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The pursuit of liberty under Lurie’s Dome
A Worcester moment for the books
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If renowned artist and Worcester native John Lurie was correct in asserting that “Worcester has a dome over it so that God is not allowed in”—and he almost certainly was—it’s worth considering that perhaps said dome is doing us a favor. If we really are a godless people, unaware of and unswayed by the higher power beyond the dome, might we possess a certain freedom unavailable to those who walk in the light of the lord? Might we feel in our hearts the unshackling of all the world’s chains? Are we truly, on the most subconscious level, ungovernable? And should we become conscious of this gift the dome has given, might we not wield it like some mighty cosmic sword?
Well, every once in a while we’re offered a moment that seems to confirm the divine incorrigibility bestowed by Lurie’s Dome. This weekend, during the annual Caribbean American Carnival parade, we got perhaps the best one yet: When a woman decided to get up on top of a police cruiser, drink in hand and clad only in a bikini, and she started twerking to her heart’s content, and then a guy got up behind her and they started bumping and grinding, and then they fell down and continued to bump and grind on top of that cruiser in the prone position—that was a pure expression of the liberty of life under Lurie’s Dome if ever there was one.
With each twerk of the cheek she said that Worcester will never, ever change. We will always be like this and we will never be made to feel bad about it.
Then others joined in.
And others still…
And when the others joined, they said it too, and said it loudly. They said, with every movement, “In this city, under this dome, we dance on cop cars.” And should someone dare to ask why, they’d answer, simply, “because it is the best place to dance.”
This is where I’d intended to leave the matter—just a silly little write-up of a funny/cool thing that happened in Worcester before moving to some decidedly less fun topic. But the trouble with Lurie’s Dome is that while it can lead to awesome moments like the one described above, it also makes a good many people in this city miserable louts constantly searching to fill the hole in their hearts with something to get mad about. It seems, unfortunately, they may have stumbled upon the parade and the cop car dancing.
Jennifer Gaskin, parade organizer, reached out to me a few minutes after I’d finished what I’d initially intended to write. She told me that the city was getting emails about the cop car videos and had other complaints and now city officials were demanding a meeting on the matter.
I was already wrestling with whether to write anything about this because I don’t want increased exposure to give the organizers any headaches or get anyone in trouble or give any reactionary weirdo out there further license to condemn this as some sort of violent act. But if the organizers are already coming under fire from the city, and the whole thing is poised to become “an issue,” then we just have to get out ahead of it. We’re going to have to step up to support the organizers and loudly condemn any effort to demonize this parade or stop it from happening again. We need to balk at the very premise there’s an issue here, and the city needs to know that people are watching how they handle this.
For me, the videos are just frankly so cool they warrant documenting. That’s all I set out to do here. No one got hurt, nothing was damaged. It was just a small expression of joy amid an event which is itself one big expression of joy. The cops at the scene saw no reason to intervene and kudos to them for taking that approach. The city should follow their lead.
This outlet is often heavy on the “Worcester Sucks” and light on the “I Love It” but this is a moment which reminds me how much I love this place. Same goes even more for the parade itself. When I first moved to Worcester, the parade came right by my apartment and I had absolutely no idea such a thing existed. Like the siren scene in “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?” I dropped what I was doing and ambled in a daze toward the source of the thumping music. On the sidewalk, watching the parade go by, I distinctly remember being shocked as I was thrilled that such a display took place here. The bright colors and extravagance of the costumes, the grace of the dancers, the sheer volume booming from the massive speakers on flatbed trucks… the force of positive energy radiating from the whole spectacle… I was smiling ear to ear. It was one of the first moments that brought me around to thinking that Worcester is a truly special place. Then as it is now, almost a decade later, the Caribbean American Carnival is a thorough credit to the city and we are richer for having it. Anyone who would use the cop car moment in question to suggest otherwise is not a person whose perspective is worth entertaining. But it would appear City Hall does not share my opinion on the matter and are very much entertaining the perspective.
On her Facebook page, Gaskin posted the text of an email she had sent to the City Council and other officials in defense of the parade. In it, she outlined a much deeper tension between parade organizers and the city than could be caused by gut reaction to a raucous video. Here it is in full:
As you may know, my name is Jennifer Gaskin, and I am the Worcester Caribbean American Carnival Association president. We are responsible for the annual Worcester Caribbean American Carnival, which took place this past Sunday. The event has been taking place in the city for nine years. It is the largest event in the city representing the African diaspora and the only event representing the more than 93,000 Caribbean people who live in Worcester county.
