“Now when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. Nor shall you glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the needy and for the stranger. I am the Lord your God” – Leviticus 19: 9-10.
God was very concerned for all the people in Israel, but took special interest in the poor and the vanquished. In the Old Testament, He commanded that farmers were not to “gather the gleanings,” or harvest all the way to the edges of their fields, but to leave whatever they dropped for the poor and the immigrant in their midst.
Gleaning is the second harvesting of the land’s produce by the poor and those who had no land of their own. The crucial premise underlying this double command is Israel’s understanding that the land belonged to Yahweh. No one in Israel was a landowner in the modern sense. Each tribe and clan had its own “portion in Yahweh,” the piece of land that represented its share in the covenant with God. The land was Yahweh’s to distribute.
Allowing others to glean on the Israelite farmer’s property was the fruit of holiness. Landowners had an obligation to provide poor and marginalized people access to the means of production (the land, in Leviticus) and to work it themselves. In this sense, it was much more like a tax than a charitable contribution. Also unlike charity, it was not given to the poor as a transfer payment. Through gleaning, the poor earned their living the same way as the landowners did, by working the fields with their own labors. It was simply a command that everyone had a right to access the means of provision created by God.
Notice the difference from our more contemporary way of thinking. The Israelite farmer did not “allow” gleaning by the poor; Yahweh God commanded it. There is no charity involved, no hand out. The poor are not to be regarded as beggars or freeloaders. They are valid members of the covenant community, and they have as much right to glean as the farmer has to harvest the crops. I believe these commands regarding gleaning give us plenty to consider if we think about our own society’s attitudes toward ownership, consumption, acquisition, benevolence, and welfare.
Gleaning once was a common practice across Europe in the middle ages. Landowners would invite the poor onto their land to gather up whatever had been left un-harvested. In 18th century England, the sexton would often ring a church bell at 8 o’clock in the morning and again at 7 in the evening to alert needy families when they were invited to gather produce.
Fast forward to a period of austerity and increasing reliance on food banks in 21st century America. Food banks are stressed to keep up with demand. Times again are harsh for thousands of families who can’t afford a steady diet of fresh, wholesome fruits and vegetables. Yet an estimated 30 percent of all food crops go un-harvested in our nation — billions of kilograms, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). There is evidence that the market demand for perfect looking produce has resulted in fruits and vegetables with mere cosmetic blemishes rotting in fields. More produce is discarded because of harvesting schedule issues or unstable market prices. There has never been a better time to revive gleaning.
Farmers and their Local Communities Rely on Each Other
Gleaning benefits every community. People need food, particularly healthy food and farmers usually manage a surplus. Fruits and vegetables help restore health, help kids perform better in school and get people to cook it in their homes to improve their overall diets in the fight against obesity. Farmers will box up and donate food that doesn’t sell at the stand or allow gleaners to pick in the fields. Consumers want food that is without blemishes, so farmers always have products that aren’t good for sale that can be donated.
A number of farmers actually give their “first fruits” – that is, they allot a portion of their crop prior to the harvest. They feel that God has so abundantly blessed them that they want to “give back” to the community. These farmers love to share. It’s a wonderful feeling to give to people and know that they will enjoy it just as much as farmers do growing it.
Some farmers feel they have nothing to lose. The motivation has little to do with a biblical command though they are pleased that their surplus will feed the hungry. They will also pocket a tax deduction worth the value of what the farm gives away. All farmers by nature want to see the food they’re growing made accessible to everyone.
The gleaning system cited in Leviticus does place an obligation on the owners of productive assets to ensure that marginalized people have the opportunity to work for their food. No contemporary individual landowner can provide opportunities for every unemployed or under-employed worker the same as no one farmer in ancient Israel could provide gleanings for the entire district. But corporations are called out to be key players in providing opportunities for work. Perhaps we working people are also called to appreciate the service that business owners perform in their role as job-creators in their respective communities.
Gleaning Collects Food for Needy and Eliminates Food Waste
It used to be that gleaning was simply tolerated, that it was legally accepted but had some sort of indignity attached. Currently gleaning is becoming more popular because the sheer quantity of the bounty that doesn’t get consumed is incredibly immense. For farmers, it is a matter of reducing waste.
In the United States, food waste is estimated at between 30-40 percent of the food supply. This assessment, based on estimates from the USDA Economic Research Service of 31 percent food loss at the retail and consumer levels, corresponded to approximately 133 billion pounds worth of food in 2010.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2017 alone, estimated that almost 41 million tons of food waste was generated, with only 6.3 percent diverted from landfills and incinerators for composting. EPA estimates that more food reaches landfills and incinerators than any other single material in our everyday trash, constituting 22 percent of discarded municipal solid waste. Food waste includes uneaten food and food preparation scraps from residences or households, commercial establishments like restaurants, institutional sources like school cafeterias, and industrial sources like factory lunchrooms.
