Letters to the Editor, Aug. 13
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Save Montclair from ugly development
I am puzzled by Zachary Miller’s Aug. 6 letter (“Save Montclair from… whom, exactly?”).
I am a resident of the Fourth Ward, in support of Save Montclair, in favor of rent control, and not a fan of our current president (to put it mildly).
We need more affordable housing in Montclair, and I agree it should be government-sponsored. Unfortunately, we seem to be stuck with depending on developers to add a few units of affordable housing to each project they build.
Since that’s the case, the township should restore the Historic Preservation Commission’s ability to rein in the appearance of new buildings. Developers certainly had a lot of sway when they got the township to downgrade the HPC’s rulings on new developments to be mere recommendations.
There are so many things we need in addition to more affordable housing—such as universal healthcare (to reduce health disparities) and caps on pollution to slow down climate change (which disproportionately affects our poorest residents, especially minorities). I could fill this whole newspaper with a list of the things we desperately need, but what we most desperately need right now is a new president.
Are you registered to vote? Are your friends and family members registered to vote? Check to see if you’re registered, and sign up if you aren’t at voterparticipation.org
Zachary Miller’s long Aug. 6 Letter to the Editor reminded me of when I first came to Montclair, in the 1960s, and “Urban Renewal” was in progress in south/eastern Montclair. At that time we learned that “Urban Renewal Was Negro Removal.”
It would appear that now, Save Montclair, and the Montclair Property Owners Association are working towards a similar purpose, without the slogan.
A small gesture to help our community
As we move into August, we as a country, state, and municipality continue to experience the coronavirus pandemic, racial unrest, massive protests in our major cities, and political disequilibrium throughout the nation. Child care and back-to-school debates are now everyday news. These are major issues to somehow work through with no clear end in sight.
People have put up signs on their lawns, in the windows of their homes, and on their cars as a “silent” protest to the events occurring all around us. The average person will probably not be a part of a protest due to having children to raise and home school, work from home, and a fear of the danger involved in combative interactions with the law enforcement and rioters, not to mention the contracting of the virus by being in close proximity to the other protesters.
What can the average person do to try to make a difference?
Earlier this summer, I decided to do my part in making a small gesture to help others in our community. Whenever I hear a waste management truck nearby, I walk out to the workers with cold bottles of water to offer them as a “thank you” for the hard work they do. Similarly, when I see people from the town Department of Public Works doing their jobs in the heat of the day, I make the same offer to them. And when I see a homeless person in need of cold water, I offer them a bottle. I am not able to do this every day in every situation, but I do it when I can. I would like to invite the citizens of the town of Montclair to offer to do the same.
Imagine if everywhere throughout town, bottles of cold water could be offered to the folks who make our lives better with the work that they do. I know that when I offer water to these folks, I am greeted with a profound appreciation for that simple gesture. Bottles of water cost pennies, but the impact they have is enormous in helping to let the people who do this kind of work are not forgotten.
This is just one way that I found to connect with those whose work seems “invisible” to others around them. I have found that giving is not only a nice gesture to the recipient, but also engenders a warm feeling in the giver. We may not be able to solve all the problems our society is currently experiencing, but we can make a person’s day happier, one cold bottle of water at a time.
ROBERT C. CIAMPI
Schools: reopen or repurpose?
We keep waiting and hoping, but there is no vaccine yet, there is no cure yet, and there seems to be little understanding of the pathology of the coronavirus. As fall approaches and school reopening plans are being formulated, perhaps it is time to rethink and reinvent.
Current plans seem to be focused on two paths – hybrid and remote learning. The hybrid model limits the number of hours children spend at school; the remote model eliminates the hours entirely. Instead of either of these two options, how about repurposing schools for the present as childcare centers intended primarily for those learners who, for one reason or another, most need the school environment, with practically all instruction online whether children are in school buildings or at home?
Unlike many essential workers, teachers have the ability to work safely from home. What if school buildings were opened systematically for the neediest and the youngest — special education students and those on free and reduced lunches, children who lack viable online access, children of parents who can’t work from home, K-through-2nd-graders, etc.?
