Play: Three Mothers

playwright Ajene D. Washington

On a very busy  Saturday, my wife and I saw the new play Three Mothers at Capital Rep in Albany, NY. If you’re of a certain age, as I am, you may remember the names James Chaney, Michael Schwerner, and Andrew Goodman and even recall their pictures in the newspapers.

It’s a piece of American history that is baked into my brain as much as the 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing in Birmingham, AL in 1963 or any number of atrocities of the era.

But if you’re somewhat younger, you may not recall that on June 21, 1964, the three young men, were tortured and murdered by the Ku Klux Klan near Philadelphia, Mississippi. They had the audacity to help Black Americans to register and vote. Chaney was Black and local, from Meridian, MS, the others Jewish from the New York City metro area.

Three Mothers is inspired by a 1964 photo of their bereft mothers leaving the final funeral together. The play imagines the conversation afterward, “in Carolyn Goodman’s home on the Upper West Side of Manhattan when the three women forged an unbreakable bond and commitment to the Civil Rights Movement.”

Before the 90-minute production of Three Mothers with no intermission, Producing Artistic Director Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill noted that she, playwright Ajene D. Washington, and director Petronia Paley continued to tweak the piece as late as opening night, the day before we saw it.

The cast, Judith Lightfoot Clark, Trisha Jeffrey, and Cheryl Stern, was excellent. Even though the production is heart-wrenching, it was also occasionally, and surprisingly funny, as the three women portrayed negotiate how to move forward.

Freedom Summer

I spoke briefly to local thespian and former news anchor Benita Zahn. She mentioned how she had moderated a pre-play talk with author Julie Kabat about “her new book ‘Love Letter from Pig,’ based on her brother’s personal journals, which describe 1964’s Freedom Summer and the Freedom Schools.” Unfortunately, my wife and I missed that.

But I’m seriously considering attending the pre-show conversation with  “Kabat, Andreesa Coleman, and Dorothy Singletary about their experience within the 1964 Freedom Schools in Mississippi” on Sunday, May 12 at 12:30 p.m.

Incidentally, I looked at the government page for Meridian, MS, and discovered that most of the current city council is Black. The mayor of Philadelphia, MS is black. That would have been unimaginable six decades ago.

He Was My Brother – Simon and Garfunkel. Andrew Goodman was a classmate of Paul and a friend of the duo. 

The SCOTUS abortion ballet

“enlisting private citizens to do what the State could not”

abortionIt’s not that I’m happy that the Texas state legislature passed legislation severely restricting abortion. It’s that I’m unsurprised. I’ve come to expect dreadful things from the Texas legislature – see its recent restrictive voting bill.

These bills were signed by its terrible, awful, not very good governor, Greg Abbott, who’s always in fierce contention with Florida’s Ron DeSantis as my least favorite state chief executive.

The latest bad law in Texas bans abortion as early as six weeks. For women with regular menstruation cycles, they have only two weeks after missing a period to determine pregnancy. This is before most people even know they are pregnant.


Worse, the state law allows anyone to sue a person or organization that provides abortion care or even helps someone obtain an abortion. As Truthout notes: “The drafters of SB 8 established a novel scheme to prevent lawsuits against state officials by privatizing enforcement and deputizing private persons to sue people who provide abortions.

“The bill gives any non-governmental person the right to sue abortion providers and those who ‘aid and abet’ them, financially or otherwise… Defendants must pay plaintiffs who win their lawsuits a $10,000 bounty plus attorneys’ fees. In other words, Texas is bribing its residents to sue people who help women get abortions.”

This variation on vigilante justice is not only constitutionally dubious but potentially dangerous to the potential defendants. The targets “could include anyone — doctors, nurses, friends, spouses, parents, domestic violence counselors, clergy members or Uber drivers.” Given the rage people have over vaccine requirements and mask mandates, this is scary stuff. As VoteVets noted: “In a state with fewer restrictions on guns than on reproductive health care, that kind of vigilante justice is pretty terrifying.”

Supreme Court punts

So I’m furious with the SCOTUS abortion ballet. In a one-paragraph, unsigned order, the court acknowledged that the providers had “raised serious questions regarding the constitutionality of the Texas law.” But that was not enough to stop the law from going into effect. The court explained it’s because of the way the law operates.

Specifically, the court observed, it wasn’t clear whether the state officials – a judge and court clerk – and the anti-abortion activist whom the abortion providers had named as defendants “can or will seek to enforce the Texas law” against the providers in a way that would allow the court to get involved in the dispute at this stage.”

That’s legal mumbo jumbo for BS. As Chief Justice John Roberts notes, SCOTUS has allowed the state to allow the implementation of a law that could be unconstitutional. “The Court’s order is emphatic in making clear that it cannot be understood as sustaining the constitutionality of the law at issue.”

As Justice Sonia Sotomayor explained in dissent, the Texas “Legislature took the extraordinary step of enlisting private citizens to do what the State could not…The Court should not be so content to ignore its constitutional obligation to not only protect the rights of women but also the sanctity of its precedents and of the rule of law.”


