiences affecting the woman at the heart of them? Working hand in glove with Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS), with whom she previously had little in common in either politics or life experience? Watching most of your longtime friends and colleagues turn against you, and reveal true colors that you never suspected? Learning more about the inner workings of your party that you maybe suspected but didn’t want to believe? Finding support in unexpected places?

Maybe she’ll come out of the cauldron just the way she went in, but I’ll be surprised (and disappointed) if that turns out to be case. This is potentially Saul-on-the-road-to-Damascus stuff. When she writes an account of this time in her life — when, not if — it will go to the top of my reading list as soon as it comes out.


Cheney’s concession speech is well worth a listen. It’s about 13 minutes long.

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How Hot Is It?

Not as hot here on Martha’s Vineyard as in some other places, but it’s hot, and muggy, and it hasn’t rained in many weeks.

I don’t track the temperature or the humidity, but here’s my data point.

The Airport Laundromat. Photo is from 2011,but it hasn’t changed much, except the trim is now red.

I generally do laundry when I’m about to run out of underwear: about every three weeks. Yes, I have too much underwear and too many pairs of socks, but keep in mind that I don’t have a washing machine and for about 14 years I used the Airport Laundromat. I and the resident malamute — first Travvy and now Tam — would stroll around the airport while the clothes washed, then I’d toss them into two big canvas bags, take them home, and hang them out.

Not including the hanging out, this took an hour or so, an hour during which I couldn’t do much of anything else. If I had my own washer, I could do a load every week or 10 days and go about my day while the machine was doing its thing. I could, in other words, get by with less underwear and fewer pairs of socks.

For the last year or so my neighbor/landlady has let me use her washer, which is great, but I don’t want to be over there every week either so I still mostly do laundry when I’m about to run out of undies.

Today, however, I had more than a week’s supply of clean underwear in the drawer. What I was almost out of were clean shorts and clean sleeveless Ts and other tops. In cool weather I can wear the same T-shirt, or turtleneck, for several days in a row. In hot, muggy summer the mere thought of pulling on the morning T after taking a post-walk shower — yecchh. Socks are not much better.

Not surprisingly, there were no long pants of any kind on the laundry line today. There was only one T-shirt with sleeves.

I should note that my apartment is not air-conditioned (muwahahaha), and since I work at home, I don’t have to dress to impress or even to stay on the good side of the dress code. (My entire life I’ve managed to avoid workplaces with dress codes.)

Summer laundry is a lot more colorful than cool-weather laundry, and the wind kept it moving. Socks and underwear dry on a rack up on my deck, and the undies kept flying off. I’m not complaining, however, because everything dried almost as fast as it would have in a dryer.

This weather inevitably makes me think of the years I lived in D.C. and commuted by bicycle. For two years it was a 10-mile ride each way, from home in Mount Pleasant, D.C., to Alexandria, Virginia. It was bike path almost all the way, though navigating the traffic around Memorial Bridge took nerves of steel and/or an obliviousness to one’s own mortality. On the way home I’d stop to soak my bandana and my face in a bubbler at the Lincoln Memorial. The last mile was straight uphill, from the backside of the National Zoo to the relatively level streets of my neighborhood. Sometimes I walked my bike part of the way.

My commutes got steadily shorter after that, till in 1999 they disappeared entirely. That didn’t keep me off the road, however: for the 10 years or so I had a horse, the horse and I never lived in the same place, so I was always driving somewhere to do barn chores. By then I had a canine companion, so biking was pretty much out of the question.

The view from above
The other end of the line
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July License Plate Report

Unlike the June report, July is being posted in a reasonably timely fashion. It really is August 6.

Compare the top of this map to the top of June’s and you’ll see that July was a very good month: only two states, but they’re both cause for celebration. Not to mention they’re both pretty big, at least compared to Massachusetts, which of course is my benchmark for everything.

I’m rarely in downtown Edgartown, especially in the summer, but the Fourth of July parade lured me thither this year — I was marching with the Democratic Council of Martha’s Vineyard — and that South Dakota plate in a driveway on Cooke Street (or was it Davis Lane?) shouted that I was in the right place at the right time.