Local non-profit organizations in Virginia are successfully building a network that will take food which would not make it to market for a variety of reasons and distribute it to local agencies that are feeding the hungry. Supply and demand is the first rule of the deal, say farmers. And if you have more supply than you have got demand, then it’s going to go to waste.
Top 6 Reasons Why You Should Volunteer for Gleaning
- Get involved in a mission opportunity that will make a big difference in your local community without taking up a lot of your precious free time.
- Teach your children about hunger, about our blessings and the importance of becoming involved in serving others. Here in Virginia, 13 percent of children, approximately 247,000, are food insecure (No Kid Hungry Virginia, 2017).
- Establish an opportunity for your family to work together, drawing you closer and providing lots of dinner discussion opportunities.
- Provide local families (your neighborhood) in need with fresh, nutritious fruits and vegetables at no cost to them. (Food pantries usually stock only non-perishable items which typically have less vitamins and antioxidants).
- In the process of serving, you will be served. Your heart will be lifted as you know you’ve made a difference in peoples’ lives in your local community.
- Salvaging unused crops prevents perfectly fine produce from getting plowed under, sent to the local dump site or allowed to perish.
Mark P. Gunderman
Stephens City, Virginia
Commentary: The parable of the Bambino
Babe Ruth’s home run record was sure to fall sooner or later. Roger Maris broke Ruth’s 60-homer single-season record with his 61st home run of the 1961 season. Hank Aaron broke Ruth’s career homer record of 714 in 1974 with his 715th career dinger. Now, those broken records have been surpassed.
Somehow, though, Ruth remains distinct and immortal. Here’s one reason why.
It was the fifth inning of game three in the 1932 World Series at Wrigley Field, with the Yankees and Cubs tied 4-4. Ruth had taken two strikes, and the Chicago crowd roared as the Cubs dugout taunted him. The Babe pointed to the flagpole beyond centerfield. On the next pitch, a curveball, he hit it exactly where he had pointed – an estimated 50 feet beyond the centerfield fence 440 feet away.
Ruth made good on his gesture. The Yankees swept the series in four games.
But the Babe didn’t crawl out of the cradle, knocking baseballs out of the park. He had the physical gifts, yes, but he took the time to learn the fine points of the game and perfected his ability to terrorize pitchers on the mound 60 feet, six inches away. Maybe there’s a lesson in this for the governor, even though he’s a basketball guy.
Youngkin, a Republican, won the 2021 governor’s race by positioning himself as a solutions-oriented pragmatist, apart from the snarling nationalism that became his party’s brand during former President Donald Trump’s White House years.
He picked the perfect wedge issue, too: public education. Specifically, Youngkin promised to prioritize parents’ concerns and prerogatives among those who set public school policy and curriculum. After the profound pandemic disruptions in 2020-21 and the 2020 summer of racial tumult following George Floyd’s videotaped curbside murder by a white policeman, Youngkin’s message found resonance not only in Republican rural Virginia but also with households in the centrist suburbs that for years had decisively favored Democrats.
He accused schools of indoctrinating students with “critical race theory,” a college-level academic concept that every Virginia school division denied teaching. He sided with parents who objected to accommodations that schools were making for transgender students and books with mature themes that were in school libraries or made assigned reading for students. He criticized school district requirements that students wear masks to slow the coronavirus spread when they returned to classrooms from months of remote learning.
The afternoon he took office, Youngkin opened fire on those issues in several of the 11 executive actions he signed. He proclaimed that “woke” instruction was doomed and that teaching “inherently divisive concepts” would end once his appointees took over the State Board of Education and could promulgate new curriculum standards.
All of which His Excellency had an absolute right to do. Elections have consequences, and to the victor go the spoils. But a little humility and even more listening and learning go a long way for a layman about to swagger into a minefield as important and complex as statewide education policy.
Over the past two weeks, as the Mercury and other outlets have reported, the governor’s education team has barged into the public school policy arena with hastily drawn revisions to the state’s history/social sciences guidelines and all the grace of an agitated moose in an antique glassware boutique. It hasn’t gone well.
The backstory goes like this. Every seven years, the State Board of Education is required to update the minimum expectations for what K-12 public students should learn in documents known as the Standards of Learning. The ponderous, drawn-out process for updating the history standards, begun during the term of Democratic former Gov. Ralph Northam, yielded a 402-page tome that the board, once Youngkin’s appointees took charge, returned to state Superintendent Jillian Balow in August for additional work. That revision, guided by an outside education consultant, was just 53 pages.