In a state that leads the country and much of the developed world in the rate of maternal mortality, women in Texas will now have to travel to another state to secure an abortion or resort to life-threatening back-alley coat-hanger abortions. There is no exception for rape or incest.

Biden said the Court’s [in]action in Woman’s Whole Health “unleashes unconstitutional chaos and empowers self-anointed enforcers to have devastating impacts.” He added, “Complete strangers will now be empowered to inject themselves in the most private and personal health decisions faced by women.”


Does this mean that Roe v. Wade has been overturned? Not necessarily. This was a wuss non-action by SCOTUS. The Court will address Roe in a  Mississippi case soon. The Court’s actions in Texas DOES make me nervous about Roe’s future.

It’d be nice if Congress would pass the Women’s Health Protection Act, but I’m not encouraged. 

S is for a story about the South in the ’60s -Booker Wright

What was the mystery surrounding Booker Wright’s courageous life and untimely death?

bookerwrightBack in 1966, NBC News aired an hour-long documentary called Mississippi: A Self Portrait, hosted by Frank McGee and filmed by Frank De Felitta the previous year, which you can see here or here, and a transcript here.

The documentary showed a relatively short piece about a black waiter named Booker Wright which you can watch here. After extolling the menu of the food at Lusco’s from memory, Wright noted:

Now that’s what my customers, I say my customers, be expecting of me. When I come in this is how they want me to be dressed. “Booker, tell my people what to do with that.” Some people are nice, some is not. Some call me Booker, some call me John, some call me Jim. Some call me [expletive]. All that hurts, but you have to smile. If you don’t, “What’s wrong with you? Why are you not smiling? Get over there and get me so and so and so and so.” …

Then I got some old people who come in real nice. “How you do, waiter? What’s your name?” Then I take care of some not so good, and I keep that smile. Always learn to smile. The meaner the man be, the more you smile, although you’re crying on the inside. Are you wondering what else can I do? Sometimes he’ll tip you, sometimes he’ll say, “I’m not going to tip that [expletive], he don’t look for no tip.” “Yes, sir, thank you.” “What did you say?” Come back, “Glad I could take care of you.”…

I’m trying to make a living. Why? I got three children. I want to give them an education. A lot of us never get the education. But I want them to get it. And they are doing good. Night after night, I lay down and I dream about what I had to go through with. I don’t want my children to have to go through with this. I want them to be able to get the job that they would be qualified. That’s what I’m struggling for.

…”Hey, tell that [expletive] to hurry up with that coffee.” “I’m on my way.” Now that’s what you have to go through with. But remember, you have to keep that smile.

From the Grio: “The repercussions for Booker Wright’s courageous candidness were extreme. He lost his job and was beaten and ostracized by those who considered him ‘one of their own.’ Almost fifty years after Booker Wright’s television appearance, his granddaughter Yvette Johnson, and Frank De Felitta’s son, director Raymond De Felitta, journey into the Mississippi Delta in search of answers: Who exactly was Booker Wright? What was the mystery surrounding his courageous life and untimely murder?”

Watch the Democracy Now interview about the 2012 documentary Booker’s Place, which tells the story of that black Mississippi waiter who lost his life by speaking out. Also, see the 2012 NBC News Dateline story about both documentaries, made nearly a half-century apart.

Yvette Johnson has created The Booker Wright Project. It was designed “to help move the conversation along. By conversation, I mean discussion on race, class, gender, sexuality, age, religion, and more. The topics that tend to divide us. These issues are like fault lines running through our nation, threatening not only to further divide us but to destroy us. In spite of all we have in common, in light of all we’ve overcome, there are several areas in which Americans are consistently, undeniably divided.

“We don’t have to agree on everything. But we have to respect one another enough to not let our individual preferences lead to violence, hate, a lack of empathy, or turning our backs to the challenges of others.”

abc 17 (1)
ABC Wednesday – Round 17

The Mississippi US Senate runoff: a poster child for Instant Runoff Voting

Even though New York does not have runoffs, it’s often been the case that a candidate has been elected with less than a majority of the vote.

LADYVOTING_000As you may know, there was a Republican primary for the US Senate seat between longtime incumbent Thad Cochran and Tea Party darling Chris McDaniel on June 3.

Chris McDaniel 155,040 49.5 %
Thad Cochran 153,654 49.0 INCUMBENT
Thomas Carey 4,789 1.5

The Democrats also had their primary for the seat. You probably didn’t know that because a Democrat is highly unlikely to win in the general election in November:
Travis Childers 62,545 74.2%
Bill Marcy 10,134 12.0
William Compton 8,261 9.8
Jonathan Rawl 3,399 4.0

Mississippi election law requires a candidate to win a majority of the vote to be nominated, and McDaniel barely missed the threshold. This meant a runoff election for June 24.

Runoff elections are particularly expensive because 37 of the 40 Senate run-off elections since 1980 have seen decreases in turnout from the initial primary, “reflecting the difficulty in getting voters to care about a primary election two times in a row.”

