A Poem by Dr. Fields

Today’s poem was written by Dr. Jessie Fields:

This is a poem I wrote in 2013 and was inspired to dedicate to a friend, Mary Fridley, who had just led a workshop on Love and Creativity.”

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Mary Fridley and Dr. Jessie Fields

Love and Friendship

Top notes sing, lift high and upright the fallen star

Of love and friendship wide, no meek prelude to hot embrace.

Romance praise of rhyme over rhyme far

Forever unceasing has not and never slackened the pace

Of violence, war and hate everywhere unwound.

Begin again, give what human life requires

To thrive in soul, health and beauty together bound

Workers, a community of people re-creating, a new becoming inspires.

Take down the old books, here is a muse to make

A new world. High history and love in the mad descending hours

Search and create all the ways a hard hand to shake

A cold eye to shine. Teach this love, it is ours.

Jump we humans quick to hate and no peace find

We forget our real preference is kind.

 

For Mary Fridley

July 13, 2013

 

~Dr. Jessie Fields is a physician practising in Harlem, a leader in the New York City Independence Clubs, and a board member of the All Stars Project and Open Primaries.

 

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National Poetry Month 

At Politics for the People

Continues

Do you have a favorite political poem that you would like to share? Is there an original poem you’ve written?  Please email me at cathy.stewart5@gmail.com with your suggestions for consideration.

Reader’s Forum–Jessie Fields

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Dr. Jessie Fields testifying at City Council Hearing on public housing. Dr. Lenora Fulani is sitting next to Dr. Fields.

Margaret Sanger: A Rebel

Margaret Sanger was a bold activist who took extraordinary risks fighting for women to have access to birth control and sex education. She was a complex woman whose very public life and work spanned over half a century and whose legacy lives on.

The novel “Terrible Virtue” by Ellen Feldman richly captures the personal struggles and conflicts of Margaret Sanger’s life as well as her activism and commitment to improving women’s lives.

Margaret Sanger cared for her own mother who was ill with tuberculosis, and who died at age 48 after giving birth to 11 children (Margaret was the sixth child) and enduring seven miscarriages.

As a woman from a poor family she was locked out of becoming a doctor. She became a nurse.

In the novel Margaret agonizes with grief and regret over the death of her own daughter, Peggy who developed advanced pneumonia while living at a boarding school.

Weaved throughout the novel are letters from people who were close to her: her children, lovers, husbands, and one of her sisters, Ethel who worked beside her in the clinic, was jailed and went on a hunger strike.

The book dives deeply into pivotal moments in her life such as the first time she speaks to a group of working women who were “bleary-eyed from a long day spent sewing piecework and making artificial flowers, bone-tired from cleaning other women’s houses,..”

She was filling in for a suffragette who was to give a talk on votes for women but Margaret instead gives a talk on what she knows about women’s health, “the facts of life”, menstruation, pregnancy, sex and reproduction. Her talks became very popular, attracting hundreds of women. She then write a series of articles “What Every Girl Should Know” for a New York socialist daily newspaper, The New York Call.

As a nurse she worked on New York’s Lower East Side.

In the tenements I was a savior.”

She decides to devote her life to freeing women from the physical bondage of unwanted pregnancies.

I would give up nursing and devote myself to contraception. I would free women from their biological shackles. I would liberate love from its consequences. And I would make sure that every child entered the world desired and cherished.”

She had to first go on a journey which included travel to Europe to learn about options for birth control for women. Her work in the clinics helping women to obtain autonomy and freedom in sexual practices is portrayed in the novel.

Sanger published a magazine called “The Woman Rebel” with the masthead “No Gods No Masters” and she moved in the socialist circles that included Emma Goldman, Bill Haywood, Floyd Dell and many others.

She remains controversial today and has been an easy target for those who aim to discredit Planned Parenthood, an organization she founded and which for 100 years has served women from all walks of life.

In 1916 she opened a birth control clinic in Brooklyn which immigrant women and “women of every race and creed flocked to”. In 1930 with the support of Black leaders such as W.E.B. Dubois and the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses she opened a birth control clinic in Harlem.

