Reader’s Forum —Cynthia Carpathios

An American Sickness: The Commodification of Americans

“Unless you’re part of the 1 percent, you’re only ever one unlucky step away from medical financial disaster.”

Although most of us are aware that the healthcare system in America is not well, we may not have realized the extent of the illness.  If you are fortunate enough to have a job with decent insurance, you may not realize how vulnerable you really are.

Elisabeth Rosenthal’s book, An American Sickness: How Healthcare Become Big Business and How You Can Take It Back, is a History and Physical of American Healthcare.  It is compelling, sometimes funny, and absolutely appalling.

The Chief Complaint is “hugely expensive medical care that doesn’t deliver quality results.”  Rosenthal then lays out the History of the Present Illness and Review of Systems, a look at how American medicine has transformed from one based on caring to one based on profit. And in the Diagnosis and Treatment, she gives us resources for ourselves and for the broader good, what we can do to be less vulnerable to outrageous doctor bills, hospital bills, insurance costs and what kinds of systemic changes we need to demand from our lawmakers, insurance companies, providers and healthcare institutions, hospital and insurance regulators.

What is so shocking is how vulnerable we all are, even those of us with the best insurance.  All we need is a hospitalization or emergency situation in which, without choice or informed consent, we receive service from out-of-network providers or end up in an out-of-network facility and we can be on the line for astronomical charges.  The provider may just say hello to you at your bedside in the hospital. You may be taken to the nearest facility when you are in a situation where every minute counts, and you may not even be conscious. And the rest of your life you may be in financial ruin.

Increasingly certain groups of providers and certain facilities don’t sign up in networks at all and charge whatever they want.

And this is only one outrageous way to go deeply into debt to our broken medical system.

The breakdown in relationship between the medical industry and the people they serve is one that touches all of us, and I feel particularly close to it. My father was a thoracic surgeon in the “golden age” of medicine.  He accepted what people could pay. We had several beautiful oil paintings from one of his patients. One of my brothers is a physician employed by a large medical conglomerate, who has considered repeatedly whether he can bear to stay in medicine. The differences between my father’s and my brother’s experience of the medical field are enormous.

I work in a hospital, a community hospital that has recently been acquired by a larger medical entity. I do payroll and accounting for the physician practices that are under the hospital’s wing.  I see the bankruptcy paperwork coming in for patients who have gone underwater. I see what we pay for consultants, for drugs, the closing of departments that don’t bring in enough money (we no longer deliver babies at this hospital) and the struggle our little hospital has had to stay open. I see the doctors who experience that despite their big paychecks, they are stressed and unhappy, many of them feeling like drivers being pushed to go ever faster and do more in a system whose focus is on the mighty dollar.

It is riveting and distressing to read Rosenthal’s history of the moves that have been made that have been part of creating the current state of affairs where patients are no longer related to on a human level – where they have become a commodity, a dollar figure.

The medical industry is not alone in this regard.  We have seen similar breakdowns in higher education, in banking and investor relations, in the relationship of employers to their workers, in government and its representatives to the people they are mandated to represent.  Things have never been perfect, there have always been ways in which certain groups have been more privileged; this is embedded in our country’s history. But what we are now seeing is a wholesale breakdown of the relationship between the service industries and the people they are purporting to serve.

What we are seeing is something that can’t just be changed by laws or more regulation.  The creativity of those at the top of the money-making pile to work around issues is enormous.  Yes, those changes are needed, and we need to support them. And we need cultural/social/human development at the same time, without which anything else will never be fully successful.  

Despite the infuriating advantage being taken by those who have the power and money to do so, they are also victims of this system.  Their humanity has been eroded and their growth as human beings stunted. We need to support functional changes where we can do so and we need to bring growth and development into our lives and those around us, transforming the systems that underlie our medical system, our society, our economy, our political system, our country from the inside out. 

Cynthia Carpathios is a long-time political independent and a novice Buddhist monk.  She lives in Alliance, Ohio.

