An act of kindness

Many years ago, I attended the funeral for the mother of a very dear friend. During the eulogy, it was asked that those who were attending carry out a random act of kindness on behalf of the deceased. At the time, through tears of grief for my friend and her family, I found comfort in this request. It was such a simple thing to ask as a way to honor her life. As time has passed, I have tried to embrace this concept of being kind for the sake of being kind, exhibiting a little more patience, and opening my eyes to offer help when needed.

It seems as though these crazy days of the Covid-19 pandemic are a perfect opportunity to practice this concept. Is not the request to wear a mask or cloth face covering by the CDC, the governor and other health experts really a request for us to extend a random act of kindness to your fellow mankind? As we have all learned, wearing a mask does not protect yourself, but it does protect the other people you come in contact with. Given the asymptomatic nature of Covid-19, the vulnerability of the elderly and those who may be immunocompromised, why would you not want to do the right thing to mitigate the spread?

There are many layers to this pandemic, both medically and economically. Here in New Hampshire, our economy has re-opened with a variety of restrictions and additional safety measures in place. Overall, New Hampshire’s numbers are tracking in a very positive direction. It’s easy to think this is behind us. Don’t be fooled. The disease is still out there, and still very active in the southern tier of the state through community transmission. As the state reopens, it is more important than ever that we continue wearing a mask in public, social distance as appropriate, and execute proper hand hygiene. Only by being diligent with these measures will we continue to see a downward trend.

Do the right thing so that our medical professionals remain healthy and able to serve us. Do it so that other essential employees who have been working tirelessly throughout this pandemic remain well and able to provide for their own families. Do it because if it’s my mother or your father out running an errand, they remain safe as well. Now is not the time to make a political statement. Rather, it is a time to exhibit kindness to strangers.

Connect in real life

Facebook has been advertising how it creates community — how it brings people together. Dads can share dad stuff with other dads, like going to a baseball game with their kids. Or at least that’s what the ads say.
But there is also a darker side. According to recent reporting from the Wall Street Journal, Facebook is helping radicalize extremists and has known that its algorithms move people deeper down a radical rabbit hole. Facebook’s recommendation tools actually suggested more radical groups to join. According to the Journal, Facebook executives found that, in their words: “Our algorithms exploit the human brain’s attraction to divisiveness.”
On top of that, a 2019 study by professors at New York University and Stanford demonstrated that people were happier and less polarized when they stayed off Facebook.
So what does this mean for us?
I would hope it would give us pause to put down the phone, close the app and engage in your community in real life. Yes, the pandemic has temporarily made it harder to get out and see people, but Facebook is right about one thing: We crave community, in a good way. We enjoy the company of others even if we don’t know them. So as soon as you feel it’s safe, engage in a conversation with a stranger. Join a service group, like Rotary, and enjoy the community it provides. Volunteer. Volunteer to be around people unlike yourself.
Let’s not let Facebook use our desire for connections as a way to suck us online, divide us and sell us stuff.

My racist self

I am a racist. It took me 35 years to first say the words and the last two examining the complexity of its meaning. I say it now not because it’s easy but because it serves as a critical reminder of the internal work needed to play a role in dismantling white dominance.   

See, even above, I swapped out “white supremacy” for “white dominance” because the latter is less threatening, and it doesn’t immediately cause people to shut down. In doing so, I made the choice to center white emotions over the reality of what the black community feels. I’m complicit.

For all the learning and reflection I’ve engaged in, I still ask myself, “What good is knowledge if I do not apply it?” I know The Hippo calls this section “Granite Views,” yet all of us writers for it are white.  What message is that sending about whose viewpoints matter or what voices should be raised up in our state? Yet have I ever used my position to challenge it? I’m complicit. 

Positioning myself as the heroic white person — as not one of “those people” — separates me from the very identity that I need to be most connected to. As a queer, white woman, I have taken my pass to not be as oppressed, coupled with still feeling oppressed, as my excuse why I don’t intervene more. I’m complicit. 

There are many aspects to the system of anti-black racism that remain outside of my lens. However, there is no excuse to remain uneducated about the dynamics and history of racism in America. We have books, films, TEDTalks, articles and social media accounts to follow where countless experiences are shared. But what good is awareness if I’m not willing to take inventory of my own culture and identity, see how it shapes these experiences, and take action to address it? I’m complicit.

What we see on the news is often how we define racism in this country but it runs so much deeper than that. Being complicit is one of the most prevalent ways white people participate in this system and the impact is palpable. Fortunately, it’s fully within one’s own control to acknowledge and address it.   

If you want to get involved, please educate yourself, be willing to truly listen without getting defensive, and find ways to support the solutions being shared by the black community. White allyship is needed but it requires significant self-reflection and realizing the work should not be motivated by simply wanting to be “not racist.”

“It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.”— James Baldwin

Virus, new and old

Just as a nation, battered by a global pandemic, prepares cautiously to reemerge from its sheltered and shuttered way of life, an older, even more deadly virus reemerges. The term “hot spots,” recently used to identify those places where outbreaks of Covid-19 were acute, now identifies those cities where protests and a painful reckoning are most acute. Fear has been replaced by outrage as our country witnesses yet another instance of brutality directed at a black man. The name of George Floyd has been added to the tragically long list of victims racism has marked for injustice.