Margaret Sanger dared to speak publically not only about birth control but also about sexual gratification for women. Her publications were considered obscene and she was jailed for violating the federal Comstock laws that made it illegal to distribute birth control information.

The novel includes her many affairs with men and it also celebrates her relationship to women, especially immigrant and poor and working women. During the month she spent in the Queens Women’s Penitentiary she sometimes would read aloud to the other inmates and she taught them about sex and birth control. In one scene in the novel when she is released from prison, “A crowd of women standing in front of the jail came into focus. There must have been a couple of hundred of them, friends of the movement, women we’d treated at the clinic, society matrons from the Committee of One Hundred, and Ethel”.

The women sang “La Marseillaise”.

As I stood listening to them, fighting back tears, I heard other voices behind me joining in. I turned my head and looked up. In the second- floor windows, the women who moments ago had been my fellow prisoners were gathered shoulder to shoulder, looking down at me, and humming along.

I look forward to the Conference Call with Ellen Feldman, the author of this intimate and powerful novel.

Dr. Jessie Fields is a physician practising in Harlem, a leader in the New York City Independence Clubs, and a board member of the All Stars Project and Open Primaries.

Politics for the People Conference Call

With Ellen Feldman

Sunday, January 22nd at 7 pm EST

Call In Number: 641 715-3605

Access code 767775#

Readers’ Forum–Tiani Coleman and Dr. Jessie Fields

Tiani Coleman

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Dr. Lenora Fulan with Tiani Coleman, recipient of a 2015 Anti-Corruption Award by the New York City Independence Clubs

How I Relate to Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City

As I read Matthew Desmond’s Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, the portrayal of the friction-filled lives and terrible living conditions experienced by eight tenant families in Milwaukee as telling “an American story” that can be found in average cities across the country, and isn’t reserved to places like Detroit, Los Angeles, or Chicago, I thought about two opposing experiences I’ve had living in two different cities:  New York City and Salt Lake City.

In 1998, when I first graduated from law school, having accepted a job offer in NYC, I took a day off from studying for the NY Bar Exam to go on a housing hunt.  Not being from the City, safety was a concern.  I scanned the newspaper for good places to rent.  The cheapest place I could find that still met our basic requirements was on the West Side.  As I got closer and closer to the address, I noticed that the surroundings were getting dumpier and dumpier.  I pushed the buzzer on the walk-up, and a man buzzed me in, but when I opened the door and saw the dark, dirty, banged-up, ever-so-steep flight of stairs, I got the heebie-jeebies, turned around, and walked away.  I soon found out that that had been in Hell’s Kitchen.

So I have a confession to make (a big, bad one):  I gave up on trying to find the perfect, relatively cheap place full of character, and was lured into signing a promotional contract with a new development  — yes, Donald Trump was my “landlord” — I was the very first tenant to move into the first Trump Place on the upper West side by the Lincoln Center, along the Hudson.  Apart from riding the subway, I didn’t see too much of the stereotypical inner-city life, spent long hours at the office, and went to church with lots of other DINKS.  But within a year, I had a baby, and my husband and I moved to downtown Salt Lake City.

When we first went to church in downtown SLC, we quickly discovered that it looked nothing like the congregation in NYC.  For one thing, the pews were relatively empty (ironically surprising).  For another, the people were not well educated, and with the exception of a wealthier retired community and a few others, the congregants were primarily residents of a retired and/or disabled public-housing high-rise, or part of a permanent low-income class, living in ghetto-like neighborhoods, including three homeless shelters.

Shortly after getting sworn in to the Utah Bar (still nursing my baby), I discovered that I would be called upon regularly (along with a couple of others) to be the pro bono legal services for my congregation.  My first case was an eviction case.