Every year since we started this event, we are required to jump through hoops to make this event happen. Including this year when we were told on Thursday before the event that our Parks bill was now more than $3200 because we were starting the parade in front of city hall and we needed to pay for the front area of city hall. We had nothing on the front of city hall but still paid for it. We pay for 26 officers. We pay for propane permits. We pay for food permits individually because we cannot utilize the nonprofit package rate despite being a nonprofit. After all, it is at the discretion of the Health Department. We are being told this year that we need portable toilets at Institute even though they have public restrooms. I stood outside with my 12yo daughter until 9 PM cleaning trash off Institute Park only to get an email on Monday morning that there was trash at Institute Park when I knew we cleaned it.
This feels targeted. We put on this free event for the city because we love our culture. We want to educate and make the city feel welcome. This doesn't feel welcoming.
It has also come to my attention that the campaign event held by Mayor Petty with Joyner Lucas on the same day was not required to obtain permits or pay any fees to the city. Yet, we were required to pay for an area we weren't utilizing because someone thought we would trash it. What made them feel we would trash it versus the Mayor Petty event?
I would appreciate any support you can provide as city councilors. Thank you for taking the time to read my communication.
She asked that others write in to the council and city manager (council contacts found here and manager contact here) to express support for the festival. “I am honestly tired of us being treated like this,” she said in the post.
There isn’t a council meeting until Sept. 20 so we won’t know for a few weeks whether any of the councilors are going to put up a stink about the videos or anything else, but it feels likely that at least one of the four horsemen of the conservative bloc will seize on it. In the interim, it was the parks department that called for the meeting with parade organizers, citing the videos as well as trash and public intoxication, according to Gaskin. And while we don’t yet know what will come of the meeting, it does certainly suggest, as Gaskin claims in her letter, that the parade is being unfairly targeted. The annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade is quite famously an excuse for open and liberal public intoxication and the streets are certainly not left neat and tidy. Are the organizers of that parade made to answer for it? Seems doubtful. Are they hit, as Gaskin alleges in her letter, with surprise bills in the week leading up to the parade? Again, doubtful. It’s disheartening, though not at all surprising, that an organizer of an event celebrating people of color would be so frustrated with the treatment they receive from our city government.
In a city where leaders are quick to loudly tout its cultural diversity as a strength, there are plenty of examples of the sentiment ringing hollow when evaluated against the day-to-day modus operandi of city government. You need only look at the failure of the city to retain a chief diversity officer, and the harsh evaluations leveled by those who held the position, to see the cracks in the facade. Telling the public you value diversity is easy, showing it is a different matter entirely.
If Gaskin is right, and City Hall does have it out for the Caribbean American Carnival, the “twerking on a cop car” videos could provide the excuse they need to throw more bureaucracy at the organizers and make it harder and harder for the parade to exist. But only if they think they can get away with it. If the miserable reactionaries have their way (lord knows the Telegram et al. loves to hand it to them) and the narrative is centered on a “public outcry” over “events which occurred” at the parade, then a city government so inclined would have the needed green light to come down harder on the event. They’re merely responding to public pressure, they’d say, as is their duty in a democratic society such as ours. If the narrative is instead, as I offered at the top of the post with my stupid “Lurie’s Dome” riff, that the “events which occurred” are funny and cool and also no big deal, it presents a problem for a municipality that already wanted to crack down. They can no longer hide behind the claim that they’re responding to public pressure, and they’d be made to come up with a better explanation.
So consider this post a call to be annoying about how much you love the parade and the fact that people were twerking on a cop car. Post about it and snitch tag your city councilors (especially Kate Toomey). Write them emails (ditto). Call anyone who’s mad about it a little diaper baby who doesn’t know how to have a good time.
We know for certain that the emails from reactionary weirdos are starting to trickle into councilors’ inboxes and it stands to reason that other calls are being made and grievances are being aired. We’ve seen this play out before. Jim Polito will spend a week ranting about it, unintelligible through a frothing mouth. A post will be made on the local police union’s wretched Facebook page. A Donna Colorio or Kate Toomey will see the post and the way people are responding to it and convert it into an order on the City Council agenda. A debate will be had. The local press outlets will write about the issue as if the outrage is the news thus legitimizing the “events that occurred” as a point of worthwhile contention. “The City Council is split on the issue of twerking,” the ledes will read, and “both sides” of the “twerking debate” will get their due equal space, allowing the reading public to make an informed decision on where they too come down on the totally legitimate twerking issue. City Hall staff will look at the drama and say “we have to address this issue” and use it as an excuse to throw the book at a community event that it should be going out of its way to make as easy as possible for the organizers to put on.