The virus of racism has been in our national bloodstream from the very beginning, though the victims of the disease themselves have not been the carriers. Instead, the carriers have been others across our country — some with clear signs of infection such as white supremacy or outright bigotry, while others can bear the more subtle form of implicit bias.

While efforts have been made historically to fight the virus — the civil rights movement and subsequent legislation — this insidious disease persists, resistant to the most stringent efforts. As with the coronavirus, it is contagious, passed from one to another, quietly infecting until its impact is felt with life-shattering consequences.

And so we who are white shelter, each concerned that we not be blamed or harmed. In fact, however, we may be carriers ourselves of those more subtle forms of the virus: silence, inaction or disregard.

Understandable? Yes, but not excusable.

As media attention is focused on the virus that has taken its toll on a single black man, we all must face the tragic reality of its horrific impact in less headlines-grabbing ways on the daily lives of so many of our fellow Americans. Consider how brief a time it took for all of us to become knowledgeable about Covid-19 — what it is, how it is transmitted, how to deal with its deadly potential, and even how to possibly find a vaccine. What steps are needed now to address this even more pernicious evil? As before, so now it begins with clear-eyed recognition of what is happening. Not denial, no conspiracy theories, no seeking to blame others, no dodging responsibility. Awareness, resolve, care for one another as much as for ourselves, and action are our only options.

The signs posted in public places across the U.S. today that read “We are in this together” should be the rallying call for us even more urgently now. As we hope that through collective action we can overcome one virus, we must, at last, directly address this much older threat to our very society.

Fly Manchester

One of the many advantages of living in New Hampshire is the accessibility of Manchester-Boston Regional Airport. Would anyone disagree that flying out of Manchester is much more convenient than flying out of Boston? There is no traffic, and the airport is modern, clean and well-maintained, with four major carriers. Then why did the airport experience its 14th straight year of declining passenger levels? In fact, the passenger levels in Manchester have dropped from a peak of 4.3 million passengers in 2005 to 1.7 million passengers in 2019.

If you ask the typical consumer, the quick response is that people choose to fly out of Boston for better flight options and/or a better price. While Boston offers more options, why is there frequently such a cost differential? Aside from Southwest, Manchester offers no other low-cost airlines. Jet Blue, Frontier and Spirit all serve Boston. Allegiant Air flies out of Pease Air Force Base. And, in 2009, Southwest decided to serve Boston as well as Manchester, causing Manchester to lose many of its daily flights. These low-cost carriers have taken a pass on Manchester because data tells them the passenger count is not there, and the Cost Per Enplanement (CPE) fees are high in Manchester.

In 2019, Airport Director Ted Kitchens received city approval to restructure three bond obligations with the intention of attracting more airlines to Manchester. The debt restructure would allow for a reduction in the CPE fees over the next few years. Fast forward to March 2020 when the pandemic started to impact the United States. Mirroring trends nationally, passenger levels were down 95 percent in April and 81 percent in May, year over year. Fortunately, Manchester received $12.1 million in federal funds to ensure the continued operation of the airport during this crisis.

Given the strength of New Hampshire’s economy prior to Covid-19, the continued declining passenger rates are a worrisome trend. While passengers are willing to pay at a certain level for the convenience of flying out of Manchester, there is a point where price trumps convenience. The airport is a critical component of our state’s economic engine. As we begin to ease out of isolation, it’s important for consumers to “Fly Manchester” when possible, and equally important for the airport to make it feasible for them to do so.

Education Funding

Stuff about things.

In 1999, the New Hampshire Supreme Court declared the state’s tax system to fund education ”unconstitutional” and gave the legislature a short window to come up with a plan to fix it. The legislature, reluctantly, picked a State Wide Education Property Tax (SWEPT) to address the Claremont Education Funding Lawsuit. The original formula passed by the legislature had a $6.60 SWEPT rate, which brought huge relief to about 80 percent of property owners while raising taxes on the property-richest communities who were/are paying the lowest tax rates in New Hampshire.
But the property-richest towns were not happy with the new formula and hired attorneys to come up with a plan. Their lawyers came up with a clever scheme called “donor towns” and many people bought into it, including many legislators.
So the formula was redone at a lower rate with a cap on how much money SWEPT could raise. Anyone with decent math/spatial reasoning skills could see that this new formula was wholly beneficial to the property-rich/lowest-tax-rate communities, designed to continuously reduce the tax rate and bring us back to the disparities that initially caused the Claremont lawsuit. Shame on New Hampshire for not having the intellectual horsepower and mathematical skills to see that this was a scam. The future was easy to see and is now here. Since the change was made, property-poorer cities and towns all over the state have been cheated out of hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue that had a Supreme Court decision to back it up.
Today, the lawsuits are coming back. The Conval district has already filed and is in the courts. More lawsuits are likely to come. We would not have been in this position had the legislature done the right thing and not kowtowed to the property-richest communities. You see, while they only represent about 20 to 25 percent of our citizens, they have a disproportionate percentage of the political clout among their residents.
So, with education funding once again in the courts, is there a case to be made that the monies lost by the property-poor communities over the years by the redone and unconstitutional formula be owed to the property-poorer communities? Manchester alone would likely be owed over $100 million. To be clear, if this were a lawsuit between two companies, those lost funds would be on the table.
Fred Bramante is a past chairman and member of the New Hampshire State Board of Education. He speaks and consults on education redesign to regional, state and national organizations.

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