A family with young children was being asked to vacate immediately or incur triple damages and attorneys fees, with back rent owed regardless.  After helping my clients put up bond, and counterclaiming with, among other things: partial payment, with prior notice of a broken furnace and sewage problems; and stolen tools (the landlord had taken my handy-man client’s specialty tools, affecting his ability to work), I got chewed out by opposing counsel.  He said, “What are you doing?  You must be new around here; this isn’t the way it’s done.  You’re unnecessarily complicating things.”  When I went to court, I saw that the docket was set up for these cases to be rubber stamped quickly; the judge and opposing counsel were chummy from having seen so much of each other, with nobody there with representation to defend themselves against their slumlord.  The case dragged on (for discovery) while the living conditions got worse and my clients looked for other options.  The landlord, nervous about some of the allegations against him, did return the tools, and we got the case dismissed, without damages or attorneys fees; but ultimately, my clients moved back with the in-laws out of state, and the landlord was never really held accountable as a bad actor.

I spent four years living in SLC’s inner city before moving to the suburbs.  I saw situations similar to  Desmond’s documented vignettes of how the poor are exploited, and how people’s housing situation affects every other aspect of their lives:  from the devastating effects of high interest pay-day loans to try to keep afloat, to the heart-wrenching stories of DCFS being so quick to take children away from poverty-stricken families and putting them into juvenile homes or foster care, to people living in constant fear, if not of gang violence or deportation, then of eviction.

Desmond eloquently explains that when we discuss the housing issue, “[t]here are two freedoms at odds with each other:  the freedom to profit from rents and the freedom to live in a safe and affordable home.”  While he paints a picture that makes it clear that we can’t blame tenants for their plight (they have no options to get ahead), he doesn’t cast all of the blame at the feet of landlords, either:  “[i]f given the same opportunity, would any of us price an apartment at half of what it could fetch or simply forgive and forget losing thousands of dollars when the rent checks didn’t arrive?”  But we’re deceiving ourselves if we say the housing market should just be left as is to regulate itself; after all, the government is actively supporting the exploitation, with a system that “legitimizes and defends landlords’ right to charge as much as they want; that subsidizes the construction of high-end apartments, bidding up rents and leaving the poor with even fewer options; that pays landlords when a family cannot, through onetime or ongoing housing assistance; that forcibly removes a family at landlords’ request by dispatching armed law enforcement officers,” and on and on.

I completely agree with Desmond that we need to “uncover the ironies and inefficiencies that arise when policymakers try to help poor families without addressing the root causes of poverty.”  After all, simply increasing wages, without any other action, just leads to higher rents, and the poor still have the same impossible burdens to meet.   Desmond believes there’s a way to re-balance the two competing freedoms: by significantly expanding our housing voucher program (and ensuring regulation).  I’m not sure this will solve what’s a very difficult problem, but we certainly need to have a real, serious conversation about it.

It starts with awareness.  Just as I failed to witness the day-to-day struggles of many living in NYC, many residents of SLC are oblivious to the dire situations of people just blocks southwest of their high-end downtown living.  Now when I drive along the West Side Highway in NYC, I feel sick as I see that the entire West Side has been turned into a long string of character-lacking, high-end housing, bearing the name of Trump.  I contributed to there being fewer and fewer places for low-income people to live within the City because I couldn’t see the big picture.  Why haven’t we been having these conversations during this election season?  In the last several months, we’ve scarcely heard about the ever-increasing income gap or what the two major-party candidates plan to do about the multi-faceted problem of poverty in our country.  Both parties seem to benefit from not finding answers.  We need to create a less polarized, less special-interest driven electoral system that allows us to see each other, talk to each other, understand each other’s concerns, needs and interests, and start making real progress for the good of our country.  For me, the inner city is a crazy memory, but for millions of Americans, it’s a devastating daily reality.

Tiani Xochitl Coleman is a mother of five, a graduate of Cornell Law School, and president of NH Independent Voters.

Dr. Jessie Fields

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Dr. Jessie Fields and Kerry Malloy (r) at the 2105 Anti-Corruption Awards

The book, EVICTED Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond teaches us so much about how eviction impacts the lives of poor people in America and about how profitable poverty is in our cities.

