Class and Health

We have all heard the term “stressed out,” and most of us feel thusly quite often. We also know that stress can impact our long term health in insidious ways, and is often linked to many of the most common diseases people our prone to in the twenty-first century – including heart disease, diabetes, anxiety, depression, and perhaps certain types of cancer.

As our community of Keene and the Monadnock area strives towards its goal of being the healthiest community of the United States by 2020, we must consider what types of stressors members of our community are experiencing that we can help alleviate. Now let me switch gears. As some of you readers know by now, I have spent a good part of my life living in Latin America and/or in contact with Latin American cultures and places. In Latin America, everyone knows and acknowledges the presence of class in society. People of all socio-economic levels openly discuss and acknowledge how tremendously important and significant class is in shaping their lives and overall society as well. In fact, they have a saying which is that, “People in the United States are racist, but not classist; while we in Latin America are classist but not racist.”

In many ways, this saying is significantly wrong in both Americas: The United States and Latin America. But for the purposes of this short article, it does highlight an important characteristic of the United States – which is that much of the discourse around race and the challenges and problems facing so-called minorities are actually problems of class. Here we are talking about things like poverty, unemployment, being on food stamps, young single mothers, etc.

And an often unacknowledged truth about this region, and the United States as a whole, is that there is a lot of poverty and issues of class difference that we sometimes do not directly acknowledge and face. And yes, white poverty in our area is a serious problem, and one that seems to be getting worse.

You can see it every day walking along downtown Keene. Or take a visit to the new Co-op followed by one to Walmart – look at folks shopping for food at both places. Sometimes the class differences are shown even in things like different styles of dress and manners, different food and consumption choices, etc.

How does this connect with stress and health? According to Robert M. Sapolsky, one of the leading specialists in stress who is a Professor at Stanford University and a recipient of the MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant, analyzing how stress can make you sick involves three legs of a stool.

One is the mainstream medical view that focuses on biological aspects such as bacteria, genes, etc.

The second is the people who focus on the mind-body issues, with the idea that poor health is about psychological stress, lack of control, etc.

And the third has to do with a person’s place in society. According to Sapolsky’s in-depth research, low Socio-Economic Status (SES) is the single most important factor in a person’s health and longevity. As he puts it, “if you want to increase the odds of living a long and healthy life, don’t be poor.”

However, it is more nuanced than this. Even in places where the poor have universal access to health care, unlike the United States at present, low SES is still an important health impediment. What Sapolsky outlines in the last chapter of his book, “Why Zebra’s Don’t get Ulcers,” is that “It’s not about being poor. It’s about feeling poor, which is to say feeling poorer than others around you.” (p. 373) In other words, income inequality can be as important in stressing people out as actual poverty itself.

The United States today has greater income inequality than when I was growing up, as all the evidence points to. Even in the decade that I have been living in this area, I have noted more and more small stores and businesses closing down, unemployment and underemployment for many people – especially young adults who do not have a college degree and other economically vulnerable groups – dramatically rising. At the same time, support services are being cut, and life is getting more expensive. This is a dangerous mix, from a health standpoint.

Research also shows that what is known as social capital –i.e. a cohesive community that helps each other, efforts to reach across the social class divide and bring people in lower SES up, not via charity but through long-term policies in areas of employment creation, housing, public transportation and more, can have far reaching positive health benefits and a decrease in stress. Both Canada, our neighbor to the north, exemplifies this as does Brazil, which has carried out significant poverty reduction programs in the last decade or so that have had far reaching and very positive consequences for that country.

If we want to be a healthier community by 2020, addressing honestly and directly the socio-economic inequality that exists among members of our town and region, and then trying to find ways to narrow the gap both perceptually and materially, is a critically important component of our goal.

3/2014 published in the Monadnock Shopper

Posted in Community healing, Human rights, New Hampshire, skyestephenson, social justice | Leave a comment

Barth, Germany and a Springtime of Hope

This Spring Equinox found me in Barth, Germany. I had traveled to Austria and Germany for work, taking advantage of the College spring break.

First night in Europe, jet lag kept me up until the wee hours – so I turned on my computer and began surfing the web. One thing led to another and I figured I might as well try yet again to find out some important information about my father I had always wondered about.