The rest of the month was, not surprisingly, a wash. Until near the very end of the month MONTANA appeared, in the parking lot next to the West Tisbury post office of all places. It was outside the West Tisbury church that I spotted Hawaii in May, so let it not be said that all the good stuff is down-island, or in the hospital parking lot.

The count is holding at 38, which isn’t all that great for this time of year. However, some of the missing states, if not exactly common, aren’t all that rare either: looking especially at that vertical line in the country’s midsection, from Iowa south to Louisiana. Idaho and Alabama should be possible too, and where the hell are you, Delaware?

A friend reported NORTH DAKOTA (yeah, you read that right) in the hospital parking lot and posted a photo to prove it. The hospital is a great hunting ground, especially in summer, when travel nurses and doctors come from all over to accommodate our bloated summer population. I fully intended to make a pass through yesterday, but the traffic going into Vineyard Haven was crawling, the temp was in the mid-80s, and I had Tam in the car, so I accomplished my errand — delivering a manuscript on the outskirts of town — and headed home.

But I’m still having North Dakota dreams . . .

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Fourth of July

Yeah, it’s the sixth already, but here’s a comment about the parade that I just posted on Lucian K. Truscott IV’s Substack (to which I subscribe and where I frequently comment).

I live in a small town on the largest island off the coast of Massachusetts. Monday afternoon I marched in the Fourth of July parade in the next town over, helping carry the banner for the island’s Democratic Council. Some of us wore black armbands that said ROE on them. Others carried signs that said JANUARY 6: REMEMBER IN NOVEMBER. The Democratic candidate for Cape & Islands DA and his family marched with us. (If you vote in our region, remember his name: Rob Galibois.) We danced and sang along to an awesome soundtrack created by one of our members — belting out the words to the Jefferson Airplane’s “Volunteers” was especially satisfying.

Just ahead of us was the “best in show” float for Pond View Farm, packed with tie-dye-shirted kids tossing candy to the spectators (a local tradition). Behind us was the Vineyard Peace Council, with a sign that said “War is still not the answer.” According to one of the local papers, more than a thousand people were in the parade and an estimated 25,000 crowded the sidewalks, porches, and balconies to see us pass by. The weather was perfect.

It was our first Fourth of July parade since the beginning of Covid-19. It was the last where no one thought for a minute that a shooter might cut loose with a high-powered semiautomatic rifle.

From left, Carol Koury, me, Patty Blakesley, and Ann Hollister in Edgartown’s Fourth of July parade, 1995.

I think the last time I marched in or even attended Edgartown’s Fourth of July parade was in 1995, the 75th anniversary of the League of Women Voters. I wasn’t a League member but three of my friends were. We marched together wearing suffragist colors. The sign says DEMOCRACY IS NOT A SPECTATOR SPORT, a slogan that is even more timely now than it was then. Maybe if more of us had been paying more attention then, we wouldn’t be in the morass we’re in now.

So much has happened since that we couldn’t have imagined then.

In the days before the Fourth I heard (or read) many people saying that this year they didn’t feel like celebrating the nation’s birthday. Maybe because I came of political age during the Vietnam War, which in my 18th year bled into the Nixon administration, I have never thought of the Fourth as a birthday party. Some years I’d go watch fireworks with friends, but more often I’d stay home and try to keep the resident dog from freaking out at the noise. (Rhodry hated fireworks. Trav was mostly OK with them, and Tam barely notices the noise.)