I find the book to be a powerful combination of personal tragedies, grit in the face of exploitation and hardship, and important revelations about causes of poverty. It is a stirring, compelling must read. We come to live with the families as the author did and many moments in the book provoke deep sadness and tears at their suffering.

When Vanetta and Crystal, two young black women who had been evicted and were staying in a shelter were denied housing because of their race, the author explains that housing segregation was not an accident of urban industrialization.

The ghetto had always been a main feature of landed capital, a prime moneymaker for those who saw ripe opportunity in land scarcity, housing dilapidation, and racial segregation.”

Property in poor communities plagued by long standing housing segregation cost landlords less, they are still able to charge relatively high rents without the expense of having to maintain the property.

One of the many stories in the book is the disproportionate impact of eviction on Black women, their children and families.

The everyday stories of our cities: too bleak to wrap in stanzas

Such fury jumps the meter, misery will burst the rhyme

Like a forced move down below

With no heat in winter

Clogged sinks and empty shelves

To worse on the streets.

Arleen, Jori, Jafaris

Vanetta and her little boy

Crystal spinning out of control.

Lamar and the boys

The Hinkstons: Doreen, Patrice, Natasha

Lorraine, Pam and Ned

However poor whites

And blacks kept divided.

Matthew Desmond, a Harvard professor moved into Tobin’s trailer park in May 2008 and lived there for several months, followed by living in a rooming house in the black community on the North Side of Milwaukee until June 2009. Desmond immersed himself in the lives of poor families black and white and he worked to understand the landlords as well. In the last chapter of the book, “About This Project” he writes about the personal impact the work had on him.

The honest answer is that the work was heartbreaking and left me depressed for years.”

“You do learn how to cope from those who are coping.”

There is also in the book many examples of the decency and humanity that poor and working people steadfastly uphold even in the midst of it all.

Dr. Jessie Fields is a physician practising in Harlem, a leader in the New York City Independence Clubs, and a board member of the All Stars Project and Open Primaries.

 

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Politics for the People Conference Call

With Matthew Desmond

Sunday, October 23rd at 7 pm EST

Call In Number: 641 715-3605

Access code 767775#

The Discovery of the Sao Jose Paquete Africa

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Dr. Jessie Fields sends us a poem she wrote last year, inspired by the discovery of the sunken Portugese slave ship, the Sao Jose Paquete Africa in 2015 off the coast of South Africa. The ship sunk in 1794 with over 400 slaves aboard.

Jessie shares with us:

In 1794, Mozambique Island was the capital of Portuguese East Africa.

Carved onto the wall of the former French Consulate on Mozambique Island an inscription in Portuguese reads:

“Remembering the thousands of slaves that were torn from the Mozambique Island and from our continent so we can battle poverty, sickness, H.I.V., AIDS, malaria, famine and corruption.”

A poem dedicated to the millions and millions of enslaved people whose toil, blood and tears build America and Europe and to those who carry the mantle of leadership forward.”

 

The Discovery of the Sao Jose Paquete Africa

 

Below a mountain top, off the Cape of Good Hope dive.

To the ocean’s multitudinous bottom sink.

In the dark in a slave ship hold there lie.

 

The ship too close along the rocky brink

a storm splits. Two hundred and twelve people drowned

And two hundred survived still to be sold into slavery.

The inquest records in his own words found

The Portuguese captain survived to testify.

 

Retrieve the sea preserved shackles of trade in African people.

The old blocks and cooper buckles, the iron ballasts weighed against

human bodies, now to a different use double, every people

Of a world revive. Ascend to the air with manifest of centuries past.

Lift the discovery a searing beam from far, in hands black and white

These artifacts hold, remains for all who remain to fight.

  Jessie Fields, December 2015

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Underwater archaeology researchers on the site of the Sao Jose slave ship wreck near the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa.  Photo courtesy Iziko Museums.

 

To learn more, you can watch a video about the discovery of the Sao Jose Paquete Africa.

