Reader’s Forum — Dr. Jessie Fields

20171104_151329_1509824198579 (1)

Dr. Jessie Fields (center) with Carrie Sackett, Alvaader Frazier, David Belmont and Nardo Reyes –  New York City Independence Club Activists in Harlem doing street outreach.

Health Care Should Be About Health 

I am a community primary care physician. I grew up seeing the effects of social isolation and poverty in the black community and I became a doctor because I wanted to help improve the life conditions of the black poor. Practicing in the poor community, initially on the West Side of Chicago, I soon realized that I had to go outside the walls of the clinic and outside the institution of medicine to be able to work on improving the community’s health.

This lesson is also relevant to the book, An American Sickness: How Healthcare Became Big Business and How You Can Take It Back by Elisabeth Rosenthal. The book is a revealing analysis of the high costs of for-profit medicine as well as an activist guidebook for the American people and patients to confront and change a system that impacts all people.

Those outside the system in partnership with caring health providers I believe can and are making changes. I look forward to our discussing efforts to change the system when we speak with Elisabeth Rosenthal on the conference call on December 2nd. As Rosenthal states in the last few sentences of the book’s Afterward, “…the crusade to take back our health care system…. it’s going to be a long war.”

She documents how American medicine became the highly expensive, wasteful, inefficient complex business designed to generate profit that it is today. Rosenthal tells the story of the beginning of health insurance with Blue Cross and its partner, Blue Shield, which were nonprofit and accepted everyone who sought to sign up. “The original purpose of health insurance was to mitigate financial disasters brought about by serious illness…” Over the subsequent decades, especially through the 1970s and 1980s, “For-profit insurance companies moved in, unencumbered by the Blues’ charitable mission. They accepted only younger, healthier patients on whom they could make a profit. They charged different rates, depending on factors like age, as they had long done with life insurance. And they produced different levels of protection.”

She outlines all the components of the high cost of medicine: insurance, hospitals, pharmaceuticals, doctors, conglomerates, etc. while also focusing on how high costs impact patients.

“Nearly a third of Americans said they had problems paying medical bills, many among those forced to cut back on food, clothing, or basic household items…But will Congress head their distress call? Or will the powerful business of medicine hold sway, as it has for the past thirty years? Time will tell, but there’s a glimmer of hope on the horizon. But that glimmer comes from you, not from Washington.”

Dr. Rosenthal also discusses the benefits and limitations of the Affordable Care Act. Namely that it has increased access to coverage and care but that in the face of the insurance lobbies and partisan political dysfunction, the ACA did not address the high costs of medicine.

Of course, the high costs of medical care are not limited to the money and financial losses by patients and the larger society. The human costs are even more deeply incalculable. The health and well being of patients and families is undermined.

New approaches to healing that involve human compassion and support are needed but not pursued because the focus is how to make a profit from the latest technology. Expensive technology has replaced the hands-on art of a thorough physical examination.

Departments that do not make money such as Obstetrics, especially in medical clinics that serve poor communities, are closed. Pregnant women have limited access to quality prenatal care, resulting in the United States high infant mortality rate — especially relative to other developed countries. The United States spends more than $3 trillion a year on a health care system that is unequal and unjust. We the people have to change it and I look forward to our conversation with Dr. Rosenthal.

Dr. Jessie Fields is a physician practicing 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

An American Sickness

With Author Elisabeth Rosenthal

Sunday, Dec. 2nd at 7 pm EST.

Call in number:  641-715-3605 

Passcode 767775#

 ***

Advertisements

Reader’s Forum — Susan Massad

susan head shot

A Review of An American Sickness: How Healthcare Became Big Business and How You Can Take It Back

I am a consumer of health care, a practitioner and educator in general internal medicine for over fifty years, and a lifelong advocate for health care reform–single payer, a national health care service, and health care for all.  In college, my sophomore term paper was a history of the AMA’s role in defeating Truman’s proposal for a national health service for America.

Critiques of the American medical system have been with us for decades but more recently, as our system becomes more and more dysfunctional, the level and volume of critique has accelerated. The system is too big, too bureaucratic, user-unfriendly, exploitative, bad for our health, inaccessible, and too costly.  These are some of the recurring themes that one encounters in the explosion of commentary in books, articles, political polls and in my favorites, television shows, such as New Amsterdam, and the Resident, that are chronicling the faults in our system that make it so impenetrable to both consumers and practitioners.