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Rick Robol and Cynthia Carpathios of Independent Ohio

*Reminder*

Conference Call with Elisabeth Rosenthal

Author of American Sickness

Sunday, December 2nd at 7 pm EST

Call: 641-715-3605
Pass code: 767775#

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Reader’s Forum – Frank Fear, Sr. and Frank Fear, Jr.

Rosenthal Demystifies America’s Health Care System and How to Fix It

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Frank Fear, Jr. and Frank Fear, Sr.

When beating cancer costs $17,000 a month, what do you do?read the newspaper headline. “1,495 Americans describe the financial reality of being really sick” reads another.  It’s no wonder that health care weighs heavily on the minds of America’s voters as they head to the mid-term polls.

That’s no surprise to Frank Fear, Jr., former vice president of a community hospital and current chief information officer at a regional health system. It’s no surprise to his father, Frank Fear, Sr., a cancer survivor.

Cancer had an indelible impact on Fear Sr.—and not just because of the disease. It was also because of the cost, which totaled tens of thousands of dollars. Fear’s cost-share was manageable. He had employer-sponsored health/medical insurance.

Fear, Sr. was fortunate. Many are not. That’s a problem. It’s America’s problem.

And it’s why Elisabeth Rosenthal’s An American Sickness is such an important book. A physician and journalist, Rosenthal shares her grounded perspective understandably and persuasively. “In the past quarter century,” she begins, “the American medical system has stopped focusing on health or even science. Instead, it attends more or less single-mindedly to its own profits.” (p. 1)

Profit-making isn’t a new story and it’s not even a bad story, either—at least on its face. It becomes a problem when for-the-public-good operations get out of balance, focusing too much on money and not enough on public obligations.

To make that point, Rosenthal analyzes the system’s components—insurance, hospitals, physicians, pharmaceuticals, testing services, medical devices, billing, and general management. The centerpiece of her critique is what she labels, “Economic Rules for the Dysfunctional Medical Market” (p. 8).

If you read nothing else from this book, read that material! The reason? Rosenthal pinpoints what needs to change, things like: More treatment is always better. Treatment is preferable to a cure. There’s no such thing as a ‘fixed price.’

Rosenthal doesn’t believe our current plight is caused by bad people doing bad things. Indeed, she recounts story after story of people and organizations doing good things. They share a common characteristic, though: swimming against the tide trying (as hokey as it may sound) to do the right thing.

What’s the answer? Rosenthal’s answer is clear: “return the system to affordable, evidence-based, patient-centered care” (p. 328). For that to happen, she says, “we need to…become bolder, more active and thoughtful about what we demand in health care and the people who deliver it. We must be more engaged in finding and pressing the political levers to promote the evolution of the medical care we deserve” (p. 329).

The “we” to which Rosenthal refers is us— everyday citizens. She’s right, but there’s a hitch, and a big one, too. Rosenthal’s advice applies to other areas in need of public reform (the cost of public higher education, for example), which require citizens to roll up their sleeves, be bold and knowledgeable, and get the political system to work as it should.

In all of those situations, resolution also requires ‘smarts,’ including the ability to figure out solutions that don’t generate a new set of problems. That’s especially important when change-seekers want BIG change (as they do in health care) by replacing existing systems with entirely new ones. (For Rosenthal’s critique of the single-payer model, go here).

That’s why the option we prefer involves fixing the system that exists in America today—the market-based system. That system isn’t the problem. The problem is that it’s not patient-centered.

What would it take to make that happen? First, the system needs to operate the way that other (and perfectly sensible) customer-driven systems work. And, second, the system needs to be wellness- not illness-focused.

Fixing the first problem means making costs more transparent and for health vendors/providers to be more accountable. Rosenthal gives plenty of examples of how to do both, including providing patients with upfront figures regarding the full costs of medicines, tests, and medical interventions—even enabling patients to price-compare. Doing that just makes common sense.