All hell broke loose when it was presented to the board last week. In a long public input session during the nearly eight-hour meeting, the new Cliff’s Notes draft was pilloried by teachers, parents, community groups, and historians as a “whitewash” of history that glosses over the nation’s fraught racial past and minimizes the contributions and perspectives of marginalized and Indigenous people (euphemized as “America’s first immigrants”) and communities of color.
Conservatives and parents’ rights advocates warmed to the brief version for its promotion of free market precepts and limited government. But not even the Youngkin-friendly new board was on board.
According to the Washington Post, Youngkin appointee Andy Rotherham moved to postpone reviewing the new standards, noting apparent lapses on some historical topics, including the anti-slavery abolition movement. Two-term Democratic appointee Anne Holton, a daughter of a Republican governor and wife to a Democratic one, called the November rewrite “a disaster.” She also noted that President Ronald Reagan is referenced six times in the new draft, yet the nation’s first Black president, Barack Obama, is not mentioned.
“Where we sit today, we are so far away from an established process that I am concerned that we’ve lost our way — quite candidly as a board — in terms of directing what’s supposed to be going on,” Daniel Gecker, the board president, said during the meeting.
So now, the board has tasked Balow, and the Department of Education with re-revising the latest revision, restoring some content dropped from the voluminous August draft, correcting typos, omissions, and inaccuracies, and assembling a “crosswalk” document that compares and correlates competing drafts. (The Post already published such a comparison.)
Since then, the contretemps has escalated. An author of books about education who had been a College of William & Mary instructor objected so deeply to being characterized as an expert who had been consulted on the latest standards draft that she took to Twitter to warn of litigation if the claim wasn’t retracted and her very limited role clarified.
There’s a serious need for comprehensive, accurate, quality instruction in history, for thoroughgoing studies into the society we share and for baseline training in American civics – how our democratic republic works. The latest SOL scores show how far our students’ knowledge of those essential American disciplines has slid.
The number of students in the past school year who passed history and social studies SOL exams declined 14% overall from pre-pandemic levels, with steeper drops for marginalized and economically disadvantaged groups. In a nation founded on the premise of an informed, self-governing electorate, there is clear urgency behind the task of restoring comprehensive, first-rate instruction for new generations.
Governor, gaining at least a baseline awareness of what you don’t know before you go to bat can spare you a lot of embarrassment.
When the Bambino stood at the plate 90 years ago in Chicago, stared down the Cubs’ pitcher, and brazenly pointed to the centerfield flagpole, he’d been there before and knew exactly what to do. The rest is baseball lore.
But perhaps some wisdom from basketball and arguably its greatest practitioner, Bill Russell, would best serve the governor: “We overreached our decision power. Sometimes our decisions have to fit the reality of the outside world.”
by Bob Lewis, Virginia Mercury
Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sarah Vogelsong for questions: email@example.com. Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.
Blind Squirrel Finds Nut
Great news to read in the Royal Examiner that the Council voted to fill the Town Manager and Town Attorney positions with Joe Waltz and George Sonnett, respectively.
Over the last several years, it appears we have seen the members of the Town Council make poor decisions that may have leaned toward self-interest that did not necessarily benefit the community. There has been little focus on the real issues, such as future water supply and infrastructure, or a real plan on how to attract both industrial and commercial businesses to pay living wages.
Even a blind squirrel can find a nut sometimes, which is what happened with our Council in selecting Mr. Walsh as Town manager and George Sonnett as Town Attorney. It does indicate that this lame-duck Council can make a decision that has a good long-term effect on the stability and growth of our community. Great strategic move.
Joe did an outstanding job during his first run as Town Manager and left for a better opportunity during the past three years. The town’s decision to bring him back on board is a wise decision because of Joe’s experience. As a result of his previous tenure, his selection offers very little downtime to get to know our community. Over the last several years, taxpayers have footed significant costs for the fees paid to consultants who bring qualified candidates to the table and the time required to go through the screening process.
This common-sense solution solved the challenge of sourcing candidates who would want to move to our unique rural community. Mr. Waltz brings his past Front Royal expertise along with his recently acquired experience to help us move away from the revolving door of town managers.
This will give the new incoming Council a great jump-start to focus on the real issues facing our community. And we will now have someone in the Town Manager’s office who has existing institutional knowledge of the town.
With the new Council coming on board in January and the addition of both Waltz and Sonnett in place, this should begin the process of change that we know needs to happen for the future success of our community. I’m excited about the potential; we need our citizens to support their efforts moving forward.