I started taking the Fourth personally the first year I got to participate in a local community reading of Frederick Douglass’s 1852 speech “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?,” masterminded by Abigail McGrath of Renaissance House and the amazing Makani Themba. That was eight or nine years ago, and I’ve done it every year since (except for the year it didn’t happen). It was at the Inkwell, a stretch of beach in Oak Bluffs that has long been special to the African-American community. In 2020 and 2021, thanks to Covid, each of us recorded our own segments and from them Michelle Vivian-Jemison of MVTV created the speech on video. This year we returned to the Inkwell, and you can watch the recording here:

These times we’re living through give me clues about what it must have been like to be living in the 1850s. Douglass gave his speech in 1852. In 1850, Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Act, which gave Southern slaveholders and their agents to invade Northern free states in search of their escaped “property.” Now, in 2022, states that are outlawing abortion are talking of doing something similar: prosecuting women who go elsewhere to obtain abortion services, and even the health-care personnel who assist them.

In 1854 Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which undermined the Missouri Compromise of 1820 and left the question of slave or free up to “the people” (i.e., white male voters) in the new western states. Slavery supporters poured into Kansas to ensure that Kansas would become another slave state. The result was “Bleeding Kansas,” a period of violent conflict between the opponents and supporters of slavery that heralded the civil war to come.

As the 1850s went on, more and more USians came to acknowledge that the fissures dividing the nation could no longer be papered over. I hope against hope that the Trump administration, the January 6 insurrection, and the recent Supreme Court decisions have moved more and more of us to the same conclusion. It’s impossible not to notice that the Trump-supporting, abortion-outlawing “red states” include virtually all of the old Confederacy, and that the belief in white male Christian supremacy links the 1850s to our own decade.

To those who didn’t feel like celebrating the Fourth this year, I give you Frederick Douglass’s words:

Standing, there, identified with the American bondman, making his wrongs mine, I do not hesitate to declare, with all my soul, that the character and conduct of this nation never looked blacker to me than on this 4th of July! Whether we turn to the declarations of the past, or to the professions of the present, the conduct of the nation seems equally hideous and revolting. America is false to the past, false to the present, and solemnly binds herself to be false to the future.

I hear that as a reminder and challenge: that USians of the 1850s had hard choices to make, they made them, and that after a bloody, bloody civil war the nation expanded to include the formerly enslaved. The enslavers fought back, of course, and eventually they got their way: they replaced slavery with Jim Crow, and used the U.S. Congress to impose their priorities on the rest of the country. In the 1960s their supremacy went into remission, but in the beginning of the 1980s it came roaring back and it’s only gotten worse in the decades since.

So here we are. We have hard choices to make, and the longer we delay, the harder the choices will get. The word “choice” has long been shorthand for reproductive choice, the right to choose abortion, but now so much more is at stake, starting with the right to choose our representatives, the right to learn U.S. history, the right to organize for a fair wage and safe working conditions, the right to live and let live. Will we rise to the occasion, as Frederick Douglass and so many others have, starting with the founders in 1776?

It’s your choice. My choice. Our choice. Choose.

Women’s rights advocates hang out with “Senator Elizabeth Warren” as we wait for the Fourth of July parade to start.
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June License Plate Report

Just so you know, I’m shamelessly backdating this report. It’s actually August 6. Around the third week of July it dawned on me that I’d never posted the June license plate report — not because I had nothing to report, but because I never got around to it. That was embarrassing, though I sort of have an excuse (I have a sort-of excuse?): in mid-June Matilda, my laptop, died, really died, so I was working on my backup, seven-year-old Kore, which did the job (bless her!) but is slow slow slow.

Matilda 2 arrived and was up and running by the end of the second week in July, which probably explains — or at least will do for an explanation of — why I wasn’t thinking license plates till then. Plus, while in Edgartown for the Fourth of July parade, I spotted SOUTH DAKOTA in a downtown Edgartown driveway.

Whatever the reasonexcuse, I procrastinated a little longer and as August drew close and closer I considered combining June and July: two maps in one post, two months in one heading. That didn’t sit well, mainly because I’m a traditionalist when it comes to my own traditions. So here’s June:

The new ones on the map are Kentucky and neighboring Indiana, 35 and 36 respectively. Delaware is still AWOL so the East Coast remains incomplete. Gotta keep my eye out for that one.

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The Search for Kong

Kong

I couldn’t find Kong anywhere. My apartment is not large. Kong is not small like an earring. But Kong was nowhere to be found.