The second matter involves changing the mindset that drives the system, including the way that many of us think about health, doctors, and hospitals. Rosenthal gives examples of how organizations, states, and the Federal government have incentivized the health system to keep people healthy vs. paying them to treat patients when they’re sick. Examples include the Boeing Company (p. 289) and the State of Maryland (p. 298). Another example is Medicare Advantage.

What’s it all mean? The clock is ticking, just as it is with other critical issues facing America (e.g. climate change). In the meantime, too many people are being hurt as we stumble around trying to figure out how to improve the system.

At issue is figuring out what change is workable (politically and economically) and how to make change a reality. It’s with those objectives in mind that Elisabeth Rosenthal gives America a get well card—how to figure out both.

Frank Fear, Jr. is Chief Information Officer at Covenant Healthcare (Saginaw, MI), a non-profit health care system that serves twenty counties in central and northeast Michigan. Frank served previously as vice president at Memorial Healthcare (Owosso, MI), a non-profit hospital offering inpatient and outpatient services to those living in its 100,000-person service area. He received a B.A. in psychology from Albion College and graduated from Michigan State University with an M.A. in counseling psychology.

Frank A. Fear, Sr. is professor emeritus, Michigan State University, where he served as a faculty member and worked in a variety of administrative positions. He is primarily interested in how public and nonprofit institutions serve the public good. Frank currently works as Managing Editor/columnist at The Sports Column (Baltimore, MD) and writes regularly about social issues for the Los Angeles-based, LA Progressive

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Politics for the People

Conference Call

An American Sickness

With Author Elisabeth Rosenthal

Sunday, Dec. 2nd at 7 pm EST.

Call in number:  641-715-3605 

Passcode 767775#

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Reader’s Forum — Lou Hinman and Sheryl Williams

LOU HINMAN

While I was reading The Secrets of Mary Bowser by Lois Leveen, I saw Call Mr. Robeson, the one-man show written and performed by Tayo Aluko, at the Castillo Theatre in New York. Like Paul Robeson, Mary unnamedBowser made a political choice: she rejected the life of relative privilege that was open to her as a talented, educated, free black person living in the north.  She chose instead to return to Virginia, and risk her life in the war for the liberation of her people.

Ms. Leveen’s account of Mary Bowser’s heroic life also shows very clearly that an entire nation cannot abuse and degrade a whole group of human beings without corrupting and degrading itself.  The injustice of slavery corrupted not just the southern “slave power”, but the northern “free” states as well.  Ms. Leveen shows us how racism infected even the abolitionists in the north.

Today, one hundred fifty-three years after the end of chattel slavery, the corruption of racism is still degrading, poisoning, shaming, and holding back America.  Three generations ago, President Truman (DP) told Paul Robeson that the time was “not right” for anti-lynching legislation.  This past week, the NFL ruled that its players would face sanctions if they kneeled during the national anthem to protest police violence against the black community.

The racists – and this includes Roger Godell, the smooth-talking Commissioner of the NFL – reserve their most rabid hatred for people of color like Mary Bowser, Paul Robeson, and Colin Kaepernick who have the unmitigated temerity to lay down their privilege to stand with their people.  The rest of us reserve for them our greatest respect, admiration, and love.

Lou Hinman lives in New York City and is an activist with IndependentVoting.org and the New York City Independence Clubs.

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SHERYL WILLIAMS

In reading Lois Leveen’s book, “The Secrets of Mary Bowser” I am reminded again of the importance of reading American history. A very richly textured book about the life of a real person, a former slave, Mary Bowser. The level of detail in both the hardships and the mundane have had quite an impact on me.

 

IMG_20171125_084439I can’t but help think about how some of the themes in the book are common to present day African American families. For example, I grew hearing from the oldest generation of my own family stories of the lack of certainty about who was born when given the lack of record keeping as it applied to a people who were once enslaved. The conflicting emotions of pride and loss at just the possibility of access to education. As an adult, attending the with my parents the very same church I attended as a child, listening to announcements about young people in the church who were graduating from high school and soon to be going away to college accompanied by cheers and tears.