Front Royal, Virginia
An example of an Egyptian feminist for Iran today
With all that is going on in our nation, it is understandable if you have not been paying attention to what is going on in Iran. However, it is something worth our attention. Suffice to say that back in September, a 22-year-old women named Mahsa Amini died in custody of the morality police for improperly wearing her hijab or head scarf. Her death has led to protests across Iran and a brutal crack-down from the government that has led to at least 300 deaths.
Historically speaking, this is not the first time women have protested the wearing of the hijab. Ironically, one of the most famous protests happened in Egypt in the 1920s. That protest was successful. Yet, one hundred years later, women are being forced again to make the same protests and this time with even greater risks to their lives.
Since Amini’s death, other women have been arrested. Most notably, Elnaz Rekabi, an elite Iranian competitive climber, was arrested after she returned from a climbing competition in Seoul where she did not wear her hijab as required of Iranian women competing abroad. After not being seen for about two weeks, she emerged only to report that it was an accident that she did not wear her hijab, stating it got tangled during her climb, so she took it off. Then there are women like Oscar-winning actress Taraheh Alidoosti, who posted a picture of herself unveiled to show support for the movement. What all these women are doing is brave, considering the cruelty of the regime. They are gaining more support for their cause, and even more are standing on the shoulders of giants who have come before them.
Next year will be the 100-year anniversary of arguably the most famous feminist event in the Middle East. Huda Sharawi was born in Egypt in 1879 to a prominent family. Though she was married at age 13 against her will, her husband, Ali Sharawi , was a nationalist who helped lead the fight against England for independence, a cause that was important to Huda as well. When Ali, who was several years her senior, died, Huda turned her attention to women’s equality. The early years of the twentieth century brought a great deal of change for women. Egypt, wanting to fit into the West, was attempting to modernize and so was opening the door for women’s rights. Egypt was suddenly open to women’s education and allowed them to not only attend schools at all levels but also form intellectual societies which published dozens of new journals dedicated to the advancement of women. Two of the most important groups were the Intellectual Association of Egyptian Women and the Egyptian Feminist Union, both founded by Sharawi.
In the beginning Sharawi’s principal fight was against England. Her husband was a founding member of the Waft Party, which was fighting for independence. Wanting to get involved in the fight and being inspired by international women, Sharawi organized the “March of Veiled Women” through the streets of Cairo, one of the largest anti-colonization marches in Egypt. She then organized the Wafdist Women’s Central Committee, which she served as president. In 1922, England folded to pressure and granted Egypt its independence, even though not full control. The Waft Party then took power of the government. Although women were instrumental in the success of the Waft Party, the women found there was no room for them at the seat of power. Discouraged by the lack of freedom for women that came from liberation, Sharawi organized the Egyptian Feminist Union in 1923 and turned her efforts towards women’s suffrage.
In 1923 Sharawi’s husband died, granting her a certain amount of freedom. That year she attended a women’s conference in Rome, and on her return, she decided on an act of defiance that became symbolic for Islamic women everywhere. When she and her companions disembarked from the train, they stood on the station platform and removed their veils. They could not claim to be free anywhere if they were not free at home. She started a movement of women wearing the hijab only if they wanted out of religious devotion, not because of law or custom. Sharawi would go on to bring about many reforms in Egypt for women. In fact, from the 1930s to the 1960s, it became unfashionable to wear a hijab in public in many Middle Eastern nations. Fashion for both men and women became much closer to American styles than what we tend to associate with the Middle East. It was not until the 1970s that hijabs were seen in public again, after Islamic movements began to sweep through the Middle East. leading to calls to return to Islam and reject western culture. Of course, the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran changed everything in that nation, as government-sanctioned modesty became law and hijabs were required.
Women like Sharawi, did not face the same penalties as women do in Iran today for removing their veils. They faced family shame and cultural pressure whereas these modern women face possible death. Yet women like Sharawi were still incredibly brave and faced enormous odds. It was their fight for women’s rights that created a precedent and a good example for women today. It is a shame to see the regression in places like Iran after the work of Sharawi, yet the movement in Iran does not seem to be dying down. Inspired by women like Mahsa Amini and led by women motivated by Sharawi’s example, maybe things can change in Iran. Maybe all Iranians can someday be free to make their own choices.
As we move into this holiday season, I hope everyone enjoys their Thanksgiving. I for one am thankful that with all our problems we still live in the greatest nation in the world.
Dr. James Finck is a Professor of History at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma and Chair of the Oklahoma Civil War Symposium. To receive daily historical posts, follow Historically Speaking at Historicallyspeaking.blog or on Facebook.
Commentary: Governor Glenn Youngkin, YIMBY-in-chief?
Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin and California Democrats could hardly be further apart politically; however, their diagnoses of what is wrong with America’s housing market sound uncannily similar: Excessive regulation has hindered new housing construction, driving up home prices to the point of hurting the broader economy.
‘There aren’t enough homes’
In a Friday speech at the Virginia Governor’s Housing Conference, Youngkin promised to introduce a legislative package before the upcoming General Assembly session to reduce regulations and promote housing production. Although further details won’t be debuted until December, the fact that both progressive Democrats and right-wing Republicans view the housing affordability crisis in a similar light is proof that pro-development politics do not follow neat ideological lines.
It’s also a sign of how painful high housing costs are for voters of all parties.
The results of a state study published this summer show just how broken the housing market has become across the commonwealth. In 2004, Virginia issued 63,215 new residential building permits. In recent years the state has barely built half as many homes per year despite adding over 1.1 million residents during that same period.
“There aren’t enough homes,” said Youngkin. “There aren’t enough units today. Full stop.”
Over the last decade, more than two-thirds of building permits have been issued for single-family homes. With the average price for such a structure in Virginia at $355,000 as of last year (an increase of 30% over 2016), this most expensive form of housing is increasingly out of reach for many middle-class households.
Renters face similar, if not more severe, struggles. Four in five renters in Virginia earn under 50% of their region’s area median income. The Department of Housing and Community Development and Virginia Housing, the state’s housing authority, estimates there’s a shortage of 200,000 affordable rental units across the commonwealth, meaning low earners have few options when rents rise rapidly.
In the Richmond region, the average rent is 21% higher than it was in 2021. In Hampton Roads, rents have risen on average 11.2% over the last year, with an additional 12% rise predicted for the coming year. In the first quarter of this year alone, rents increased 13% in Northern Virginia. Even areas outside of the Urban Crescent, like the city of Roanoke, have faced a 15% jump in the average rent over 2021 as people flock to cities for better job opportunities.
If housing can’t be made more affordable, the governor fears fewer folks will choose to live and locate their businesses in the Commonwealth.
“We must align housing development with economic growth,” he said. “If you want a workforce, we have to have some place for them to live. We need to unleash housing development plans just like we are unleashing economic development plans.”
In his closing remarks, Youngkin attributed the dearth of housing units to three factors: regulatory burdens that restrict the supply of buildable land, permitting complications that delay and prevent development, and restrictive land use controls that limit property owners’ rights to build.
To get out of Virginia’s housing hole, the governor offered three solutions he plans to put before the General Assembly in January. First, he wants to set deadlines for localities to approve land use and zoning reviews. Second, he wants the state to perform a review of land use and zoning laws with an eye toward increasing efficiency and transparency. Third, he wants to create a searchable database of residential-zoned, government-owned land on which developers could potentially build.
What would happen if a locality doesn’t approve or deny a project by the deadline? In California, municipalities that don’t comply with state housing policy are subjected to a “builder’s remedy” whereby local zoning power is removed. Such a situation in Santa Monica this year may allow that city’s housing supply to jump 7%. Youngkin’s policy shop plans to present its own proposal next month.
Where the governor’s pro-development push could run off the rails is on wetland and stream credits. In his speech, he promised to streamline permitting, “operationalize” Virginia’s existing wetland and stream replacement fund, and release additional credits — all without lowering the quality of Virginia’s wetland and stream mitigation efforts.
Previous waves of growth have gobbled up farms, forests, and wetlands across the commonwealth in favor of far-flung, car-dependent suburbs. A 2020 American Farmland Trust study calculated that “more than 31 million acres of U.S. agricultural land have been irrevocably lost to urban expansion since 1982, and an additional 175 acres of farm and ranchland are lost every hour to make way for housing and other industries.”
If the administration’s pro-housing proposals end up looking like a mandate for more sprawl, environmental advocates may try to tank Youngkin’s plans in the General Assembly.
YIMBY versus NIMBY
The governor’s pro-development legislative package may face a rocky road in the General Assembly. After Youngkin lambasted “overburdensome and inefficient local governments, restrictive zoning policies and an ideology of fighting tooth and nail against any new development” in a speech before the state’s joint money committee in August, senior members of his own party fired back.
“That is not how I would characterize it,” remarked Senate Minority Leader Tommy Norment, R-James City. “The people on city councils and boards of supervisors have the closest connection to the people they represent and the citizens they serve.”
Such intra-party tension comes as no surprise to Addison del Mastro, an Arlington-based contributor to the conservative publication The Bulwark.