I was an avid reader of this literature until there were just too many articles and books to keep up with. I am grateful that I was introduced to Elisabeth Rosenthal’s An American Sickness through Politics for the People as I might have dismissed it as just another critique that I already knew what it was going to say. Even for the jaded and cynical, Rosenthal grabs your attention. I was totally engaged with the first part of the book, How Health Care Became Big Business. She brings her talents and experience as a doctor, social critic, and journalist to her writing, producing a devastating analysis of how the patient, aka the consumer, is caught in a web of confounding business operations designed to maximally exploit them and their illnesses. The book is filled with clinical vignettes that are case studies in patient exploitation, such as the shell game of adding expensive testing, medical equipment and ancillary services to the hospital bill, the charging for the extra anesthesiologist, the moving of procedures to ancillary sites where extra facility fees can be collected as providers form LLCs to increase profit. It is the patient who is left alone with the financial impact of an unregulated drug market, lack of transparency in anticipating hospital and procedure costs, and an insurance market that simply passes on the costs of this exploitative care to the consumer in the form of higher and higher premiums.

Coming away from the book one is left with a strong sense of outrage, and a much better grasp of the complexities and deceptions of the system. I have been in treatment for breast cancer for over six years and continue to be confounded by my monthly bills that quote the charge for the service as one amount, the amount the plan pays as another and the copay as another inexplicable amount and none of it adds up. Rosenthal gives us some way of understanding how these unfathomable charges have landed on our health care bills.

I was somewhat disappointed in the second half of the book “How you can take it back.”  Rosenthal provides some invaluable tools in the form of apps and sources of information and organizations that support us to become more astute consumers of health care as we shop around for the best hospitals, compare drug prices, and question the charges on our hospital bills. She exhorts us to speak up and push back; something that is not so easy to do as individual operators in a system so big and opaque as ours.

What I found most lacking was some recognition of how politicized our health care system is. The three-trillion-dollar American medical machine did not just happen to become the profit center for insurers, hospitals, doctors, manufacturers, politicians, regulators, charities, banks, real estate, and tech—or any of the many other entities that have no connection to health or health care. Much of this giveaway was accomplished through the compliance of our representatives, who vote on the legislation that has facilitated the turnover of medical care to private industry. Medicare and Medicaid were established in 1965 under Lyndon Johnson, a master of the deal. Steven Brills’s book, America’s Bitter Pill, is the sad story of the making of the Affordable Care Act, a political-mash up of deal-making and trade-offs that is the best that our partisan and divided Congress could offer the American people. I am not critical of Rosenthal for not including an analysis of the politics of health care in America in the book, and I would have liked to have some recognition of what we are being asked to push back against in challenging big business health care. I have learned in my many years as a health care activist that I could not impact the flawed nature of our health care system without engaging in changing the way politics is conducted in our country. Health care reform, like educational reform and other major reforms, is not a single-issue item. It is embedded in everything we do.

Where does one look for hope, a way out of this mass of corruption and deception that health care in the US has become? For me, one has to get out of the system and look elsewhere to a number of grassroots, community-based, and patient-initiated efforts to take control of their own health care.  A few examples of this are: Patient run self help organizations such as SHARE that provide support, education and empowerment to women affected by breast or ovarian cancer; Gilda’s Club, a community organization for people with cancer, their families and friends; Project Open Notes, an international movement advocating change in the way visit notes are managed by providing access to patient and families of their medical records; The Maven Project that is leveraging medical school alumni to connect experienced volunteer physicians with safety net clinics across the US to augment and meet unmet health care needs in underserved and uninsured patient populations; The Beryl Institute, a global community of practice dedicated to improving the patient experience through collaboration and shared knowledge, as well as my own efforts to help patients to self-organize health teams that perform as collective, social units for health and healing that is amplifying the patient’s voice in taking control of their own health care.

In An American Sickness Rosenthal eloquently chronicles how dreadfully sick our health care system is. It made me think about the advice that All Stars Project and East Side Institute founder Fred Newman gave at the Performing the World conference in 2007.  In speaking about the despair and chaos of our world, Newman says, “We have to perform the world again—and we are all involved in this—because this one stinks.”

I take this to mean that if we are going to create our way out of the three-trillion-dollar morass that health care in the US has become, it is we the people who will have to do it.

Susan Massad is a retired primary care physician educator who is on the faculty of the East Side Institute where she leads workshops/conversations exploring what it means for people to grow and develop in the face of serious illness, aging or memory loss. Susan is a long time independent activist with Independent Voting.  

 

***

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#

 ***

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

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

IMG_0560

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

***

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#

 ***

New P4P Selection: An American Sickness

P4P_bookclub_flyer_Rosenthal

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.

***

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.

***

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

641-715-3605 and passcode 767775#

 ***

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.

***

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#

 ***

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.

***

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

2017_10_02_Anti_Coruption_Awards_Ceremony_WEB_071

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.

***

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 Guarin

The Secrets of Mary Bowser by Lois Leveen

A review by Steve Guarin

20161005_awards_014

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

 ***

  • Independent Lens

  • Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 354 other followers

  • Featured Links

  • Categories

  • Facebook

  • Links