The thing that probably surprised me the most, was from the very beginning to see slavery through the eyes of a child. Maybe it’s because I’m older now, have a better sense of what it means for a parent to want better than they had for their children. And since I don’t have any children myself, think about my own parents, and their parents for before them and the strength it must have taken to send children off into nearly unimaginable hostility only to hope against hope that would that they not only survive but also thrive.

A very powerful book, I hope everyone reads.

Sheryl Williams is a long-time independent; an activist who believes in the power of the people.

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Politics for the People

Conference Call

With Author Lois Leveen

TOMORROW

Sunday, June 3rd at 7 pm EST.

Join us and Explore

The Secrets of Mary Bowser

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Reader’s Forum — Lowell Ward, Diana Dakey, Harriet Hoffman, Maureen Albanese and Helen Abel

 

The Secrets of Mary Bowser by Lois Leveen

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LOWELL WARD

 I love the book, it’s brilliantly written.  When I’m reading it I feel like I’m there among the characters, and part of the 20180529_100153conversation.  The book is hard to put down to because of the adventure and intrigue that comes with a story as powerful as Mary Bowser’s is. I also find it fascinating how the Willy Lynch syndrome had already kick in. The self-hatred, envy and jealousy we were taught to have for each other ,way back when, let’s replace it with self-esteem, decent, and love. Mary Bowser is my HEROINE.”

Lowell Ward is an activist with the Massachusetts Coalition of Independent Voters.

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DIANA DAKEY

Author, Lois Leveen transported me back to the Civil War era in The Secrets if Mary Bowser.

Although it is fact that its main characters lived, that there were spies for the Union, that the underground railroad existed, that a colored society existed in Philadelphia, OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAthere is limited record of what it actually was like for people who lived during these trying times. It takes the research and imagination of a writer to create the realistic setting and to develop the characters of the time, masterfully done by Lois Leveen.

Through the eyes of our heroine, Mary Bowser, we learn of the overt and subtle prejudice against colored freed people, as well as the social order among freed (e.g., to sew for charity) and enslaved.

A takeaway from the novel was that one could be sustained in one’s convictions by taking the long view that one’s efforts could eventually make lives better for others (e.g., Mary’s belief that she had a mission in life), embodied by Mary, Wilson, Bet and others, both white and colored. Also, the personal dignity of Mary, who envisioned a life of greater importance for herself than being an accessory to her first beau.  The novel also shows us the compassion of the individual for others, a counterweight to the prevailing inhuman treatment of slaves at the time.”

Diana Dakey lives in Pennsylvania and supports a number of good-government groups.

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HARRIET HOFFMAN

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I loved Mary Bowser, especially her contrariness.  She lived a life that made no separation between the personal and political. She was ruthless and astute in her analyses of the people and events taking place around her. And of course she had enormous courage.  I wish I’d known her.”

Harriet Hoffman is a consultant specializing in grant writing and helping people maximize their Medicare and social security benefits.  She is an activist with  IndependentVoting.org and the New York City Independence Clubs. She is also active with the All Stars Project’s Committee for Independent Community Action.

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 MAUREEN ALBANESE

I had no idea who Mary Bowser was as we Americans are not good at teaching our history certainly not slave history. I want to thank Lois Leveen for giving me a history lesson I didn’t know I really needed.  In reading the book I was awestruck who by a slave who risked everything to get justice for her people.  They say someMaureen Albanese people are born great and other have greatness thrust upon them in Mary Bowser’s case it is both.  Although she was granted freedom and was able to be educated she wasn’t really free.  She realized to be free she would have to take matters in her own hand using a life of lessons learned against those who would enslave her people.  Her foes supposed smarts show they were not the masters of the universe they thought they were.  They never realized that Mary who toiled as a drudge in their midst was the one who ultimately brought them down.  Slavery has not gone away or has the institutional racism that still permeates our society today.  This book should be required reading in every high school in America.  We need to know our history to come to grips with it and this book can help us do that.”