From the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture

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Our celebration of National Poetry month continues with poems chosen or written by P4P members.  

Poem for Latoya Ruby Frazier

By Dr. Jessie Fields

From the family, from the town, from the people abandoned came

A daughter heritage sure of Ruby eyes.

She grew steeped in art to uncover lives long pressed under heels of steel and set her shutter to wide public view those generations who bore the mill’s furnace.

Still the children see gritty skies in sight and bare rage broken and rising

in too familiar rooms.

Mother and daughter, before and behind the camera, drew each other the length to unfold free.

Our lives of poor and working people we see and find wielding by the light of her lens power to make the present.

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~Dr. Jessie Fields is a physician practising in Harlem, a leader in the New York City Independence Clubs, and a board member of the All Stars Project and Open Primaries.

 

 

Our December 6th conversation with LaToya Ruby Frazier on her photobook, The Notion Of Family will be posted soon.

Dr. Jessie Fields reviews The Notion Of Family

 

The book, Notion Of Family touched and engaged me deeply in so many ways.

I grew up in the Black working class communities of South and West Philadelphia. Like Latoya Ruby Frazier I was raised by multiple generations of women. From a very early age I lived in the country in New Jersey with a great-grandmother, Cora Sparks who was a midwife. My mother was only 15 when she had her first child, my sister and 17 when I was born. Eventually I was brought to Philadelphia and lived for some years with a “grandmother” we called “mom”, really my great aunt, Adel Chandler, who had taken my mother in when her own mother lost custody of her children due to neglect. Grandparents, great aunts and uncles have often been life savers for young children, offering a level of support and stability that is difficult or impossible for a teenage parent to provide.

Adel Chandler in front of Del's Restaurant Photo by Dr. Jessie Fields

Adel Chandler in front of Del’s Restaurant
Photo by Dr. Jessie Fields

Mom Adel did that for me, she had migrated north from Florida to Philadelphia, part of the Great Migration, and came to own and operate a 24 hour soul food restaurant in the heart of the South Philadelphia Black community. It was she who worked endless hours, employed and fed people in her restaurant and supported the civil rights movement. She brought that spirit of climbing and aspiration of millions of African Americans leaving the south to build a better life.

The relationship between Latoya Ruby Frazier and her mother so beautifully captured in the book made me think especially of my own mother who grew up poor under the most abusive conditions and died in 2012 of metastatic uterine cancer that had spread throughout her body.

It was my mother who pushed me to work hard and it was because of the determination and discipline she and Mom Adel inspired in me that I became a doctor and community organizer.

Jessie and Kay

Jessie and Kay

Photographs in the Notion of Family, such as the photos: page 94, 97 and 106, 110, 111 expose in a very intimate way how the environment of Braddock manifest on the human body, the author’s own and that of members of her family and community.

The Notion Of Family by LaToya Ruby Frazier pg 111: Video Stills from Detox Braddock, UPMC, 2011

I practice medicine in the Harlem community where I am very close to the community and to my patients.

Dr. Jessie Fields with patients in Harlem

Dr. Jessie Fields with patients in Harlem

The book speaks of how important Braddock Hospital was in the lives of the people of Braddock, and tells the story of the demise of this hospital, the only medical facility in Braddock. The people of the town fought, but the local political process did not respond to allow the hospital to be saved.

As a doctor and independent I felt proud of how the people of Braddock stood together and strongly protested the closing of their hospital.

 

 

 

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The Notion Of Family by LaToya Ruby Frazier, pg 78: UPMC Global Corporation, 2011

Ordinary people though poor and abused  are leading and fighting.

I believe hospitals and medical professionals can build partnerships in independent efforts to create innovative programs that help empower communities.

This I dedicate to my mother and all who stand in the rubble and fight.

~Dr. Jessie Fields is a physician practising in Harlem, a leader in the New York City Independence Clubs, and a board member of the All Stars Project and Open Primaries.

