Excitement. Elation. Eagerness. Those were the emotions that bubbled up when I got the news that the Advocate would be returning to a weekly schedule, and that after six months performing other roles in the company I was being asked to return as its editor. What you now hold in your hands (online readers will have to imagine this) is the last of the Advocate’s biweekly issues.
Also, after a stint going purely arts and entertainment, the Advocate is returning to its roots of news and sassy advocacy that along with its arts reporting have made it a staple in the Valley. We’ll tell you more about what’s cooking at the Advocate as we ramp back up in the coming months. In the meantime, with the avalanche of shocking news from near and far, touching human stories of connection, and questionable leadership decisions, it’s hard to even know where to begin going between the lines. But here it goes.
In Greenfield, the recent tragic deaths of two people — Clayton “Aaron” Wheeler and Kathleen Grady — in a tent on the coldest night of the year are rightly bringing more attention to finding ways to devote resources to fighting homelessness in the region. Over the summer, individuals experiencing homelessness who were camping on the Greenfield common were kicked off, but now some city leaders say they regret that decision. Hopefully something positive can emerge.
Hampshire College seems to have stepped in it with its announcement it will not accept a full freshman class this fall. Is this, as many alumni fear, the beginning of the end of one of the most unique small liberal arts colleges in the country? One tries to be optimistic about an institution so many people care about.
Increased north-to-south rail between Springfield, Holyoke, Northampton, and Greenfield seems to be in the offing, set to start in June. But it’s apparently going forward without any subsidy to offset the high fares that make riding the train such an unattractive option for people, subsidies enjoyed by people who use expanded rail service in Connecticut. Pioneer Valley Planning Commission Executive Director Timothy Brennan says “use it or lose it,” of the two-year expanded rail pilot. But will people heed this when buses are so much cheaper? State Sen. Eric Lesser of Longmeadow and other rail advocates need to push for rail subsidies on Beacon Hill if this program is going to have a chance at success.
Groups of migrants fleeing from oppressive violence in their home countries are reaching our borders only to be met by armed soldiers and a message that they are not welcome. We should be celebrating their escape from a life of violence for their families, not inflicting more violence upon them. Call back the troops, as California has committed to do, and let’s not have any more government shutdowns over walls.
Then there was Trump’s State of the Union. One interesting piece: Republicans finally seem to be embracing the concept of paid family leave. A good thing, right? Not once you actually look at the plan. The proposal by Missouri Republican Rep. Ann Wagner, Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio and White House nepotism beneficiary Ivanka Trump asks new parents to rob from their own Social Security benefits to pay for their leave — forcing them in some cases to delay their retirements. When Wagner was asked why this had to be, she pointed to the high deficit, one which exploded as a result of the tax giveaway to corporations and the wealthy she voted for last year. Nice try.
And, of course, we have this week’s cover story on the scourge of plastic. Ninety Massachusetts communities now have banned single-use plastic bags, and state Sen. Jo Comerford from Northampton is now trying to expand the ban statewide. It’s a tiny first step, as writer Fran Ryan’s profile on artist and environmentalist Dara Herman Zierlein makes clear. Zierlein is on a quixotic quest to tackle the problem of plastic in our lives. Instead of throwing away the plastic she uses, she carries it around with her as a reminder of how easy it is to make trash and how destructive it is to our world. What boggles the mind is just how much of what we buy is wrapped in the stuff.
Coincidentally, an exhibit at the Smith College Museum of Art called “Plastic Entanglements” explores the same topic, which I checked out this past Friday. Some artists made some beautiful things with discarded plastic, but it was impossible to escape the grotesque nature of the medium. What stood out to me most was Willie Cole’s “Chandelier,” exactly what it purports to be, but made of hundreds, maybe thousands, of plastic water bottles. Hanging over the viewer’s head, it was impossible to escape the urgency of the problem before us.
That’s why it is a comfort to have committed people like Zierlein reminding us that giving up a bit of convenience can go a long way in solving a global problem. In addition to her evocative paintings on the topic, Zierlein has written and illustrated a children’s book called “Don’t Eat the Plastic,” to teach the next generation. Be sure to check out the list at the end of Fran Ryan’s story on common alternatives to plastic, including cloth shopping bags, washable mesh produce bags, stainless steel drinking bottles and straws, and bamboo toothbrushes.
And welcome back to your friendly, neighborhood Advocate.