Maureen Albanese is an administrative assistant and activist. She lives in Manhattan.

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HELEN ABEL

I loved this book and read it in 3 days on Kindle. It is a page turner. This is a remarkable story and kudos to the author Lois Leveen for writing such a fascinating and meticulous account of a little known piece of history. Yes it depicts the difference in what racism looked like in the North and South during the era of the Civil War. One of the things that I found interesting was how the house slaves and plantation slaves were treated. Also Mary Bowser was lucky in that one of her masters, the daughter of the plantation was against slavery and helped her get educated and free. It also depicts some of Mary’s conflicts over how slavery was depicted. While it was awful, it wasn’t just people being beaten and hung on a tree which is the way it was portrayed in a lot of the political propaganda of the abolitionists. And since this is historical fiction we don’t know the extent to which Mary might have been abused physically.

She also had a gift of a photographic memory and decided to use that to help end slavery and be a spy.

IMG_7132One of the most astonishing parts of the book for me was how she extended the Civil War by withholding particular information so that slavery would become a main issue for Lincoln and not just preservation of the Union. Was this part true? A possible question for the author.

She was obviously very smart and able to evade detection. However the environment that she was in, i.e. when she lived in Jefferson Davis’s house, shows the level of racism where a black woman slave in particular would never be seen capable of reading, writing or thinking, and definitely not smart enough to be a spy. So she was able to use that to work in her favor. They tried to accuse a white man. And the person who guessed part of her secret was another female slave that she worked with.

As someone who is an activist in the independent political movement it gives the word “perseverance” new meaning. I look forward to other books by this author.”

Helen Abel is a political activist with Independent Voice in California and on staff of Life Performance Coaching in San Francisco.

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Politics for the People

Conference Call

With Author Lois Leveen

Sunday, June 3rd at 7 pm EST.

Join us and Explore

The Secrets of Mary Bowser

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Reader’s Forum — Vicki Karant

A Review of  The Secrets of Mary Bowser

Vicki KarantLois Leveen has crafted a compelling novel, reconstructing the probable path that Mary Bowser took on her road to becoming a spy in the “Gray House”, the Confederate home of Jefferson Davis and his wife Varina during the American Civil War.  We learn early on that Mary knew that “a slave best keep her talents hidden, feigned ignorance being the greatest intelligence in the topsy-turvy house of bondage.”

By the age of eleven, in Richmond, Virginia, Mary could memorize overheard conversations when company came to visit her slave masters.  Mary was in possession of that most valuable commodity: information, the author observed.  Those around Mary recognized her to be extremely intelligent.  Upon her emancipation by the daughter of her slave owners, Mary’s mother stated to her daughter that she would live a different, special life “not just from mine but from most colored folks.”

Miss Bet, who released Mary from slavery, became her patron, taking her to Philadelphia for a classic, if segregated, education that included math, literature and Latin.  Mary’s years in Philly also introduced her to the world of northern racism where one might be able to go to a department store if one was black but not the opera.  Mary joined the Female Anti-Slavery Society and sewing circle.  There she encountered the snobbishness of lifelong freed blacks who did not understand the realities of slaves’ lives while still working for abolition.  She met Quakers who believed in freeing the slaves but could only allow blacks to sit on separate benches during worship meetings.

Life in Philadelphia enabled Mary to participate in the abolition movement, introducing her to activists.  She attended meetings where the great speakers of the day expounded on the need to end slavery.  More importantly, Mary’s best friend’s family ran a stop on the Underground Railroad.  Mary worked with them in the years before she completed her education.