 

Politics for the People Conference Call

With LaToya Ruby Frazier

Sunday, December 6th at 7 pm EST

 C ALL IN NUMBER

641 715-3605

Code 767775#

 

 

Reader’s Forum

Margaret Fuller: Writer and Activist.

By: Dr. Jessie Fields

With the excitement of embarking on a new book that I would explore as part of the Politics for the People Book Club I the opened the biography, Margaret Fuller, A New American Life by Megan Marshall. Thus began a journey of learning about and from a woman who lived for forty years in the first part of the nineteenth century and was a pioneer as a writer, journalist, intellectual and activist.

Dr. Jessie Fields (holding the Open Our Democracy Sign) with independent leaders and activists at the West Indian Day Parade. Photo by Allen Cox

Margaret Fuller lived from 1810 to 1850. She lived mainly in Boston and Cambridge, New England, then in New York City and later she traveled through Europe and Italy. She was a prolific writer and wrote for and edited the Transcendentalist Journal the Dial. She wrote the proto feminist Woman of the Nineteenth Century, calling for equality for women.

She wrote editorials arguing in favor of voting rights for black New Yorkers in “What Fits a Man to Be a Voter?” and against capital punishment in “Darkness Visible”. She expressed her protean interests in writings on literary texts and works of art such as in her essay “Papers on Literature and Art”. Fuller’s writing is resonant with insight and vision for the future.

For 18 months she wrote a front page column for Horace Greeley’s New York Tribune, followed by a European tour as foreign correspondent, supporter and witness to the revolutions across Europe in 1848 and the 1848-1849 Roman revolution, which she served as a military nurse on the streets of Rome.

Megan Marshall sets out as she states in the prologue to write of Margaret Fuller’s life  “the full story—operatic in its emotional pitch, global in its dimensions.” Marshall succeeds and with power and intimacy conveys the history of a leader who broke through the barriers of her time.

Jessie Fields is a physician in Harlem and a founder of the NYC Independence Party. She serves on boards of Open Primaries and the All Stars Project.

 

Politics for the People Conference Call

With Megan Marshall

Sunday, September 20th at 7 pm EST

NOTE NEW CALL IN NUMBER

641 715-3605, Code 767775#

P4P Conversation with Eric Foner Tonight

P4P Conference Call

 Sunday, April 19th, 7 pm EST

Call In Number: 805 399-1200 

Access Code 767775#

I am looking forward to our conversation this evening with Eric Foner as we explore together his book, Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Undergroud Railroad.  Bring your questions, and call in and enjoy the dialogue!

In closing, I want to share this note from Dr. Jessie Fields.

Freedom Rising and a Post Modern Moment

In reading Gateway to Freedom: the Hidden History of the Underground Railroad by Eric Foner I have become more aware of how much our democracy was shaped by the battles of the antislavery movement and the fight for freedom and equality in the years following emancipation. Using Sydney Howard Gay’s newly discovered Record of Fugitives of 1855 and 1856 and other historical documents and records Eric Foner captures the stories of fugitive slaves who reached freedom with the aid of black and white abolitionists. By their acts of running away and resisting slavery the fugitives pushed the nation to confront the brutal inhumanity of slavery. Not all slaves could escape, the ones who did were often aided by other slaves who hid them or provided them with food. Gateway to Freedom also describes the major role that free blacks played in assisting fugitive slaves. Free blacks in Northern cities often took to the streets to fight for the freedom of runaway slaves.

Fugitive slaves seeking freedom played a pivotal role in propelling the expansion of American democracy. Many African Americans who reached freedom in upstate New York, New England or Canada would go on to become active community leaders such as James W.C. Pennington and antislavery spokespersons such as Henry “Box” Brown and agents of the Underground Railroad such as Jermain Loguen in Syracuse, many would fight in the Civil War as did Harriet Tubman and Garland White. Thirteen of the twenty-two blacks elected to Congress during reconstruction were former slaves.

The turbulent decades leading up to the Civil War, the Civil War itself and the period of Reconstruction raised fundamental questions for the American people, questions such as who was an American citizen and what were the rights of a citizen and questions concerning voting rights and equal protection before the law.  It took the Civil Rights and mass movements of the 1960’s to move forward the promise of full equality.