Supervision, if not instruction, could be handled by staff less at risk of developing severe COVID symptoms, but nearly all the formal teaching would be online, and maximum energy and resources could be spent on making learning the best it can be.
No system for opening schools in the middle of a pandemic will solve all problems, but until a vaccine is available, repurposing the school buildings might be one way to minimize the inevitable shortcomings imposed by coping with the virus.
How about we make learning accessible from anywhere, including from within the buildings? How about we come together as a community with a collective solution, with a willingness to give something up so that those who need the help get the help? So while we evaluate hybrid vs. remote learning, how about we ask ourselves - are we looking for childcare or are we looking for children to learn?
Where’s the collaborative spirit?
Three years ago, I took the leap of a lifetime and founded Montclair Design Week (MDW) in the place I was born. In this short time, we've grown into DesignShed, a year-round organization with five programs offered as tools to celebrate our community's creative capacities, and mobilize them into action for a more resilient and equitable future. MDW remains our crown jewel each year, held in the third week of October.
MDW is one of about a dozen annual festivals in town, celebrating dance, literature, music, cycling, food, Black heritage, kid life, mental health, design and film. All well-spaced from each other, too. To honor the hard work of my fellow festival founders, MDW hosted a panel called “Designing Buzz, ”gathering all of us in a spirit of community and love for this town. My takeaway was a deep sense of mutual respect for each other to make our magic, knowing that volunteer pools, sponsors, donors, and patrons are NEVER exclusive to any one organization in this vibrant, culturally rich community.
So when Montclair Film festival organizers announced last week that they were rescheduling their signature event for mid-October, in exactly the same week as MDW, I was shocked.
Not only has our planning been underway since November 2019, MDW had notified film festival organizers of its dates long in advance, hoping to work together to avoid a scheduling conflict. Instead, the organizers went ahead, without even notifying MDW of their decision prior to making a public announcement. This act undermines the community and the great collaborative spirit of Montclair. When asked to change their dates, they insisted they don’t see a conflict, and that no other week would work. To make matters worse, they expressed a likelihood that they would overtake our same week in 2021.
These actions are a far cry from Montclair Film’s own strategic plan “to build and deepen community partnerships.” Planning its festival during the same dates as another previously scheduled event in the town directly contradicts this, and sells everyone short. But it doesn't have to be that way! In a time when all community organizations are hard hit by this pandemic, this is a time to support one another, and not add unnecessary burden.
As an all-volunteer organization, we rely on MDW's revenue, sponsorships, donations and volunteer availability to support endeavors that support our community. Like our 30,000-face-shield campaign, our poster-making campaign during Black Lives Matter protests and our pop-up public space for downtown Montclair. What we receive through MDW goes right back into our community the rest of the year.
While only in its third year, the reception that MDW has received so far has been overwhelmingly positive. In a time when all community organizations are hard hit by this pandemic, this is a time to support one another, and not add unnecessary burden.
MDW would be glad to work together with the film festival in organizing a series of events, just like MDW has partnered in the past with numerous other local groups, including the Montclair Literary Festival, Bike Walk Montclair, Montclair State University, Dance on the Lawn, Montclair Center BID, Jazz House Kids, Diffvelopment and PEAC Institute. But scheduling both activities at the same time is logistically unfeasible: it weakens the volunteer pool, distracts the attention of potential sponsors and attendees, and forces people to make difficult choices about which event to attend. This undermines everyone.
My fellow residents, please pass on your good community karma and sign our petition, telling Montclair Film to do the right thing and reschedule their film festival to a different week when all residents, patrons, donors, sponsors, and volunteers can benefit. The link to our petition is www.change.org/changeyourdatesmontclairfilm.
In deep respect for all that you do to serve this tremendously diverse and vibrant community.
The author is founder of DesignShed and Montclair Design Week.
The Yes Generation
We lost power last night from the winds of a tropical storm during a pandemic. As I was tucking into my Ben & Jerry's (it shouldn't go to waste), I got a panicked call from a friend seeking a generator for a child she knew who needed electricity in order to breathe properly and survive the night.