Better instead, I think, to get out ahead of all that and center the story on the organization, the parade it puts on, and the fact it’s both a ripping good time, as evidenced by the videos, and an organic expression of pride and joy and belonging that the city is lucky to host.
There is, also, a third scenario: that this is never elevated to any sort of story at all and the city officials who already very clearly have a bone to pick are allowed to pick that bone away from the light of public scrutiny.
When I started this post I set out to write a silly little blurb about a funny thing that happened over the weekend. “Hehe, twerking on a cop car. Cool! Worcester rocks!” It was purely by accident that I stumbled upon the heavier elements—an organization run by people of color feeling maligned and targeted by City Hall and the early signs of a percolating townie controversy fueled by and centered around right-wing grievance politics. It became necessary to answer the question of whether publishing any post at all would be worthwhile, or simply cause unintended harm. It wasn’t an easy call. Would I be hurting the organization and its standing with city government by bringing more attention to it? I’d heard some people close to the organization were going around asking that people delete their pictures and videos off social media for fear it would draw the city’s ire. Would I accidentally stoke the flames of a controversy that would otherwise quietly wither away? It’s possible the videos wouldn’t travel far enough into the local right-wing internet silos on their own to truly catch fire. And there’s the less likely scenario that once they got there, they wouldn’t resonate.
So, in a move that surely breaks a few of the traditional rules of journalism, I asked Gaskin for her opinion: Would my running with the videos be helpful or harmful to the parade organizers? If she had said “harmful,” then this story would have never seen the light of day. Simple as that. But she didn’t, and after a short conversation we agreed that the trouble the Caribbean American Carnival has faced deserves more attention, and that the videos were necessary to paint a full picture of the situation.
At the time of the conversation, one of the videos had already fallen into the hands of a local right-winger who had already sent an email, video attached, to the whole City Council. The body of the email read “Do something!!! The WPD should hang their head. Disgusting. AWFUL.” Any reasonable expectation that the videos wouldn’t travel around reactionary circles was, at the moment this email was sent, out the window—as was any hope that the content might not resonate. The thing about the Internet is you can never really delete anything. Once it’s out there, it’s out there forever. To make matters worse, this particular video featured a black woman, while videos of a white woman doing the same were being deleted from social media out of well-intentioned concern for the potential consequences. Should the reactionaries be allowed to center their grievances around the one video available to them, and one which appeals to racist impulses, it would almost certainly add fuel to a hateful fire. Regardless, the cat was out of the bag, and with it went the merit of a strategy based on keeping quiet and hoping it all blows over. Whether or not it blows over is, at this point, out of anyone’s control.
Absent said control, you’re presented with a choice: wait and see if it becomes a “whole thing” and prepare a response should you need it, or get out ahead of it and offer a narrative in which it is not a “thing” at all. In the first option, you’re on defense. You’re playing within boundaries set by the opponent. In the second, you invite them onto your field. You get to say “okay, but first things first, why exactly are you trying to make this a thing?” And in that line of interrogation is of course where the truth lies. We all know the answer to that question already. We’re just waiting for one of them to be dumb enough (or worse, cynically smart enough?) to say it out loud.
So that’s my reasoning for publishing this—better in a moment of uncertainty to establish the firm ground of a preferred narrative than wait for a hateful and reactionary one to emerge and rail against it. I think the twerking videos are cool and funny and evidence of a good time had by all at a wonderful event. We are richer as a city for it. The parade on Sunday, and all that went down, was nothing but an honest expression of joy in a city where joy is often in short supply. There was no harm caused. No violence. Dancing on a cop car at a parade, like dancing on a table at a wedding reception or on the local dive’s bartop during a particularly fun Saturday night, is nothing but evidence of a group of people having an exceptionally good time. That’s where my perspective starts. That’s where it ends. I won’t be made to think about it any other way, and neither should you.
Here’s to hoping we never have to—that the reactionary weirdos seize on some other cause du jour to momentarily channel a chronically directionless anger, and that the Caribbean American Carnival remains an enduring and joyful event in this city for years to come. Further, let’s hope it’s aided, not obstructed, by a city government that claims to value the rich cultural tapestry of our city.
Thanks as always for reading! Please consider signing up to throw me a few bucks a month so I can keep this thing going. And if you already do, thank you a million times.
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There’s an election next week! Sept. 6! Tuesday! There’s one race in particular which is super important and that’s Petty v Kennedy in the First Worcester District State Senate race. Check out the guide I put up if you want to know more:
And for all the reasons listed in said guide, please vote for Kennedy.