“There are two ways conservatives think about development,” he said. “Pro-business and property rights is a natural fit for conservatives, but some of them view zoning as a property right to ensure that neighborhoods don’t change and can keep out apartments housing ‘those people.’ I hear both arguments even from the same people. One actually aligns with traditional conservative thinking on markets, and the other is an attitude you learn by osmosis if you’re an affluent suburbanite.”
Guardrails on government
With more than two decades of working on land use law under her belt, Del. Carrie Coyner, R-Chesterfield, understands the costs of development delays and broadly supports the governor’s desire to reduce regulation.
“It’s important we still have zoning at the local level because we don’t know everything at the state level,” she said. “But the state can come in, set guardrails and reframe what local governments are using as the tools in their toolbox to make local land use decisions.”
When contemplating how the commonwealth could end exclusionary zoning, Coyner points to how lawmakers dealt with proffers — the fees localities are allowed to charge homebuilders to offset the costs of their developments.
“We created this state system where localities could broadly define proffers and raise the cost of housing to keep certain people out,” she said. “When the state clawed back proffers discretion from the localities, it was an effort to align the intent of proffers to the original legislation more closely.”
“We have really failed to educate the average citizen and business owner,” she said. “Grocery stores don’t just show up because you want them. They draw a circle and look and see if that area meets their demographics. If we start letting people do their own analysis, they’ll realize local leaders are not just putting more houses in to irritate me, but they’re building houses here so we can have more services.”
Despite the initial support of lawmakers like Del. Coyner, the governor’s proposals to increase housing production will likely face an uphill battle. Beyond seeking the simultaneous support of a Democratic Senate and a Republican House, Youngkin will have to contend with the political power of Virginia’s cities and counties, which are always loath to lose any ounce of land use authority.
In his signature optimistic fashion, the governor believes he can find the right balance and get his bills passed: “We, in fact, have to respect landowners’ rights, and we have to make sure the zoning and permitting processes are set up to be pro-development,” he said. “We can do both. This is not an ‘or.’ It’s an ‘and.’ Oftentimes we find ourselves arguing and forgetting that we can do both.”
by Wyatt Gordon, Virginia Mercury
Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sarah Vogelsong for questions: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.
The Lost Game: Gridiron Memories of November 22, 1963
(Writer’s note: this was written in 2006. Small edits acknowledging the passage of time since are included toward the end of this updated version.)
I was playing quarterback in a high school intramural flag-football championship game around 1:30 p.m. on Nov. 22, 1963.
The game went into overtime as the class time ground into its last minutes. My team needed a score to even the alternating possession OT (we were ahead of our time) and extend things to the following day. Impatient, I lofted one deep and up for grabs – like Brett Favre occasionally does – that some defender out-jumped my guy for.
BANG! We lost, no tomorrow.
Little did I know that the bang of defeat that had just gone off in my head was the mere echo of a much louder bang that went off almost simultaneously 1,330 miles to the southwest.
That other bang I had yet to hear was one of another kind of defeat that I will, it seems, carry with me to the grave.
Somewhat dejected I headed back to the locker room to shower before heading to my fifth period English class. Someone ran out of the locker room to meet us and said, “The president’s been shot!” Bullshit, that kind of thing doesn’t happen except in history books, I thought, “That’s not funny,” I said.
Inside the Alexandria, Virginia high school, not eight miles from the White House, things seemed normal as I prepared to shower. No solemn faced coaches, no lock down to protect then Republican House Minority Whip Gerald Ford’s sons. “The president’s been shot” was lost beneath what seemed normal adolescent, locker room banter. I began to return to a 15-year-old’s reality: sport, the thought of the girl’s locker room on the other side of a thick cement wall.
Then the PA system crackled and the locker room went unnaturally silent as the principal’s voice, not a secretary’s, asked for attention. A chill went down my spine, perhaps as a subconscious premonition that things were about to change in previously unimaginable ways flashed along sub-atomic particles throughout my brain. The tone first, then the words “President Kennedy has been shot” gravely confirmed what I had immediately denied as a plausible reality. One kid, a little red around the edges for that suburban Alexandria high school said something to the effect of “good.” Though we were casual friends and recent teammates, I started swinging and we went into a pile on the floor only to be quickly pulled apart by classmates and coaches. I had never wanted to damage someone as irrevocably as I did at that moment and the two of us never spoke again, leaving a silent distance between us that precluded the necessity of re-engaging that primal impulse toward some sort of irreversible destruction.
The emotions were immediate, deep and apparently ran in the family. I didn’t find out until years later that at almost the same moment, following a similar remark, my father, a WW II Army veteran who had lived through Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge, was decking a total stranger in a D.C. medical building on I Street where he was waiting for my mother to complete a routine checkup.