Kong — or, more formally, Kong Wobbler — is one of Tam’s favorite toys. The top unscrews so you can put treats in it. There’s a keyhole-shaped slot in the side. By batting it around and sometimes rolling it with his nose, Tam persuades the treats to come out the slot. Some treats are small and round enough to come out easily. Mini dog biscuits take more time and effort.

I looked everywhere.

I looked everywhere twice.

I looked places where Kong has never gone: under the bed, behind my work chair, in the closet.

No Kong.

I went from “Where’s Kong?” to “Where the hell is Kong?” to “Someone has stolen Kong.”

My rational mind knew that it was highly unlikely that anyone had snuck in and stolen Kong, but long ago, my editorial mentor, the late Sylvia Abrams, when she couldn’t find something would call out “Who stole my [fill in the blank]?” Whereupon [fill in the blank] would turn up, sometimes in plain sight, sometimes not.

It didn’t work this time. Next time I will use Sylvia’s wording: “Who stole . . . ?”

I gave up, temporarily. Tam and I both needed a walk.

On our walk I tried to think like a Kong, or like Tam playing with the Kong. When I leave Tam home alone, I put out a well-stocked Kong and a couple of peanut butter bones. The Kong starts off in our second-floor apartment but almost invariably winds up downstairs in the studio space. So when we got back, I did another search of the studio. No luck. Then I had to pee.

My bathroom is on the ground floor, same as the studio. This is a close-up of the view from the can:

The chair is kitty-corner from the bathroom. Even at that distance I could see there was something under it.

It was Kong. Wedged in so firmly I had to lift the chair to pull it out.

Tam was thrilled. There was still something in it — turned out to be not one but two mini dog biscuits — and he went to work persuading it to come out.

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Pride Parade

The Vineyard’s first ever “Pride Parade” took place on June 11, a bright sunny altogether perfect late-spring Saturday, but I am just now getting around to posting about it. What makes it more odd is that this post is mainly an excuse to reprint something I wrote for the local branch of the NAACP’s newsletter, which came out after the June 1 flag raising but before June 11 festivities. You’ll find that at the end of this post. It’s still “Pride Month” so what the hell.

I was asked to be the “grand marshal” for reasons I don’t quite understand. I do seem to have acquired the status of “elder,” probably because I’ve survived on Martha’s Vineyard for this long and have a lot of interesting history in my head. I’m encouraged that there’s interest in that history, but concerned that if “elder” becomes a synonym for “old person,” it will be yet another way of dismissing us, with a pat on the head rather than more obvious forms of contempt and/or ridicule.

Me and Rob Galibois, Democratic candidate for Cape & Islands DA. Photo by Nikki Galibois.

We mustered at the Island Queen dock on Oak Bluffs harbor. You can glimpse a bit of the scene from the photo (right) of me and Rob Galibois, Democratic candidate for Cape & Islands district attorney. (Readers on the Cape and either island, please take note. Rob is unopposed in the Democratic primary in September, but remember to vote for Rob in November. Thank you.)

This is the first time I’ve seen Rob in anything but a suit. I am wearing the same T-shirt I wore to the June 1 flag raising. Part of being an elder is having cool T-shirts that no one else has and being able to explain where they came from.

Anyhow, “grand marshal” involved walking at the head of the parade, just behind the Oak Bluffs police officer on a cute little scooter that looked like a motorized hand truck with room enough for her to stand. Right behind me were the Dykes on Bikes, one of whom had a smallish border-collie-type dog riding pillion behind her in a milk crate. To my very pleasant surprise, most of them seemed to be local.

Behind them came an array of colorful contingents, decked out in rainbow colors. Several participants came on horseback. The horses and ponies were unfazed by the flapping banners, the marching band, the crowds, and the general hoop-de-do.

