The Baystate Objectivist

The Baystate Objectivist

Monday, December 29, 2008

Radical Roots

The 60's revolution in Springfield.

I've been away for the weekend, but I'm back with another intriguing artifact from the vault. The following are excerpts from a piece originally published in 1969, discussing how the activists of that era resisted the takeover of Springfield by special interests. This is a fascinating document revealing how Springfield began going astray in a big way. It originally existed as part of the archives of Atty. J. Wesley Miller, which is now lost, but he printed this copy for me prior to his death. - TD

As an organization, Springfield Area Movement for a Democratic Society is more than a year old now. We've grown from a small handful of people interested in peace and social justice to a city-wide organization immersed in an effort to uncover what makes our city - and our nation - function as it does, and to involve the people of Springfield in an active effort to change the priorities and decision making structures of our city.

We don't think it's a accident that radicalism is alive and well here in Springfield. A large part of the American population lives in and around cities like Springfield: cities large enough to house international corporations and government agencies and to reflect the whole spectrum of problems faced by our nation; but small enough so that we can find out where the power lies and who makes the decisions and why; and livable enough so that people still have hopes for the possibilities of the future.

Cities like Springfield are the important and logical places for the development of strong political movements, despite the fact that until recently most movement attention has been focused toward the bigger cities. We thank that our movement can demonstrate that that the major decisions of our cities are made by a small handful of men representing powerful economic interests, and that because of the nature of those interests the real needs of the people aren't being met, and our energies and resources are being manipulated and wasted. Our experiences as a movement in Springfield encourage us in that belief.

Our contact with other movement people in middle-sized cities indicates that our experiences here are useful to people in many other places. Movements similar in their city-wide perspective to ours are now underway in places like Hartford, Bridgeport, New Haven and Pittsfield, and it looks like we'll be able to work together and support each other very well.

Springfield, like many other cities, is attempting to solve its social and economic problems with urban renewal and redevelopment projects. As a result, we have seen the levelling of the North End of the city - a large black and poor white district - to make way for a huge complex of highways, motels, shopping centers and other large businesses. There are now underway massive development plans for the downtown area. We discovered when we examined these projects that a relatively small handful of men, representatives from the major economic interests in the city, have been involved in deciding Springfield's future.

Most amazing of these projects is Baystate West, a complex of an office tower, luxury hotel, parking garage and shopping mall, presently under construction in the downtown area. Our corporate target is the Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company. This corporation has pushed through the city government - which it controls - a "Baystate West" project which will permit it to rebuild the downtown area without paying real estate or property taxes. The project is entirely owned by Mass Mutual Life Insurance Company, and was granted a substantial tax break through state legislation and a special contract with the city. This deal represents a tax loss of some $2,390,000 per year for the next forty years.

The Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (one of the 50 richest corporations in the country) is practically synonymous with the Springfield ruling elite. The directors of Massachusetts Mutual interlock with every important employer or financial institution in the area and are trustees of the area colleges. Most of the business occupying space in Baystate West will be relocating from other locations in the downtown area where they are presently supporting taxable property.

In addition, Mass Mutual did not sign the contract until the city agreed to build a "Civic Center" (essentially a convention hall) tow blocks away to give Baystate West added business. The Civic Center will cost the taxpayers another $800,000 a year for thirty years. That's over three million dollars per year that taxpayers will have to make up for. And the point of all this paying is that none of the real problems of the people of Springfield are being mentioned.

We think it's important to make a big deal out of these facts, because the connect up for all of us the quality of our lives at home and the questions of national importance like the war in Vietnam. A project like Baystate West helps to explain why we have so little control over the direction of our society, and why we seem to be so unable to deal with the poverty and racism and alienation around us.

We've had a lot of success in raising this issue in Springfield so far. We have written what we think is an excellent research pamphlet on the project, called "Welcome to Springfield, a Mass Mutual Property." The pamphlet is getting wide circulation in the area. Also, we are just winding up a boycott of the four major business interests that are involved in the Baystate West project. We hope to be able to force the city to stop plans for construction of the so-called Civic Center and to force Mass Mutual to pay full taxes on Baystate West. But beyond that, we hope to demonstrate to people that when we join together we have the power to control what is going on in our lives and in our country.

Recent racial violence in the Springfield high schools painfully demonstrated to us the lack of a strong student union. A large group of High School students mobilized last fall around hair and dress regulations. The issue was won; the regulations were removed in all the city high schools. The racial problems in the high schools are far from over. The city's response of putting police in the schools will only make the situation worse. It is clear that high school students have plenty of things to feel angry and frustrated about.