Across the Potomac River, we sat quietly in our classrooms: no teaching, no discussion, no emergency mentoring. We sat alone, grappling with our thoughts, as was our teacher. The principal came on again and said the president was dead. The reaction was subdued except for a girl named Jacqueline Kennedy – though I think she spelled her first name differently than the president’s wife. Spelling aside she went off, sobbing, hysteria rising. The teacher took her outside the room to settle her down. Didn’t work, she ended up in the infirmary. I sometimes wonder what happened to Jackie Kennedy, my classmate. How did she ride out that 15-year-old’s identification with the now blood-stained Queen of Camelot?
Forty-odd years later I know that day was the measurable beginning of the direction of the balance of my life. Despite the immediate profundity of a presidential assassination, I couldn’t have recognized that JFK’s violent death would lead directly through a five-year span of political upheaval between my formative 15th and 20th birthdays. This and three other domestic assassinations – of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Francis Kennedy – seemed to earmark the time through a litany of foreign political intrigue, murder and assassination that always seemed to lead in one direction – to the right, toward war, toward implicit corporate profiteering from war, toward social division, toward lies.
That is my perception, my belief – the bad guys won. That is my psychological watershed. Rather than living under the auspice of a state favored by both man and God, I was floating through the most recent episode of civilization in decline, fueled by greed, power, murder and conquest.
It took all of those next five years for me to begin to appreciate what had begun during that that lost football game. By 1969 it was becoming apparent that a hopeful youth-driven world counterculture, as well as the best and the brightest within the world political system reflecting or inspiring the social idealism that characterized that counterculture, the Americans named above, Salvadore Allende, Alexander Dubcek, Patrice Lumumba, Che Guevara and others were beaten.
Around the world we had lost.
We would either be annihilated or assimilated – a foolish, inaccurate footnote to American and World History X – the fiction written by the winners.
I left Alexandria in 1967 for college. I moved from the specter of the federal capital to Richmond, the historical capital of the American Confederacy that had fought the ascendance of that federal system just over a century earlier. In retrospect it seemed an unconsciously profound symbolic move. Though I was through and through a son of the federal government in whose shadow I was raised by two parents it employed, I was soon to become suspicious, some would say paranoid, about its machinations, its intent, its history.
I followed my intellectual instincts for the next five years, studying sociology and psychology – how society and the human mind work. I guess I wanted to know why I had grown so alienated from the culture in which I lived. Was I crazy or did I live in an insane world? I learned things about myself and my society between 1967 and 1973 and most of what I learned took me back to the day my team lost that high school, intramural football game.
In college I learned that three days before John Kennedy’s inauguration, his predecessor, Dwight David Eisenhower, made an astonishing observation in his farewell address to the nation. I had grown up thinking of Eisenhower as a doddering, old, golf-playing general rewarded with the presidency for a job well done holding the Allied war effort together in Europe during World War II. My interest in the fate of his successor led me to a different view of Eisenhower. It began with that farewell address of Jan. 17, 1961.
On that day Eisenhower, the West Point graduate, career military man, general and president who led his country and its allies, first against Nazi Germany and then through the height of the Cold War with the Soviet Union, told his nation that the greatest threat it faced as he prepared to leave office was that born of its own military and corporate institutions in a profoundly changing American landscape.
“This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience,” Eisenhower told the American people of the corporate, political, and military landscape that had arisen in the wake of World War II. “The total influence – economic, political, even spiritual – is felt in every city, every Statehouse, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.
“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist,” Eisenhower concluded.
The career soldier turned politician had apparently not thought it a sin to normalize relations with the Soviet Union, then our recent military ally, and reduce the rapidly expanding American military budget. This belief, according to Eisenhower biographers, led to much behind-the-scene infighting with the evolving military and industrial institutions Eisenhower spoke of at the end of his eight-year presidency.
Less than three years after Eisenhower’s dour warning, his successor had his head blown off in the streets of Dallas, Texas, while I played football a half a continent away. That successor, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, had also bucked the American military-corporate apparatus during his presidency, and perhaps fatally, more directly and in more immediate situations than Eisenhower had.
First, just three months in office Kennedy refused to commit to direct American military involvement during the 1961 invasion of Communist Cuba by a CIA-trained militia despite the urging of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and CIA Director Allen Dulles. As a result of the intelligence misinformation and personal coercion he endured during that experience, Kennedy fired Allen Dulles as director of the CIA. He also developed enough distrust of the U.S. military command to avoid the armed, likely nuclear confrontation they suggested over Cuba during the missile crisis less than two years later.