From the dock, past waterside restaurants and watering holes, up Circuit Ave, along the residential streets just off Circuit to Ocean Park, onlookers were many and enthusiastic. The pace was fairly brisk. At some point I was asked if I wanted to ride. I managed to stifle my laughter and politely say “Not to worry, I’m a walker.” Of course I’m wondering if this was part of that elder thing. Do I look like someone who can’t walk a brisk mile or two?

Ocean Park and the gazebo were decked out in rainbow colors. The NAACP had a table. Organizers were passing out water bottles, and the band Funktapuss was getting ready to play. (They were great, by the way. If I didn’t have a malamute who was almost certainly complaining bitterly at being home alone, I would have danced longer.)

The Ocean Park gazebo decked out for Pride. The banner reads LOVE ALWAYS WINS.

I’d been asked to say a few words — part of that grand marshal thing, I think — and it was clear to me that the crowd wanted to party. So I mentioned how far the Vineyard had come since I arrived, when the operative guideline was “I don’t care what you do as long as you don’t do it in the streets and scare the horses.” In 2022, we seemed to be doing it in the streets but the horses weren’t worried.

The whole event was as sunny as the day. I experienced little of the dissonance and discomfort that was business as usual back when it was just Gay & Lesbian Pride. The piece that follows addresses this. On the whole I don’t see the absence of dissonance, discomfort, and discussion as an especially good thing.


My first Gay Pride was in 1978. Holly Near was the headliner and that’s what drew my friends and me. It was basically a block party in a fairly quiet neighborhood not far from D.C.’s Dupont Circle, which was widely known as a “gay ghetto.”

That first Pride venue was a bit out of the way, though the music must have wafted out to nearby Connecticut Ave. Passersby weren’t likely to see anything that might trigger their moral sensitivities or make them nervous. If you were there, it was because you wanted to be there and you already knew where to go.

My next Prides were more like carnivals than block parties. They took place at P Street Beach, an out-of-the-way sliver of Rock Creek Park. I wasn’t the only woman who was uneasy around the leather men in their neo-Nazi regalia (minus the swastikas) or some of the drag queens, whose parodies of female behavior sometimes veered into blatant misogyny.

I had already learned that diversity is often downright uncomfortable, and that the discomfort isn’t apportioned equally. The comfort of those accorded more power by society often comes at the expense of those with less.

In the late 1970s and into the ’80s it was black lesbians and lesbians of color who took the lead in addressing this, years before Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw coined a word for it: intersectionality.

Donna Kate Rushin laid it out in “The Bridge Poem,” which gave title to This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, first published in 1981 and still in print. It begins:

I”ve had enough
I’m sick of seeing and touching
Both sides of things
Sick of being the damn bridge for everybody

Bernice Johnson Reagon, scholar, activist, civil rights movement veteran, and founder and longtime leader of Sweet Honey in the Rock, nailed it in a 1981 speech, “Coalition Politics: Turning the Century.” She pointed out the crucial difference between home and coalition: “Coalition work is not work done in your home. Coalition work has to be done in the streets. And it is some of the most dangerous work you can do. And you shouldn’t look for comfort.”

Way back when Gay Pride became Lesbian & Gay Pride, we knew that the Ls and the Gs were not equal partners. The Gs had more money and access to skills and resources than the Ls. They often wanted us around to make them look more liberal and inclusive. (Sound familiar?)

From the outside LGBTQ+ may look like one community, but we’re no more homogeneous than, say, Americans. You and I know that the divisions and fissures within the American “community” are very real. They have torn the country apart in the past and they may do so again.

So I think of LGBTQ+ as a coalition instead, come together around a common goal: to be fully included in American society. At the same time, each partner has its own, sometimes conflicting priorities. And those with less power are too often marginalized and even silenced by those with more.

So I’m ambivalent about this Pride that pretends to be a unity. Pride in ourselves and acceptance by outsiders can only take us so far. Sooner or later we have to decide whether we’re willing to do the hard work of fostering diversity, equity, and inclusion within our own ranks. I am not holding my breath.

Of course I managed to add a new T-shirt to my wardrobe. Have to say, it’s pretty spiffy.
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