Today the American political process has become a closed calcified system run by the Democratic and Republican Parties. The independent movement is raising fundamental questions such as: to whom does our democracy belong, the people or the parties and whether the parties have the right to use taxpayer funds to conduct “members only primaries”. Here in New York City over the last several months thousands of New Yorkers have signed petitions to Senator Schumer calling for opening up the primary system to all voters and not requiring voters to join a political party to have the right to vote in all rounds of elections. Efforts for primary reform are underway in other states as well.

It is out of the crucible of abolitionism, the Civil War and Reconstruction that the principles of birthright United States citizenship and equal protection before the law arose and were added to the Constitution as the Fourteenth Amendment.

We independents stand on those principles in leading the movement for structural and systemic reform to open up our political process. This is a moment to further develop American democracy that has been advanced by so many including slaves who had no material wealth but gave all. Gateway to Freedom gives testament to their sacrifice and courage.

Jessie Fields is a physician in Harlem and a founder of the NYC Independence Party. She serves on boards of Open Primaries and the All Stars Project.

P4P Field Trip: Exploring the Underground Railroad in Brooklyn

Plymouth Church

Historic Brooklyn Underground Railroad Site

P4P NYC members and friends visit Plymouth Church in Brooklyn. Photo: June Hirsh

P4P NYC members and friends visit Plymouth Church in Brooklyn

After coming across Plymouth Church while reading Gateway to Freedom: the Hidden History of the Underground Railroad by Professor Eric Foner, Jessica Marta suggested that we organize a field trip to visit the church.  On Sunday, 25 Politics for the People NYC members and friends visited the church, which had been part of the Underground Railroad in Brooklyn.

We were given a wonderful tour by Ms. Lois Rosebrooks, Director of the Plymouth Church History Tours. As we sat in the church’s original pews Ms. Rosebrooks gave us a very moving account of the church’s anti-slavery activism under the leadership of Henry Ward Beecher.

Lois Rosebrooks, (standing) the Director of the Plymouth Church History Tours, speaks with P4P group.

Lois Rosebrooks, (standing) the Director of the Plymouth Church History Tours, speaks with P4P group.

In 1847 Henry Ward Beecher became Plymouth Church’s first minister. He actively aided fugitive slaves, raised money for their freedom and spoke out against the Fugitive Slave Law. As Eric Foner writes:

“Beecher helped to raise funds for the New York State Vigilance Committee, and his church provided shelter to fugitives. From his pulpit he held mock “auctions” of female slaves, to raise money from parishioners to purchase their freedom.” (Gateway to Freedom, page 117)

Abraham Lincoln attended Plymouth Church when he visited New York City to give his Cooper Union Address in 1860. In fact he was initially invited to speak at Plymouth Church but the location was moved to Cooper Union. The day before the Cooper

The plague on the pew where Abraham Lincoln sat.

The plague on the pew where Abraham Lincoln sat.

Union speech which propelled his presidential campaign, Lincoln attended services at Plymouth Church. In the church garden is an engraving of Lincoln sitting in a pew at the church.

In 1863 Beecher was asked by President Lincoln to travel to Great Britain to speak there in support of the Union cause, which Beecher did and he helped prevent Britain from siding with the confederacy.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke at the church in 1963 and Ms. Rosebrooks was in the church choir at the time. She described Mahalia Jackson saying to Dr. King, “give them the dream speech Martin, give them the dream speech!” Dr. King then tossed away his prepared remarks and gave a passionate sermon on the “American Dream”.

We were thrilled to visit and explore the history together. For P4P members from out of town, if you are in New York City at any point, I hope that you will visit the church which is located at 75 Hicks Street in Brooklyn Heights.

—Dr. Jessie Fields

 Some P4P members share their impressions:

From Cheryl, Brishae and Grace White:

It was great seeing everyone at the tour of Plymouth Church!  My daughters shared that it was amazing, intriguing & somewhat an emotional experience to know that Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass & Martin Luther King visited Plymouth Church.