Upon completion of her schooling and due to the death of her mother and the impending Civil War, Mary returned to Richmond to be with her aging father.  Known as an Secrets of Mary Bowser Bk Coverabolitionist and a risk taker, Mary was approached by a man posing as a slave trader.  In reality he was working to undermine the Confederacy.  He was fully aware of Mary’s sophisticated education and uncanny memory.  When a job appeared in the “Gray House” to be the servant to the wife of the president of the Confederacy, Mary took on the task.

In the years before recording and listening devices, before social media and cable news, Mary used her memorization skills to provide information to the north by being a quietly observant spy.  Her education, both formal and informal, gave her the courage to risk her personal life in the cause of enabling the Union to prevail. She contributed heroically to the cause of abolition.

Dr. Vicki Karant is a retired Social Studies teacher and supervisor.  She has advocated among her students and colleagues, urging the need to vote.  She is committed to expanding the right to vote to independents in primary elections.

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Politics for the People

Conference Call

The Secrets of Mary Bowser

With Author Lois Leveen

Sunday, June 3rd at 7 pm EST.

Call in number:  641-715-3605 

Passcode 767775#

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Reader’s Forum — Jenn Bullock

Ind PA at National Conference

Independent Voting National Conference of Independents 2017 with Nichele Richardson, Stephen Bouikidis, Barb Patrizzi, Melida Davila, and Jenn Bullock of Independent Pennsylvanians

The Secrets of Mary Bowser

Racism in the 1800’s, and beyond.

What it means to be free in the 1800’s, and beyond.

It’s complicated, for Mary Bowser: a smart, inquisitive, courageous black gal turned spy.

Lois Leveen’s The Secrets of Mary Bowser does such a powerful, cutting job at expressing the contradictory, complicated, painful face of racism and classism, southern-style and northern-style.

I so appreciate her willingness to expose the condescension of the progressive white abolitionist movement in her portrayal of Miss Bet, who is Mary’s white savior and who has the white savior complex, not recognizing her own racism.

Mary expresses that there is a certain kind of freedom as a slave in Virginia because she was with beloved family and the race arrangement is known, and experiences a certain kind of bondage in Philadelphia with the class structure:  keeping some free blacks in another sort of chains with limited economic and educational opportunities, while the so-called middle class blacks put on airs to separate themselves from the lowly Negros.

But what I find most powerful, particularly as a white progressive Philadelphian in the new millennium, is Leveen’s unapologetic exposure of northern racism.  Mary, excitedly thinking she could ride the omnibus when she first arrives in free Philadelphia, is kicked off and called nigger.   Mary wonders how could a place so different from Virginia as the city of brotherly love make her feel the same, and even worse than the south.   Then, It took my breath away when her new black associates in Philadelphia challenged Mary, asking what she missed about slavery and the south:   “Who could miss slavery?”  Mary said.  “Only, at least in Richmond, slavery’s the reason why we’re treated so bad.  What’s the reason here?” (p92).

McNeely and Co

An Omnibus features prominently in this 1860 lithograph by William H. Rease of G. H. McNeely

Today, with leadership of Black Lives Matter and Me Too and 43% people identifying as independent while the two major parties maintain control of our democracy, it’s still complicated.   I am so proud to be an activist with Independentvoting.org, and play a role as coordinator of the Pennsylvania affiliate, Independent Pennsylvanians. My work to make elections fair and open in Philadelphia, petitioning on the same streets Mary walked many years ago, with a multi ethnic group of activists is very important to me.

I look forward to finishing the book this week and to the call Sunday.  I will hold close Mary Bowser’s courage and the author’s wonderful rendition of her life.

Jennifer Bullock  is the coordinator of Independent Pennsylvanians.

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Politics for the People

Conference Call

With Author Lois Leveen

Sunday, June 3rd at 7 pm EST.

Join us and Explore

The Secrets of Mary Bowser

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Reader’s Forum–Melissa Meyer and Ramon Pena

If you have not started reading The Secrets of Mary Bowser, perhaps the Memorial Day Weekend gives you an opportunity to take this rich and rewarding journey.

Below are comments from two Politics for the People members who have just started reading the book.

