Forty-Nine Years and More of the Story Emerges on the Springfield Riot

Source: Instagram #scspirituallife #springfieldcollege

Springfield     Before the showing of “The Organizer,” the organizers of the screening and Q&A has put together a small dinner for some of the professors and their star students.  As people put away their plates, Rick Paar, a Springfield College psychology professor, said that since I was there he wanted to tell the story of how I got him arrested almost 49 years ago.  I was all ears.  I knew that about 50 members of the Springfield College Black Students Union had gotten arrested for joining the welfare rights members after they had voted for the students to leave and for the police to arrest them, but I didn’t really appreciate that the rush of the police into the demonstrators might have caught some other white supporters as well.

Paar told the story from the perspective of a 19-year old Springfield College student caught in the drama of the day.  He had been at the Vietnam Moratorium Day rally in downtown Springfield that day in Court Square, and like many others, including the students of all four area high schools that were then built cheek to jowl at the bottom of the hill.  At the time there was a bus strike so everyone was making their way up the hill.  At the top was the Springfield Welfare office housed in a former supermarket in this largely African-American neighborhood across from Springfield College.  Paar mentioned having heard Barbara Rivera, the chair of the North End WRO, our delegate to the rally, speak about ending the war on the poor as well, and call for support for our demonstration and sit-in at the welfare office.  The confluence of all of these events, coupled with the police action, was combustible, and a riot broke out.

Long and short, he was caught in the sweep with some of his buddies from school by the police.  He told about the bottles flying, which I also remember clearly from my trip to jail.  He felt safer in the paddy wagon.  In a side bar he mentioned seeing his father, who was then a college professor, trying to pull a coat over his head while he let air out of the tires.  Eventually, we all ended up in the York Street jail, which is now where the NBA Hall of Fame is located after the jail was demolished.  My friend, Dan Russell, mentioned I can now say I was in the Hall of Fame.

Anyway, Steve Bardidge, the MWRO lawyer, had always told me he was able to negotiate my arrest down from an inciting to riot charge to simple a nolo contendere plea on simple protest with a 2-year probation because he was able to get me packaged into a deal being demanded by an influential Springfield College professor who was trying to spring his son.   Now, almost 49 years later, I discover that was Rick Paar’s father.

He ended the story before the documentary began, saying “You can thank me now, Wade.”  And, I did, and here it is again, “Thanks, Rick!”  Better late than never.


Editing the Bible in Egypt

Coptic Bible

Greenville   I’ve learned a little bit about editing over the last decade or so by having both written a couple of three books, edited one, and edited Social Policy every quarter. It’s a laborious and thankless process that strives for perfection, but always falls woefully short of the mark.

This morning I reviewed the final proofs on more than twenty chapters of my new book coming out later this month, Nuts and Bolts: The ACORN Fundamentals of Organizing that has been an off-and-on piece of work and writing for me for over a dozen and maybe fifteen years. I’ve been through it front to back already three or four times, page by page. Now in the final, final go through, I should do it a fifth time, but I won’t. I’ll just look for obvious errors and try to sand down the last rough spots, but even as I put it to bed, I know that I could pick up the whole book in a couple of months and rewrite it from start to finish if I had the patience and willpower and make it a better book. I won’t do that. I want to think and work on other things, but, it makes me think about the big book, the Bible.

Sunday school teaches you a lot about “divine inspiration,” but there’s no disagreement that the Bible was written by men doing the best that they could. The New York Times had a fascinating article about the computerized programming and scanning efforts that are probing an ancient text written in Coptic, the language of Egyptian Christians. When the Organizers Forum visited Cairo after the revolution we also made a trip through the Coptic area and visited a huge open air Coptic church built into a sandstone rock hillside that was one of the most moving and amazing cathedrals I have ever visited. The Coptics are of course now a persecuted minority in Egypt in a shameful blight on the country, and its lack of tolerance or appreciation of its own deep and diverse religious history. Until conquered, when Arabic became the dominant language, Coptic was primary for the first 500 or so years AD when Egypt was also a dominant center of Christian practice and scholarship with Alexandria second only to Rome. As the Times reported it, “There was a profusion of gospels and other writings in the early Christian era. It wasn’t until 367 AD that the approved canon, the familiar list of books in the Old and New Testament, was specified by Athanasius, the bishop of Alexandria.”

Now computer scientists, librarians, and religious scholars are soon going to be able to start reading a codex that has sat waiting for 50 years to be read and more than a thousand years to be understood. They are trying to match the text there with the text that later became the book of Acts in the Bible. Would it shake the fundamentalists to reckon with the fact that the Bible and their faith is a historical and man-made phenomena or would they appreciate even more deeply why it was important to keep reading, keep writing, and keep editing until they had the manual right for the institution they were building? Having even my small glimpse of the process, I’m in awe of the product, no matter how many voices were heard, versions were written, editors involved, and final clerical adjudicators consulted. There’s no reason to believe there was any mystery about the magic that it takes to build such an institution and its guidebooks, when it is enough to appreciate and admire the process.


Please enjoy David Byrne’s Everyone’s Coming to My House.

Thanks to KABF.