Kennedy is even reported to have stated the intention of scattering what was threatening to become a rouge intelligence agency resistant to presidential oversight “into a thousand pieces” following a 1964 re-election that seemed a sure thing.
A great deal of debate still exists over whether Kennedy was planning implementation of another post-1964 election plan that would have flown further in the face of Eisenhower’s originally-named American “Military-Industrial-Congressional Complex”. That much-discussed plan was a lessening of direct American involvement in Vietnam. That involvement in the fall of 1963 was 16,000 “advisors” compared to the half million combat troops that would be sent there after his death. If true, as key Kennedy insiders assert, that plan reflected JFK’s growing belief that the Vietnam conflict was ultimately a civil war that would have to be won or lost by the South Vietnamese themselves – a decade and the bulk of 65,000 American and two million Vietnamese lives later that belief proved correct.
Many years after the fact I heard a European investigative report that quoted Kennedy archives indicating his ambassador to South Vietnam, Henry Cabot Lodge, reporting back to Washington that presidential directives relayed through the embassy in 1963 ordering CIA operatives in country to back off of aggressive covert actions, including assassinations, were simply being ignored in the field. I wondered then if those “rouge” CIA elements had an inkling those directives would soon change despite Kennedy’s overwhelming popularity as the 1964 election approached?
No, probably just a coincidence that Kennedy was soon shot down like a rabid dog on a parade route whose path had been realigned that day to go down Elm Street in front of the Texas School Book Depository in a town whose mayor was reportedly the brother of Allen Dulles’s former military liaison officer.
Coincidence too, I expect that a former Marine named Lee Harvey Oswald worked in that School Book Depository. Oswald was the prodigal American son, who had “defected” to the Soviet Union with a perfect command of the Russian language following his assignment to a top-secret American military intelligence base in Japan from which American U-2 spy flights were launched over the Soviet Union. Later, the prodigal son would reconsider that defection – perhaps because the Soviets thought he was an American spy and kept a close check on him. I sometimes wonder at the benevolence of a nation that would welcome back its prodigal son with camera equipment to start a “new” career, rather than a little prison time for his alleged departure with top-secret information that was claimed to have compromised America’s U-2 spy missions. But how could his native land stay mad at the whimsical Oswald, who despite his highly public pro-Castro activities in New Orleans, cultivated associations with a number of right-wing, anti-Castro associates based in both New Orleans and Miami as he “floundered” philosophically in the years between Russia and Dallas?
Pondering these things after launching my own college term paper research on the JFK assassination in 1969, I told my mother, “There are circumstances leading a lot of people to think your old (CIA) bosses were behind it.”
“I wouldn’t be surprised, the way they talked about him,” she surprised me with a frank appraisal of her early 1960s superiors at the top of the American intelligence apparatus.
And now 59 years gone from that day in 1963, I remain the paranoid-tinged, conspiracy freak sitting alone in the dark corners of dark bars, reflecting on the familiarity of low times and low lies glowering at me from the “enduring freedom” of a television screen hovering slightly above my still focused eye.
And now I recall, as I did in 2006 when this personal memoir was written 43 years gone from that long-lost childhood football game, I find myself still choking down one final coincidence – that the U.S. president (George W. Bush) gesturing at me from that screen, circa 2006, explaining the necessity of this country’s ongoing military-industrial occupation of Iraq, one of the world’s two primary oil fields, and the ultimate evil of its oil-rich neighbor Iran, is heir to a family legacy the roots of which run deep into Texas oil, American politics, and the directorship of the CIA.
Front Royal, Virginia
(Writer’s note: First published on November 22, 2013 as part of a pull-out section of the Warren County Report on the ongoing significance of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy 50 years later.)
Keep sexual materials out of the schools – period.
The Warren County School Board, as with all school boards not only in the Commonwealth but throughout the United States, would not need any standards nor parental discussion if and when ALL sexual materials were removed and kept out of the schools—period.
This entire topic has no place in public or private schools and, until recently, was not a problem for students and their families. Why has it now?
Having the same materials in schools, which would result in severe penalties in the workplace, constituting sexual harassment, should be just as illegal. And any teachers’ unions that condone such adult materials should be prosecuted and sacked for encouraging such materials.
What is the point of allowing such materials in schools?
How does it benefit students, who, for millennia, have gotten this information from parents and families?
There is a place for such materials, referring to the precepts of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. That place is in the world, NOT in public or private schools.
When this material is kept out of the schools, then there is no need for the policy that the local school board and the Virginia Department of Education are considering.
Keep the free flow of information between the schools and parents going—it is vital that schools share the curriculum with parents and maintain dialogue—but without the necessity to discuss sexually explicit materials when they are not part of what students have exposure to in schools.