MELISSA MEYER

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I’ve listened on audio tape to a very small piece of Lois Leveen’s book and her depiction of the life and work of Mary Bowser.

The beauty of Ms. Leveen’s  prose about an ordinary Sunday juxtaposed against the horror and inhumanity of slavery….  To read about the ordinary lives of African Americans loving each other, is a joy…. even as their joyous times are cut short under the control of their slave masters. Ms. Leveen takes you into a moment of history without teaching, but inviting you in.  Thank you!

Melissa Meyer is the Coordinator of International Programs at the East Side Institute in New York City.

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RAMON PENA

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I am enjoying this book although still halfway through.

Two things that I love about Mary is that she always listened as a child. By listening she was becoming educated to the politics of that time. She even continued doing this as an adult.

I also loved her relationship with her father. He loved her dearly and she loved him back. The book is full of these father daughter moments. Thanks Lois Leveen for giving the readers a different kind of story about slavery.

Ramon Pena is a long time independent activist and lives in New Jersey.

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Secrets of Mary Bowser Bk CoverHappy Memorial Day Reading

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Politics for the People

Conference Call

With Author Lois Leveen

Sunday, June 3rd at 7 pm EST.

Join us and Explore

The Secrets of Mary Bowser

 ***

Reader’s Forum — Steve Hough

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I enjoyed reading Lois Leveen’s historical novel The Secrets of Mary Bowser. While being based on a true life figure, Mary’s story is as incredible as if it had been total fiction. As I had no knowledge of Mary Bowser before, the book affected me on several levels beyond the enjoyment of reading a well-crafted novel.

Much of what has been written about the Civil War chronicles events from a military perspective, but not being a student of such things, I am not surprised I had never heard of Mary Bowser. However, for those who do study military campaigns, intelligence gathering would be an integral part of the story. A former slave, having been freed and educated in Philadelphia, voluntarily returning to Richmond, pretending to be a slave is remarkable. To then become a servant and spy in the Confederate White House is unimaginable. But then, I also had never heard of Katherine Johnson before the movie Hidden Figures was released.

Another surprise was how my visualization of slavery and the antebellum South had been limited to atrocities occurring in the bowels of slave ships, the brutality of Secrets of Mary Bowser Bk Coverplantation life, and the perils faced by those who attempted to escape and by those who aided them. Mary’s experience as an urban house slave of a well-to-do merchant may have been vastly different than those on plantations, but her bondage was nonetheless cruel and inhumane.

I live in the South. I first moved from Southwest Missouri to Florida as a teenager after my parents divorced. That was 1968.  I only lived here for two and a half years before returning to Missouri to finish high school. After joining the Army and living abroad, then moving to California for a few years, I returned in 1987. Much has changed since 1968, but much has remained the same.

Just as Mary experienced segregation and discrimination as a free young lady in Philadelphia, vestiges of the past still afflict many today. Perhaps most prominently, the Jim Crow era manifested the lingering toxic attitudes displayed by whites in the South, however many people of color all across the country are adversely affected by our shared history and an institution abolished long ago.

While we can point to a plethora of anecdotal evidence on a daily basis, comparative data confirms this. Everything from disparities in wealth, quality of education, employment opportunities, and incarceration rates, points to an ongoing struggle for true equality. Our economic and political model imposes arbitrary limits on the resources available across the broad spectrum of society, and a pecking order exists within the context of competition favoring some more than others. While the struggle is not exclusive to communities of color, one cannot help but believe our history plays a role in amplifying the disparities.

That history, and its impact, is still a point of contention and continued debate. From a call for reparations to simply seeking to remove monuments to the Confederacy from prominent public spaces, the ghosts of our past still haunt us.

Steve Hough is a lifelong independent and became an activist for political reform after retiring as an accountant. He is the director of Florida Fair and Open Primaries.

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Politics for the People

Conference Call

With Author Lois Leveen

Sunday, June 3rd at 7 pm EST.