You see, my father – deceased nearly thirty years now – had been a prisoner of war in Germany during WW2. His right ring finger was the only visible physical reminder of his long ordeal; that finger had been deeply slashed by trees as he parachuted down from the damaged aircraft. When he was captured two days later, very close to the Allied border area, his finger was crudely stitched and it never quite moved or looked right.

As a child, I would sometimes ask him about his finger and about what it was like being a prisoner of war. He would always make a joke about his finger, and then tell me that he did not want to talk about his experience. Every single time I asked him, for more than two decades, he always refused to answer.

So my first night ever in a German speaking area, I checked the internet one more time and to my great surprise found my father’s name and record rapidly.

James H. Stephenson. 2nd Lieutenant, Air force. Stalag Luft 1/Barth/Prussia – 1/29/44-6/14/45.

My heart beat hard when I saw this long searched for information. I wondered if Dad was smiling down upon me right then and there.

I found the town of Barth on the map. It was on the Baltic Sea, not far from the current Polish border. That made sense. Dad had mentioned a northern sea.

On the spur of the moment, I realized I could make a fast one day trip there when I was in Berlin later in the week. In fact, the only day I had free to visit Barth was March 21st, the Spring Equinox.

After a five hour and one train change journey due north from Berlin, I stepped off at 11 am to Barth, Germany on the first day of spring, 2014. I had no idea where the prisoner of war camp had been located, or even how to communicate this question to the people in the town since I speak not one word of German. More significantly, I did not know how the locals would react when I asked this question.

Three people who worked in the railway station, all of them most likely born and raised when this part of Germany was East Germany, spent 15 minutes printing out a google map and writing the path I needed to follow to find the spot. They explained that it was out of town. They waved me good-bye, wishing me well.

I had to walk through the center of Barth to find the site. As I walked its streets, Barth seemed to be about the size of Keene. I stopped for an early lunch at a place filled with locals. I sat alone, but shortly an elderly couple joined me at my table. We tried to communicate the best we could, despite the language barrier. I understood the woman to say that she had learned Russian, not English, in school. I nodded understanding.

The town’s one church steeple loomed tall as I passed it by and kept walking out of town. I tried to keep a brisk pace and follow carefully the penciled directions. Half a mile out and I turned off the main road, following a smaller road that edged a large meadow. This meandered for a while until it turned to dirt, and I found myself in the middle of a solar panel farm.

Then the solar panels ended, and I was in a forested area. I walked a short distance more and then I saw the stone. It was large and prominent. Next to it was an informational sign, triangular in shape and about 15 feet tall.

I towards that stone and placed my right hand upon it as I read what the metallic plaque on its face said (in both English and German).
“Dedicated by the citizens of Barth and the Royal Air Force ex-prisoners of WW2 on September 28, 1996 to commemorate all those held prisoner at this site from 1940 to 1945. Nothing Has Been Forgotten.”

Goosebumps moved from my hand up my arms slowly, and then I found tears welling up in my eyes – a few fell upon that stone.

I spent a long time by that rock – trying to imagine how such a peaceful scene now could have ever held a place like a prisoner of war camp filled with thousands of scared, cold and hungry soldiers. I tried to imagine my father here, and let him know that all these years later, his daughter had found the place and it was a peaceful spot now.

On that early spring equinox afternoon my strongest sensation was hope. Hope that a place which had once been a prisoner of war camp was now a forest where people walked their dogs. Hope that a factory that had once produced munitions for the Germany army was now converted into a solar farm. Hope because it was the citizens of Barth and the ex prisoners of war together who had laid plaque. Hope that even in the worst of times, there is a promise of springtime to come, of a potentially brighter tomorrow.

4/2014 published in the Monadnock Shopper

Posted in family healing, Human rights, Peace, skyestephenson, travel | Leave a comment

Apu Mt. Monadnock

In the central Andes, where the second highest mountain chain makes their imposing presence viscerally felt, the indigenous people have since time immemorial venerated their mountain peaks. Quechua-speakers (the language of the Inca Empire) call them Apus.

Certain Apus are designated sacred mountain peaks, based upon teachings of the wise ones. Typically these sacred Apus are found in pairs – one is considered masculine, the other feminine. And to these mountains sacred gifts are offered and special ceremonies enacted at specific times in the calendar year. And at all times, prayers include the local mountain peaks – considered to be protectors of the zone – in the spirits thanked and invoked.

