Invasion of the Groyper Callers
Be a real loner! Log off!
Muahaha everyone is snowed in and now a captive audience which much read, share and discuss this post. Muahaha. All according to plan.
First things first, me and the Rewind Video Store gang are holding our first open newsroom event on Thursday, February 15!
Make sure you’re signed up for the Rewind Video Club to get updates like this before anyone else! As I wrote over on the Rewind Patreon the concept is simple. Pop down any time between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. and you can join in on a real deal pitch meeting! We’ll be talking about the stories we’re working on and inviting you to bring your own full pitches, loose ideas, questions and concerns.
Second things second, the cat is out of the bag! I’m adding a new column to Worcester Sucks, as you may have read if you follow Aislinn Doyle’s WPS In Brief newsletter. She’s joining the team! And not a second too soon, considering the mess of a School Committee we have on our hands. As she wrote on Wednesday:
As I approached this one year anniversary, I’ve been thinking about the role of WPS in Brief in this new landscape. From the feedback I’ve received from you all, I know there’s a place for this newsletter in breaking down the bureaucratic processes and sharing digestible, relevant information about the governance of our school district. I want to continue to offer an entry point for you to feel informed without feeling overwhelmed.
And so, I’m happy to share that starting in February, WPS in Brief will move over to Worcester Sucks and I Love It, joining Bill Shaner and Shaun Connolly to write about the city we love. Good, local journalism is essential to a healthy city. It leads to higher voter turnout and less political polarization. We don’t all have the same priorities, but in order to have productive conversations we need to be working with accurate information. In joining Worcester Sucks and I Love It, my hope is that even more people will be informed about the governance of our school district. Please support our work and consider a paid subscription to Worcester Sucks.
Like Shaun’s Bad Advice column, WPS In Brief will come to your inboxes separate from my work, from a different name, and will have its own tab on the website. It’s its own thing, really.
My overarching goal since starting this newsletter—and now the Worcester Community Media Foundation and Rewind Video Store—is to build a real institution for scrappy independent local journalism from the ground up. In a perfect world, we have a real newsroom paying people real salaries to produce real journalism. We’re a long way off! But I refuse to believe it’s an unrealistic goal. The fact I have enough paying subscribers to live off of this newsletter is a once-in-a-lifetime gift. I don’t take it lightly, and I know it’s not forever. The way I see it, it’s a window to invest all my time and energy into building a real institution that can go on existing without me.
Adding new and different voices like Shaun’s and now Aislinn’s is a step toward that goal. I pay them a freelance rate per post out of the pool of money I get from paid subscribers. Since it’s the same pool of money that pays for my rent and food and car and health insurance, it’s a gamble! Each time I pay someone to write on here, I’m making a bet on the idea that Worcester Sucks can grow into itself as an institution—that one day it will be bigger than “Bill Shaner’s blog” and I’m just one part of the team.
A few times in a sentimental mood I’ve imagined the day I’m a cranky old man handing Worcester Sucks over to a youngster I know is better than I am and cares about the institution as much as I do. “Don’t fuck it up,” I’ll say because I’m still incapable of expressing my feelings and then I’ll tie a bunch of balloons to my house and float to South America.
Anyway that’s all to say that if you want to see this outlet grow into an enduring institution, a paid subscription is an investment in that ideal! (Same goes for donations made to the Worcester Community Media Foundation and Rewind Video Club memberships.)
The more money I’m bringing in, the more capacity I have to build. I’m just shy of 700 subscribers right now, making an almost comfortable ~$44,000 a year before taxes. At 1,000 paid subscribers, I’m starting to think about capping my take-home pay and putting the rest toward a proper capital fund. At 1,500, I’m looking at hiring another full time journalist.
A wild, pipe-dream number like 5,000 means this outlet could comfortably support an actual newsroom. Back-of-the-napkin math: 5,000 subscribers is $300,000 a year, which allows for four full-time positions at the sort of competitive salaries that get you serious people. An editor, two reporters, and a photographer. A proper outfit! With no corporate overlords or obligations to advertisers or daily content quotas or incentive to write about whatever Taylor Swift is doing on a given day. The quality of work a team like that could produce would be unprecedented around here. A true institution of fearless independent journalism in the tradition of the alt weeklies of old.
That’s the end goal of everything I’m doing here. And yes it may be entirely impractical and probably won’t happen. But it could! And “could” is enough. Running down a dream is a lot more interesting than running from one.
Sorry for going on so long about my aspirations but I think it’s important to say from time to time that I’m not content to just write these silly little posts about our silly little city and hope you keep paying me to do so. I’m trying to build something.