I called Alma Schneider, a woman in our town with a heart as huge as her Facebook following, put on my mask and began asking folks on my street who had generators running if they could spare it. On my block — not street, block — three people said yes. Someone who didn't need theirs last night responded to Alma within an hour, problem solved. I daresay that every person here who owned a generator would have instantly given it up for this stranger. That's the kind of town Montclair is: that's the kind of people we are. We heed the call for food and supplies at Toni's Kitchen, we march with each other, we are here for one another, we love our neighbors as we love ourselves.
May we all be blessed with health as we rise to each challenge together.
No storm troopers in New Jersey
We have federal troops in Portland with unmarked uniforms and unmarked cars. Why unmarked? Aren't they proud of their country and the job they’re doing? The governor of Oregon and the mayor of Portland have accused them of provoking violence and asked them to leave. Trump has refused to withdraw them and has plans to send them to other cities as well. (Just as an aside, where is the NRA? Isn’t this what they’ve been preparing for since forever? Not even a statement of support for the Portland citizens?)
In Philadelphia, the district attorney Larry Krasner has called Trump a "wannabe fascist” and said he will bring legal action if the storm troopers show up in Philly. Perhaps it’s time for our all-Democratic, all-liberal elected officials -- Booker, Menendez, Murphy, Sherrill, Payne, Baraka and the County Commissioners -- to preemptively let Trump know that his attack squads are not welcome in New Jersey.
A letter to
the home front
The morale of the troops is getting quite low as the battle of Montclair rages. The wildlife asserts itself as if the land was theirs to begin with. They encroach, and what fear they once had of us seems gone. Mounds of deer scat on the lawn. Nocturnal beasts overturn the trash more than is their custom. And lord, there was a skirmish at the bird feeder between a squirrel and a cardinal for the last scraps of seed. It was ugly and I shall spare you the sordid details.
End times felt near when the storm came and power went out. One soldier had been folding laundry and doing reconnaissance on Netflix when the tale they were watching was interrupted. I sprang into action and activated the gentleman's generator we have that is sufficient for a small sidewalk hot-dog stand in the large city to the east where they eat while walking on the thoroughfares. Providence was with me and the blasted thing actually started. It supplied our mobile devices sufficiently, but alas, without wi-fi we were doomed to rely on cellular, which too was failing. Surely, the unintended consequence of many soldiers working from home. We discovered, sadly, that calls wouldn't connect reliably and Netflix via cellular on a tablet was certainly out of the question. Oh, the humanity! Oh, the horror!
We are low on supplies and power is not to be restored to our coordinates in Montclair for days to come. We scavenged at the local Acme commissary, which too, was without power. Entry required a mask and a flashlight. But essential rations were low and we left empty handed.
I fear for dear Harpo. He has been a stalwart pup, but circumstance conspires against him. A fortnight ago the good Doctor Cameron put him on a low-fat diet for his pancreatitis. Now, a huge limb snapped from a giant oak in the compound's back forty during the storm and sits precariously atop other limbs on the same damaged tree. God shall determine if the limb or the tree will topple first with the next gust of wind. Until then, without an escort, little Harpo is confined to quarters.
The youngest among us suffer greatly. Without devices they are lost. One of our soldiers was given leave to walk an entire six blocks to a comrade’s encampment to power devices and grab some fleeting social connection to her peers. But I suspect the sustenance this afforded them is short-lived and will only make them want for more as time TikToks away.
For myself, dear Martha, I must remain strong and industrious. I ran a web of long supply cords from our tiny generator, to restore the desktop and router in my quarters. I will have to work with one screen, but such are the sacrifices we must make in these times. I’ll immodestly note that I found a way to enable wi-fi in my immediate office area. Given the mutinous rumblings I’ve heard, methinks it’s wise to not inform the rest of the troops that wi-fi works in my quarters but that they still must make do via intermittent cellular in the foot soldier’s area.
I shall persevere. And I will also try to maintain my good humor, despite the true horrors that are around us all the time. The storm, the loss of power and convenience, serves to remind me how fortune has smiled upon many of us who make the village of Montclair our home.
“GENERAL” ROBERT A. BEINISH