Remembering Springfield Years Later

Springfield   I haven’t been back in Springfield, Massachusetts since 2009.  Driving from the airport in Hartford, nothing looked that different at 1 AM in the morning, but that’s pretty faint praise.  The Basketball Hall of Fame is prominently located along the expressway.  Mass Mutual Insurance company is still large enough to have its old highway sign, as is Springfield College.

I’ll be at Springfield College this evening to answer whatever questions students and others might have, pro or con, after watching “The Organizer.”  Today, I sing for my supper by working three classes on everything from social movements to the value of volunteers to how music is used in protests, and then I have dinner with some of the profs and the student stars.  I lugged 50 pounds worth of my new book, Nuts & Bolts:  The ACORN Fundamentals of Organizing,up with me.  It’ll be fun!

Compared to my last visit almost ten years ago, this schedule seems like a walk in the park.  Last time I spoke on campus there was more drama.  This was the heyday of the Tea Party surge in the wake of the Obama election.  They were still galvanized in their anger.  They picketed outside of the auditorium where I was speaking.  Some of the signs protested the election.  Some were racist, which Tea people organized apologized for later.  Local activists organized a counter protest to support ACORN and organizing, which was quite an honor in its own way.  Several Tea Party leaders tried to disrupt in the question and answer period after my remarks.  It was all pretty tame, but titillating for some of the students and professors to be a part of the controversy.

This time will be interesting in a different way.  The documentary has good archival footage of the Springfield riots that broke out October 15, 1969, almost 49 years ago in the wake of welfare rights demonstrations I had organized where the members demanded winter coats for recipients.  The quality of the great leaders of Springfield WRO comes through in the documentary with clips of Barbara Rivera, Carmen Rivera, and Simone St. Jacque.  The welfare officials refused to cave in as hundreds of welfare rights members sat in the office at the top of the Hill, as it was called.   There was a bus strike so students were walking back up the hill and watching the police wagons and cars surround the center.  It was Vietnam Moratorium day and Barbara had spoken at the rally in Court Square.  Fifty students from Springfield College’s Black Student Union joined the sit-in at the welfare office.  All hell broke loose.

I will be very interested in the questions students ask as they watch their alumni on the screen, and what they will note about how things have changed.