Some of us in the Monadnock area yearn for a deeper sense of this kind of connection with our own geography and place. And some practices an increasing number of local folks are stepping into more boldly these days such as organic agriculture, CSA farming, engaging in ritual and ceremony, healing modalities of many types, community support, helping animals and plants, etc., are being done – at least in part – to contribute in some small way to helping heal and nourish our beautiful environment.

Place-based ceremony and ritual may be one way to contribute to such needed healing.
Back in 2007, when I had lived in this area for a few years and just begun to discover Mount Monadnock, I was faced with a pivotal decision in my life. I was offered the chance to move elsewhere, to an area and job that in many ways were more appealing. Yet I fleetingly sensed Mt. Monadnock whispering to stay around here, that there was work to do in this area. And so I chose to stay.

Last year, my friend Lisa who lives atop a hill in southern Vermont, spent a month in Peru in ceremony and ritual. Months later, on a crisp and clear Fall day, she was on Putney Mountain walking her dogs when she happened to look to the East and beheld Mt. Monadnock silhouetted alone on the horizon. And she sensed its presence, as she received the following message: “You do not have to go to Peru to find the Apus. I am right here in front of you. Look at me.”

Lisa called me all excited and we met and talked about our local Apu – Mount Monadnock. And we decided – as many others have before us and many will do in the future – to enact a ritual ceremony for this powerful mountain that looms nearby us. Mount Monadnock offers us the opportunity to acknowledge its presence and feel its energies if we so desire.

James Beard, also known as Noodin, is a NH park ranger who is lucky enough to live in the cabin at the base of White Dot trail. He is also a white man who has spent many years studying deeply with the indigenous peoples, especially the Ojibway, and he has written a wonderful book about his own life journey along this path of learning.

From what he has gathered from indigenous peoples as well as from the mountain itself, Mt. Monadnock was considered especially sacred because it did literally “stand alone,” as its name attests in the Abenaki language. And due to its sacred qualities, most people walked the base of the mountain and left offerings. Only a few of the very wisest would at special times climb to the peak for ritual ceremony.

How different from today where hundreds and even thousands climb the mountain on a nice weekend day, most viewing it solely as a diversion and exercise. In recent years, money has been charged to visit the mountain and rules enacted such as keeping dogs off, which contribute to making the mountain – like so much in our current society – another commodity to be marketed for profit.

Knowing the long indigenous history in this area and the Abenaki name given to Mt. Monadnock, I was surprised to hear last year at a fundraiser a member of the NH park service say that the first person to see the mountain was a white man sometime in the 1700s or 1800s!

Jim Beard has been offering native stories and campfires for a few years on Mt. Monadnock, as one way to share its cultural and spiritual heritage. Recently that program has been put on hold, some questioning whether it is needed.

Back to Mt. Monadnock, a physical presence and, for some, a sacred presence in our area. Mt. Monadnock is our Apu, as my friend Lisa heard so emphatically. And as a mountain that does indeed stand alone, perhaps it holds both the male and female presence within it. That makes it even more special for some of us…thank you Mt. Monadock! May we honor you through how we treat you.

Published 6/2014 Monadnock Shopper

Posted in Community healing, indigenous wisdom, inspirational thoughts, latin america, New Hampshire, Shamanism, skyestephenson, spirits of place, spirituality | Leave a comment

Our Heroin Problem

My monthly article will continue Dr. Julian Jones’ recent column that discussed the heroin problems in our area. My intention is to contribute to the mounting media focus on the local heroin problem, in the hope that bringing this issue “out of the closet” and “into the forefront” of our community focus may help some people heal from the affects of heroin. And believe me, heroin is affecting many more people than just those who choose to inject or sniff this opiate into their body.

Heroin has personally impacted me and members of my family. I have been given permission by my daughter to share the following stories with you.

My daughter’s first boyfriend began to experiment with heroin several years after my daughter began to date him. He was dealing with some challenging mental health issues (bipolar diagnosis) as well as some social adjustment problems. His family had emigrated from another country to this area in search of better employment opportunities, and adjusting to cold and insular northern New England was not easy for them. While he was already taking medication for his mental health issues, it was at the suggestion of a friend that he began to use heroin. He found some social acceptance using this drug. Or maybe the temporary high helped ease some of his mental anguish.

One day my daughter returned to the apartment she was renting to find her boyfriend and another man shooting each other with heroin in the arm. Shortly thereafter she had to leave that apartment because that image was seared too strongly in her mind to continue to live there.