So yeah, Aislinn’s first WPS In Brief post will run next month! Very excited!
Now onto the actual work. There’s a lot to cover this week. I’m going to try to touch on them all in brief, digestible fashion and avoid “going long.”
The Public Comment Incident
Two people called into the city council meeting on Tuesday to say extremely racist and transphobic things to the point they were cut off before they could finish. A passing two-minute-long moment, but one that was deeply troubling and befuddling. For a few days, it became the talk of the town. You can listen below, but you don’t have to. A big content warning here obviously for hate speech, racism, and bigotry.
I wrestled with whether to pull this clip, but I think it’s worth it for the purposes of looking at the situation with clear eyes, and for the off chance that someone might recognize a voice. Plus, that means I don’t have to type it out, which feels worse.
It reads to me like the two of them were performing a coordinated stunt. If so, it reeks of “groyper” type behavior. For those who don’t know, it’s worth explaining the term. “Groyper” is a catchall for the most deeply lost members of right-wing online communities. It covers a variety of fringe subcultures that have emerged since 2005ish—all the product of decades of disaffected young men finding a semblance of community on obscure forums where all interactions are anonymous and entertaining dark impulses is rewarded. A groyper forum is about the only place I can think of where a joke like this would land.
Khrystian King was chairing the meeting due to Mayor Joe Petty’s absence. The fact that it was a Black man at the helm, thus interacting directly with public commenters, makes it all the more likely the calls were the product of groypers egging each other on.
King was quick to issue a statement condemning this behavior, and it was widely shared. State Senator Robyn Kennedy also issued a statement. City Councilor Kate Toomey put on a master class in how not to issue a statement, in a vague and self-important tweet sent out days after the fact, around midnight.
While it’s nice to see the community rally to condemn this stunt, it’s just flatly depressing that we were put in the position. And now we have to deal with the local cranks claiming this was actually a false flag operation, which is tiresome. And then you have Kate Toomey thanking one of the people engaged in peddling those conspiracy theories (his name is Jay Givan), for being “very kind.”
So this last part is just for the two people who called in, on the off chance you come across this post while looking around for libs you triggered:
I know what it’s like to be lost and hate the world and get a kick out of offending the normies. The world does suck and the game is rigged and talking to people is scary. You’re not a freak for feeling that way. You are however a freak if you think your internet friends are friends. And you’re a dummy if you don’t recognize the sense of belonging you feel is a mirage. You’re the opposite of the loner you fashion yourself to be. You crave community so much you fell for a fake one! Pathetic, frankly. Be a real loner if you’re a loner. Log off.
Or, if you want community, find a real one. Go to a local show. Go to a skatepark. Go to an open mic. Go anywhere at all. Plenty of people feel the way you do, but you won’t find them on the computer. Understand what you’re really doing on your little Discord server. You’re terrified of life and you found a way to hide from it. The longer you hide, the scarier it gets. The clock is ticking.
What Is the Knitty Council up To?!
It’s not all doom and gloom, though. During the same public comment period, there was a delightful and wholesome and sassy moment that I would be remiss not to document. Margot Barnet of the Worcester Knitty Council took the mic to respond to the recent brouhaha over the Worcester Knitty Council and its ~hidden agenda~. Here’s the clip:
“Some people had some questions,” said Barnet. “What is the Worcester Knitty Council and what are you up to? I want to talk about that and I want to do a little show and tell as well.”
Amazing. In the background, another Knitty Council member held up a hat they were working on, perfectly in frame.
There have been a lot of dumb takes on the Knitty Council from the usual suspects. Jose Rivera tweeted “This has a political group disguised as a knitting group written all over it. If you know you know.” The use of “written all over it,” as if political groups frequently disguise themselves as knitting groups, is endlessly funny. Walter Bird took it a step further, accusing them of defrauding the state government.
If you talk about local politics while you knit you can’t get a grant from the local arts council– everyone knows that. It’s a crime, actually.
And shout out to Rob Bilotta for pulling out this absolutely unhinged image Radio Worcester made to capture the essence of this very real controversy.
We are all insane in this city, I swear. At least it’s funny.
Barnet’s public comment apparently put the issue to rest. Neither Colorio nor Bergman had anything else to say on the matter, and it looks like the Knitty Council will be allowed to continue passing out mittens at the senior center. What a ride.
It’s Time To Talk About Parking
As long as our parking minimums exist, the downtown will continue to be hollow and fake.