NYC P4P Members and friends at Plymouth Church

NYC P4P Members and friends at Plymouth Church

To be able to visit such an historical place was mind blowing!

I thought for Beecher to take such a risk during that time period was incredibly brave & unselfish!  To know that he didn’t succumb to the common rhetoric & racism toward Black folks or people different from the norm is to be celebrated immensely! I also enjoyed the guide’s own personal story & how it was revealed that her own father was a member of Plymouth Church, which solidified her personal connection to the church.

It was much enjoyed!

Cheryl, Brishae and Grace White.

 

Impressions and Observations – Tour of Plymouth Church, April 12, 2015 (154 years to the day after the start of the Civil War) From Richard Patik

Being in a spot where famous people stood and spoke and sat in Plymouth Church and who helped develop and lead a movement to end slavery — I recalled a statement Lenora Fulani made at a community organizing event in the Bronx late last year. Several hundred people came to this event, myself included, expecting to hear great things and for Lenora and other leaders to take charge and change things as they are. Dr. Fulani said, “Who’s going to change the world? You are who is going to change the world.”

I am reminded from this visit to Plymouth Church — where Henry Ward Beecher preached, Abraham Lincoln visited, Clara Barton and Ralph Waldo Emerson, Frederick Douglas and Martin Luther King spoke — that we often look to “great people” to change our world, to overthrow old ways of how we ourselves or our world is organized — not feeling our own power to do so. Not feeling our own power, nor our responsibility.

Hearing the history of this historic church from the very knowledgeable Ms. Rosebrooks we can see that movements start small, they involve many people, many voices who take unpopular positions and uncomfortable risks, doing “weird” things (as Beecher did raising funds to supply rifles to Kansas Free-soilers or in holding mock slave auctions in front of the congregation to put a face on the indignities of slavery (for both slave and slaver), all the while leading a respectable congregation. And currents of change also begin flowing because others [the congregation in this case] say “Yes” to these risks and weirdness and something has a chance to be built that wasn’t before. Yes, and someone invites us on a tour, we come and now we collectively have this experience which might lead to…

We were reminded, too, in this tour that change and re-organization takes time. Many ordinary actions take place over time, in fits and starts, behind the ones that make history books or sound bites on the news. It’s a compilation of a lot of ordinary efforts by ordinary people who together find the courage to LOOK at uncomfortable or deplorable things and speak about them and give new performances they don’t even know how to give. And in so doing inspire others to do the same. Even generations later.

 Our ‘group picture’ in the process of forming, in front of the Henry Ward Beecher statue. What we will be-come caught in a moment of organizing activity.

Warm regards,  Richard   

 1860building

I loved joining the Politics for the People Book Club at Plymouth Church. The presentation was a fascinating and inspiring history of Plymouth Church and the role Rev.Henry Ward Beecher played in establishing it as an important stop on the Underground Railroad. I was especially proud to be there learning this history with all of us!

Vicki Wallace

From June Hirsh 

I found it amazing to learn more about the bravery of ordinary people who stood up against the horrors and injustice of slavery when most everyone looked the other way – or supported slavery as the status quo   – – and that it was fugitive slaves and free blacks who courageously led the way –  risking their very existence to find a way to live in dignity. It was a proud and haunting feeling being in the very church that housed and defended these illegal and morally just activities.    

June    

Comments on the Tour From Vicki Karant

What a wonderful experience to spend an early spring Sunday at Plymouth Church in Brooklyn Heights.  It has played a role in the last two book club selections.  Being inside listening to an enthusiastic historian of the church brought the profound significance of the place and the role of the people who called it theirs into sharp focus.  The sacrifices of those who protected fugitive slaves was present in the walls, the beautiful windows and entire atmosphere.

–Vicki Karant

P4P Conference Call

With Eric Foner

 Sunday, April 19th, 7 pm EST

Call In Number: 805 399-1200 

Access Code 767775#

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