This young man’s family rallied around him. So did my daughter, who for many months drove him to a methadone treatment center almost daily. His parents paid out of pocket thousands for this treatment. My daughter came close to failing her courses that year, so focused was she on his healing.

And then one day his family decided to return back to their home country – a place known for its high level of violence and challenges. They told us, “It is the only way we know to get our son away from heroin.” Now, several years later, his mother tells me via Skyep that her son is clean of illegal drug use and she is glad she left Keene because it might have saved his life.

I tell her about a young woman who had visited our home a few years ago when she was drug free; she is now dead from a heroin overdose.

Flash forward to this year. My daughter finally finds another young man she likes and they begin to date. He is a local boy from a working class family. It takes us months to realize that he is a heroin addict. In the meantime, some of our money and possessions have been lost to his habit.

He hides his addiction from us for some time. My daughter observes him shooting up with friends. It no longer bothers her because, as she puts it, “I have become desensitized since it is so common.”

His father tells me that he wishes he could help his son get over the addiction but they have no health insurance and little money. What can they do?

My daughter pithily comments, “I guess if you are poor and a heroin addict you don’t have much of a chance to get over it around here.”

At least six people have died of heroin overdoses this year in Keene alone. Statistics show that the rates of heroin use in our community are extremely high, even compared to the rest of New Hampshire which ranks high nationally in heroin use.

Of course, this area ranks high in substance abuse of many types. Several factors may influence this phenomenon, including genetic and family histories; class disparities (often unacknowledged); the legacy of mill and factory towns; a state that garners much of its revenues from taxing legal substances (alcohol and cigarettes); and a local subculture that emphasizes drinking and drug use. Still, heroin right now is the most serious substance abuse problem facing our community and one of our most menacing public health problems.

It seems that the more the US wages “war” on drugs, the worse becomes our drug problems. Penalizing and criminalizing the personal use of drugs with stiff crimes and jail sentences has succeeded in giving the US the highest incarceration rate in the world and also exacerbated our drug problems.

Instead, maybe we can learn from “softer” and “more compassionate” strategies that other nations such as Portugal have followed with positive results. According to an April 26, 2009 Time magazine article, Portugal decriminalized all drugs for personal use in 2001. “The argument was that the fear of prison drives addicts underground and that incarceration is more expensive than treatment — so why not give drug addicts health services instead? Under Portugal’s new regime, people found guilty of possessing small amounts of drugs are sent to a panel consisting of a psychologist, social worker and legal adviser for appropriate treatment (which may be refused without criminal punishment), instead of jail.”

This approach has been very successful in Portugal, which has seen drug use decline across the boards since its implementation. Several other countries are also experimenting with similar approaches.

While at the local level we can not make such sweeping changes, at the very least maybe we can work together to find caring and compassionate ways to help heroin addicts who want to access treatment options and support, no matter what their economic resources are.

Many traditions and cultures know that our own personal health and well-being is intimately interconnected with the health and well-being of our fellow community members. In some ways – invisible, almost imperceptible – many of us are being impacted by the local heroin epidemic. Even if you yourself do not know anyone who has a loved one who has gotten involved with heroin, the sadness and suffering that many of us have experienced witnessing heroin related events permeates the general mood of our community. And it offers us all an opportunity to respond with compassion, care, and a search for kind solutions that are less punitive and more healing in intention and outcome.

Published 7/2014, Monadnock Shopper

Posted in Community healing, drug, healing, Human rights, mental illness, New Hampshire, skyestephenson, social justice | 2 Comments

That Dark Place

Robin Williams’ suicide has touched many of us and the familiar Parrish Shoe sign has become a shrine of sorts to his life and legacy. My favorite role of his was as Patch Adams, a doctor who found out that making his patients laugh was a very healing thing to do. It is ironic that the man who played this character ended up taking his own life because he could no longer find any joy in this world.

I venture to forward that a lot of us know intimately what that dark place feels like. And it may be that slight hint of underlying pain and sadness that Robin William’s somehow imparted to all of his characters that made him so beloved as an actor, and why we are all mourning his premature passing so widely.

Apparently, Robin Williams “suffered” from depression most of his life. “Suffered” in quotation marks, because in many cultures and spiritual beliefs, rather than “fighting” against and/or “overcoming” this pain, there is a call to accept it as a natural part of the cycle and rhythm of life. Just as there is day and night; winter and summer – there is pain and joy.