There’s been some more silliness in that race since I last wrote you. Potential mayor and hateful weirdo Donna Colorio has taken issue with people calling her out for being hateful and weird. “I am labeled as an extremist by this PAC because I support the police, fire, teachers, students and working men and women of this great city,” she said, as quoted by the Telegram. "My votes reflect this support and I am proud of the votes and ideas I have put forth and taken for the city."
The actual reasons she’s being called an extremist are surprisingly enough none of the things she listed, but rather that she has a long track record of doing things like leaving the room to avoid voting on a trans rights resolution after exhausting any available option to stop it from happening. I cover all that in the guide to the race linked above.
And Joe Petty, continuing a trend of odd and deceptive campaign tactics, put out a mailer that was so misleading the Massachusetts Nurses Association had to put out a statement to clear things up. The mailer included a quote from a prominent member of the MNA praising Petty and while it doesn’t outright say that the MNA endorsed him it certainly gives the impression. The MNA said in their statement that the organization chose not to make an endorsement in the race and that both campaigns were notified of the decision. “A recent mailer from the Petty campaign may have misled voters on the official position of the Massachusetts Nurses Association,” the statement reads. Oi vey.
And then the Telegram in its write-up of the kerfuffle included this rather cryptic missive from Bill Eddy, chairman of the Petty campaign
"We are proud of the support of everyone on the mailer – including Ellen representing many nurses. The Petty campaign received and confirmed every person’s quote and identification on our mailer, and we are very confident that we are the only party to do so that is involved in this 2022 campaign cycle for the First Worcester District."
The upcoming LIV Golf Tournament date at The International golf course in Bolton isn’t Worcester news per se but it is pretty wild. The tournament is funded by the Saudis in an attempt to bolster its image in the eyes of the world and they’re throwing dumb amounts of money at it. Donald Trump is a big fan of course and his public appearances at LIV Golf events have provided us some of the grossest and most worrying pictures of all time.
Given the controversy, the little town of Bolton is quite divided over the event as you can imagine. And the divide only deepened this week when the golf course owners decided to call the cops on a wedding party and the cops did what the owners wanted them to. They went down to the edge of the golf course property at 8 a.m. on Sunday morning and approached a group of campers sleeping in tents. They shook the tents, woke everyone up, and told them they had to get lost. The only problem is they were not on golf course property, but rather property owned by the family of the bride. The campers were there to attend a wedding reception at the house the night prior and opted to crash in the back yard and they had every legal right to do so. Per the Telegram, the family is pissed, as they should be.
“Upset” is how Benoit described her mood Monday morning, one day after two Bolton police officers came on Benoit’s property and told her guests to leave.
“I’m really upset this happened,” she said. “Police walked on our property, and did that to our wedding guests. My husband, David, is livid.”
The cops are quoted saying the golf course owners called about trespassers and they simply “tried to restore peace.”
The golf course owners are quoted saying “It’s unfortunate that the family and their guests feel their morning was disrupted, but safety and security is our priority,” which roughly translates to “sorry you’re mad” when they should be saying “sorry we called the cops on your wedding.”
The family is demanding a formal apology from the course owners and the police and as far as I can tell they have yet to receive one.
Zooming even further away from Worcester I would highly recommend reading this story in The Intercept about the throughline between Reagan, the intelligence agencies, the campus anti-war activism of the sixties, and the beginnings of the student debt crisis. It’s crazy.
The CIA and FBI wanted “corrective action” on the anti-war activism at UC Berkeley in particular, and Reagan, then governor of California, worked hand in hand with intelligence to provide it.
A subsequent FBI memo stated that Reagan was “dedicated to the destruction of disruptive elements on California campuses.”
Reagan pushed to cut state funding for California’s public colleges but did not reveal his ideological motivation. Rather, he said, the state simply needed to save money. To cover the funding shortfall, Reagan suggested that California public colleges could charge residents tuition for the first time. This, he complained, “resulted in the almost hysterical charge that this would deny educational opportunities to those of the most moderate means. This is obviously untrue. … We made it plain that tuition must be accompanied by adequate loans to be paid back after graduation.”
And then the rest is history. Reagan’s approach became the norm for state-run higher education systems across the country and what was once a publicly-funded resource is now just a slightly less expensive alternative to private college which just happens to be provided by the state.
But hey thanks for the 10 gs, Joe. You did it. Problem solved!
Ok that is all for today. Talk soon!