This, however, was a different beast. The race had “become a proving ground for some Tea Party groups… On top of that, add the deliberate effort by Cochran’s camp to turn out more black voters, mixing up the expected voter pool. That makes predicting turnout tough.” As it turns out, there was a much HIGHER turnout for the runoff.

Cochran * 191,508 50.9%
McDaniel 184,815 49.1

From the Ballotopedia: “Mississippi is one of 21 states with a mixed primary system. Voters do not have to register with a party, but they must intend to support the party nominations if they vote in the primary election.” One aspect is that voters in the Democratic primary on June 3 ought not to have been able to also vote in the Republican runoff on June 24. McDaniel supporters have suggested that’s exactly what happened.

All of this could have been avoided if Mississippi had instituted Instant Runoff Voting:

Instant runoff voting allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference (i.e. first, second, third, fourth and so on). Voters have the option to rank as many or as few candidates as they wish, but can vote without fear that ranking less favored candidates will harm the chances of their most preferred candidates. First choices are then tabulated. If more than two candidates receive votes, a series of runoffs are simulated, using voters’ preferences as indicated on their ballot.
The candidate who receives the fewest first choice rankings is eliminated. All ballots are then retabulated, with each ballot counting as one vote for each voter’s highest ranked candidate who has not been eliminated.

In the Mississippi GOP scenario, after the June 3 primary, Thomas Carey’s votes would have been distributed to Cochran and McDaniel, based on who was Carey voters’ second choice. The majority would have been reached. There would have been no need for the June 24 runoff, and no chance for the Democratic party supporters to vote in the Republican primary without foregoing their opportunity to vote in their OWN primary.

IRV is being used in a number of US jurisdictions, sometimes only for overseas ballots, but sometimes more extensively. Several locales internationally use it as well.

I’d love to see IRV implemented in New York State. Even though New York does not have runoffs, it’s often been the case that a candidate has been elected with less than a majority of the vote. The governor’s race this fall would be a real reflection of the Green Party support since people would not feel that their vote was being “thrown away” on a candidate who could not win. Of course, it can’t happen that soon, but it’s still worth considering.
Mark Mayfield, a leading tea party activist in Mississippi who was indicted in an alleged plot to break into a nursing home to film Sen. Thad Cochran’s ailing wife, has died. “Ridgeland, Miss. police say they are investigating the case as a suicide after Mayfield was found dead of a gunshot wound in his home.”

M is for M states

Ole Miss went feminist to become a Ms. Also, ms is the abbreviation for manuscripts.

In the United States, there are eight states that begin with the letter M, tied with the letter N. But N has the advantage of descriptive adjectives New (Hampshire, Jersey, Mexico, York) and North (Carolina and Dakota); only Nebraska and Nevada are one-word states.

In 1963, ZIP Codes were introduced, although many large cities were divided into zones 20 years earlier. At the same time, the Post Office introduced two-letter abbreviations for the states, to accommodate space for the ZIP Codes.

The ones for the letter M tell stories about the states:

MA – Massachusetts. The mother of the country. Where the Pilgrims landed – on Plymouth Rock, and where the American Revolution was fomented, at the Boston massacre, then the tea party, and finally with the battles of Lexington and Concord. The second and sixth Presidents, both named Adams, were born there.

MD – Maryland. Home of Johns Hopkins Hospital and the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, plus other facilities with doctors.

ME – Maine. Rugged individuals, who wear clothing from L.L. Bean of Freeport, founded 100 years ago by Leon Leonwood Bean. It was part of Massachusetts until it became a state as a result of the Missouri Compromise of 1820, when it was admitted as a free state, as Missouri joined as a slave state.

MI – Michigan. A state which suffered greatly during the recent recession (oh, mi), but which appears to be coming back strong, with improved auto sales leading the way (oh, mi!)

MN – Minnesota. M and N are adjacent letters, nearly twins in the cursive. Likewise, the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul are related, yet quite separate cities.

MO – Missouri. The big mo, or momentum towards the Pacific Ocean, Missouri was the starting point of the Pony Express and is considered the Gateway to the west; thus the arch. It’s also the home of the defending World Series champions, the St. Louis Cardinals, who, after their 130th game of the 2011 season on August 24, were 10 1/2 games behind the Wild Card leading Atlanta Braves, with only 32 games remaining. They went 23-9 to finish 90-72, a game ahead of Atlanta’s 89-73, the largest comeback in history after 130 games.

MS – Mississippi. Ole Miss went feminist to become a Ms. Also, ms is the abbreviation for manuscripts, and there is a strong tradition of Mississippi writers, including John Grisham, William Faulkner, Richard Wright, Tennessee Williams, Eudora Welty, and many more.

MT – Montana. Of course, mt is the abbreviation for a mountain, and the Big Sky State is in the Rocky Mountains.

OBVIOUSLY, the Post Office was thinking about these things when they assigned the two-letter state designations almost a half-century ago.

ABC Wednesday – Round 10

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