Join us and Explore

The Secrets of Mary Bowser

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Reader’s Forum—Steve Guarin

The Secrets of Mary Bowser by Lois Leveen

A review by Steve Guarin

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I, and most everybody else, never heard of Mary Bowser. I never learned of her in school. In fact I was well into adulthood before I even learned of the name and all I knew of her, was that she had something to do with spying on the Confederates. It wasn’t until I read the book about Mary, written by Lois Leveen that Mary Bowser became a person. Secrets of Mary Bowser Bk CoverShe was a rarity among black people due to the fact that she was well educated. She was a rarity among all people. She did what she saw as right even though it was hard, even dangerous.

There are many scenes of danger, but the one that sticks with me, is when Mary killed a man. This man was a real danger to Mary and the daughter of her former owner, Elizabeth Van Lew. This man caused Mary to act in an unusual and desperate manner. Mary was able to quietly come up in back of him and smash his head in with rock. At this point the fear and rage that came with living under the terrible conditions of slavery caused her to go berserk. She hit the man over and over, and though I was surprised I also felt that Mary was justified.

Ms. Leveen created Mary Bowser with a full story to tell. Unfortunately written history wanted to do without Mary Bowser. The chroniclers of doings and goings on in our yesteryear’s, especially during the 1800s, left very spotty reports about the black man’s or women’s doings. In a very important part of the story, Mary was serving, literally, in the capital of the Confederacy as the (slave) servant of the President of the united secessionist states. Was this so? Because I had been taught nothing about Mary, I had to look it up. Thank God that in this age we have Google, for if we didn’t I still wouldn’t know the she really did work in Jefferson Davis’ house.

I unreservedly recommend this book.  It is a very creative story about the happenings during the most interesting time in this country’s history. Action, adventure, a little romance, and morality banging their heads together.

Steve Guarin lives in the Bronx.  He is retired and an activist with the New York City Independence Clubs.

 

***

Politics for the People

Conference Call 

Sunday, June 3rd at 7 pm EST.

Will Explore

The Secrets of Mary Bowser

Secrets of Mary Bowser Bk Cover

With Author Lois Leveen

 ***

 

Reader’s Forum — Harry Kresky

Lois Leveen’s historical novel, The Secrets of Mary Bowser, tells the inspiring story of a young woman born into slavery in Richmond VA who became a spy for the Union with access to the papers and conversations of Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

The book portrays many aspects of America before and during the civil war: the cruelty of slavery; the courage of African-Americans who fought against it; the conflicted P1100330relationship between African-Americans (slave and free) active in the struggle and white abolitionists; the agonizingly slow, but inexorable defeat of the Confederacy.

It is also a story about human development. Mary Bowser’s parents, forced to live apart as slaves with different masters, instilled in their daughter a determination to be free, the importance of focusing and working towards that goal, and the need to become worldlier.  She had the good fortune to be bought and freed by an anti-slavery member of the family that owned her and, at her sponsor’s urging (and with the full support of her parents), moved to Philadelphia where she was able to study at a school for freed African-Americans.  And, of course, that meant leaving her parents behind in Richmond.

Mary Bowser proved to be the top student in her class, an avid learner outside of school, and an astute judge of character and analyst of social and political dynamics.  Whether her accomplishments are attributed to genetics, opportunity or luck (likely all of them), Bowser’s story demonstrates the importance of being able to live in a more cosmopolitan environment and interact with many different kinds of people, white and black, kind and not so kind.

And the responsibility on all of us to relate to people as who they can become.

Harry Kresky is counsel to IndependentVoting.org and one of the country’s leading experts on nonpartisan primary reform and the legal issues facing independent voters. He is also a poet (poems for friends).

 

***

Politics for the People

Conference Call 

Sunday, June 3rd at 7 pm EST.

Will Explore

The Secrets of Mary Bowser

Secrets of Mary Bowser Bk Cover

With Author Lois Leveen

 ***

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