We are attempting in the Springfield area to build a radical organization which cuts through the superficial differences which normally divide American working people. Springfield has had no significant movement activity in the recent past and so our work is free from the usual left factionalism or organizational jealousies. On the other hand, we are starting from scratch, and the usual myths that divide our people are quite strong in the city as a whole. People still act as though they believe that prestige has some real value as defined by the society's present standards.

In Springfield, as elsewhere, we are up against a deep, often unadmitted sense of powerlessness when confronted with the real issues which face us as American working people. Most people at least know that the rich have a lot of power, but they don't want to think about it too much because "that's just the way things are" or "you can't fight City Hall" or "don't rock the boat." The feeling, it seems, is that we will just make trouble for everybody by trying to change things.

Our strategy is to demonstrate to people that a small elite in fact runs Springfield, that they are not the elected officials (although these officials certainly help them) and that they use power to serve their own interests at the expense of the population as a whole. Simultaneously we must show that by working together the people of the area can get specific changes which are to our benefit.

We opened a Movement Workshop in the downtown area intended for printing, draft counseling and small meetings. Our Movement Workshop was busted up. On two successive days the windows in our storefront were broken with the damage totalling $300. In neither case did the police report the incident to the landlord or investigate. In the second instance, the two large plate-glass windows in the front were shattered all over the sidewalk and street for over 24 hours on Sunday until one of the people working in the building reported it to the landlord on Monday morning.

Our building is on a main street and must have been seen by the police who patrol the street constantly. In addition, the landlord was contacted by the "authorities" whom he would not identify. As a result he evicted us. It is clear that we have no police protection and probably will face more police harassment.

So we very much need your help, both to continue our present projects and to start new ones. We are pretty sure that everyone in this country has good reason to join with a radical movement. It's just that it takes a lot of convincing, because so many people have given up on - or maybe never even thought about - the possibilities of a popular revolutionary uprising in America. We need your help in continuing to build the movement in Springfield.

Tom Bell
June 1969
Springfield Area Movement
for a Democratic Society
Box 1608
Springfield Mass. 01101

Retired Springfield cartoonist Paul Flannery used to do a nationally syndicated strip called The Pennys. It was generally more cute than funny.

Flannery also did a lot poltical cartooning. Here is a flyer he did for a 1998 Republican Party picnic featuring Dan Yorke. (click to enlarge)

My lost brother gave me the Grateful Dead in Egypt CD for Christmas. It opens up to create 3D images.

The Grateful Dead, themselves epitomizing Duke Ellington's definition of the excellent as being "beyond category," have sought access to sources of the imagination which transcend "Western" or "Eastern" categories of history and culture. Their music asserts that we are liberated, not enslaved, by such an acceptance of total awareness, and their pilgrimage to the Great Pyramids of the Nile, the cradle of revealed culture, is made with the understanding that men and women, many thousands of years ago, also aspired to voyage to the stars in their search for a pure and universal humanity.

- Hamilton Eddy

Jordan Williams and his faithful traveling companion Michline were in town for the holidays. We went out to eat Friday at Mama Iguana's in Northampton.

We also went to hear the Hamp singing sensation Luke Arivel at Sam's, the new hot spot for Hamp hipsters with money. Here's a video of Luke and his piano player Brian which also shows some of the pictures on the wall for sale by Greg Stone for over a grand apiece.


Tony said...

Great music clip.

Tim said...


I picked up the Egypt CD too. The DVD is fabulous as well. I only wish the event had been covered by Scorsese or somebody like that. Having the Dead play Giza with a total lunar eclipse just happening to be taking place at the same time, probably would have been one of the greatest rock events of all time. Actually, it was, it just would have been better to watch. Great music, and looking at Jerry, Bobby and the boys and Bill Walton in 1978 makes me feel old.

Mary E.Carey said...

Yes, that IS a good video! That kid sounds like an old blues guy.

Anonymous said...

Where are Sam's and Mama Iguana's? Rather, what former business spaces do they now occupy? (I no longer live in the area but I'm curious)

Caty said...

I like Luke a lot--can you believe he's only 18?He's always so nattily dressed, like some old school jazz musician. Never heard him sing before, though. He played bass w/the local band Primate Fiasco at a fundraising party to raise money for political activity against the panhandling ordinance.