In “Parking paralysis: Developers, activists, and city officials say parking requirements are blocking needed development,” Eric Casey explores this idea for the Worcester Business Journal. (FYI Casey writes a great newsletter on the local cannabis industry called Burn After Reading.)
Worcester, like many cities, has zoning bylaws requiring a specific amount of accessory off-street parking for new developments. But with concerns over a lack of affordable housing dominating headlines, communities across the country are starting to reconsider the issue of mandatory parking minimums.
From Anchorage, Alaska to Austin, Texas, cities are starting to eliminate parking minimums after determining these often decades-old zoning requirements are having a detrimental effect on growth and may require more parking than is actually needed.
As Worcester looks to increase its housing stock, a reexamination of parking bylaws is gearing up to be a key aspect of zoning reform.
As I lamented on Twitter the other day, old pictures of Worcester are so annoying because they show what the city sacrificed in order to make sure you can drive a car through it in 20 minutes and also park.
Like this picture, for instance. Where you see trolley cars, people walking around, and awnings that connote actual businesses existing (RIP Maker To Main). We don’t have any of that anymore precisely because we have stripped the place of any urban density—with I-290 especially, with ill-sited mega block projects in the urban core like the DCU, CitySquare, Polar Park, and St. Vincent Hospital, but also with all the damn parking lots.
Instead of the above picture, we have this:
That’s outrageous. If you want to know why downtown is a ghost town it’s not because it “lacks” whatever business happens to be hip right now (axe throwing bars being the goofiest iteration of this idea). It’s because it lacks density.
Parking requirements are antithetical to density and need to be removed. In real cities, the choice between density and ease of parking is easy. If we want Worcester to be a real city (it is not), we need to get rid of parking requirements now.
Safe Injection Sites
The only thing of actual substance that happened on Tuesday night was a request from Councilor Etel Haxhiaj to consider safe injection sites.
From 2018 to 2022, statewide overdose fatalities grew by 15.7%; Worcester exceeded that trend with an increase of 17.8% over the same time period, according to the report.
Preliminary Worcester Police Department data showed an 11% increase in opioid-related fatalities from January to September 2023 compared with the same months in 2022.
Haxhiaj’s order was just to get some information on the feasibility of pursuing “overdose prevention centers,” looking at the success of the OnPoint NYC model.
Since it’s just informational, it didn’t seem to get the cranks riled up. But it was pretty wild to see that request go through without a fight. It may have flown a little over their heads.
Compared to Haxhiaj’s specific, detailed request with real policy ramifications, it’s useful to look at how crank Councilor Donna Colorio approached the issue. For “contrast of competence” purposes.
She read the key points of the report back to Mattie Castiel, the person who wrote it, then asked “I would appreciate your expert opinion of what’s not working. Why is it... are we at an increase?”
Helpful discussion, Donna.
Keeping up With the School Committee
Well the school committee meeting coming up looks like it’s going to be another fun one. (We will be streaming it, 5:30 p.m. Thursday!). Maureen Binienda, the obvious heel of the last meeting, is bound to be back at it—especially considering she got snubbed for the chairperson role on either of the new subcommittees.
However in classic Worcester fashion Mayor Joe Petty did put the Chamber of Commerce, via employee Alex Guardiola, in control of the teaching, learning, and student success. So that’s not ideal. But then again a political reality in which the Chamber of Commerce can waltz into a school committee position unopposed is also not ideal. Oh well! Cya Thursday.
Odds and Ends
Thanks for reading on this Sunday snow day! Please consider chipping in to keep Worcester Sucks alive!
Check out this awesome flyer for Redemption Rock’s fifth anniversary party. I love it.
Should be a good time!
The New York Times Magazine did a big spread on WPI and the string of student suicides there a few years back. It’s worth a read, but seems like it lets the administration off the hook a bit. The passage I want to put in front of you has little to do with the subject matter, however. Look at this insane line:
Worcester is famous for the snow dumps it receives in the winter. It has something to do with where the city is in relation to the Appalachian Mountains. The clouds bear down when the temperature drops, and then the snow is relentless and the weather is brutal. All winter, it’s brutal, brutal, brutal, and then somehow, slowly, it’s not anymore.
Ummmm... what? This is classic NYT-writes-about-Worcester behavior.
Here’s an odd one: “Worcester Art Museum accused of possessing stolen 13th-century stained-glass.” The WAM is one of three museums in the world that possesses these stained glass pieces which were apparently stolen in the 19th century? In a brief non-statement, the WAM didn’t say it was going to give it back, but it didn’t say it wasn’t either. We shall see.
PS - here’s a nice rendition of a great song.