My mother, who herself had many dark times, always refused to give us aspirin. Rightly or wrongly, she said she wanted us to know what pain feels like, and not always run away from it.

As someone who has lived abroad and traveled quite extensively, one of the hallmarks I most note about US culture is our emphasis on trying to ameliorate problems and pains through pills, legislation, psychotherapy and more. It is as if we wish to always live in a Disney movie that ends happily ever after.

But that is in truth a lie, and perhaps one of the shadow sides of our culture is our inability to accept that other side, that dark side, of life as a very important component of wholeness.

There are many different strategies and ways of encountering that dark place, navigating our way through it, and then back into the light once again. Creativity of any sort can be a most powerful technique for many of us, and in fact much of the greatest music, writing, artwork, and visual productions were birthed by people who were in that dark void when inspiration came upon them. I began writing more deeply years ago in my moments of despair over a crumbling marriage and difficult life circumstances, and it was this writing that saved me from the abyss.

When darkness becomes a problem is when it does not pass – dwelling within us so heavily we lose all hope of ever feeling joyous and full of light again. And it is here that the role of loved ones and a compassionate community is so important.

I was once told by a Mapuche man from southern Chile that his people have a way to cure depression that is community based. When someone is in a deep depression, a ritual ceremony is carried out in which all members of the person’s extended family must be present and participate in fully. By forming a circle of care around the person in need and singing and drumming, they can cast out the darkness through their collective presence and support.

Some recent articles have pointed out how Robin Williams felt all alone and abandoned during his last and final bout with depression. Maybe this is what touched us too, our sense that we want to let him know – even if he has departed this world – that he is not alone. He is beloved by many of us, because we too are quirky, different, don’t quite fit in, and we too sometimes feel the pain of those dark places that can crash down upon us and hold us in their grip.

Perhaps it is easier to honor Robin William’s suicide than those of local residents, but it bears mentioning that one block away from what has become an altar to Robin Williams a middle-aged man set himself on fire because he was so depressed and felt so abandoned by the system and his own loved ones. And just last month, on the other side of town, a man committed suicide after an hours long stand off with a horde of police.

Maybe one way we can honor Robin William’s legacy is to support with compassion those around us who are experiencing that dark place and are in need of some of our joyous light right now.

Published 8/2014 Monadnock Shopper

Posted in Community healing, healing, inspirational thoughts, mental illness, skyestephenson | 4 Comments

MY FATHER’S DEATHS – Published March 2013, Monadnock Shopper

stephe01Today is March 29th, 2013.  On this day, 94 years ago, my father was born.  He almost did not make it through his first year of life, at just a few months of age he was one of the millions of victims of the influenza epidemic that killed so many people in the United States and around the world that year.

My father – James Hawley – had another very close call with death as a young adult.  He joined the Air Force near the start of World War 2 and was the only soldier in a bomber plane to survive being shot down by German forces over Axis territory.  His family was informed that he had died.  In reality, he was a prisoner of war in Germany.  When he was released with the German defeat, he arrived back to his family house in Ithaca, New York only to learn every item he owned had either been given away or discarded.

Surprisingly (or not), my father never, ever talked about any of his war time experiences or being a prisoner of war.  Even when I pressed him as a young adult to tell me something, anything, he would seem to freeze up and say it was better not to discuss such horrible things.

What my father did feel comfortable discussing with me was death – both as a powerful reality and ultimate shaper of our human existence.  As a homeopathic doctor who meditated and had a deep spiritual practice, Dad not infrequently would say such things as “If I ever got a terminal illness, rather than waiting around to die I would volunteer for a life or death kind of mission that would help people and my country.”  Perhaps in some intuitive way, my father sensed what would be his ultimate fate in this incarnation.

Flash forward to 1985.  I am a grown doing my doctoral dissertation in Chile.  I have not seen or spoken to my father for almost a year.  In the pre email days, traveling to foreign countries usually meant limited and slow (I.e. letters) communication with family and friends  Back home.

Before the date of March 25, 1985, I had never ever had a dream I recalled about any family member.  At that precise date, I was house sitting someone who did not even have a telephone.  My fiancé (later husband) was working in construction in the south of Chile. Saving money to travel to the US with me.

In the previous weeks, I had been helping his family in Santiago deal with an uncle who had pancreatic cancer.  Rene was his name.  He had at one time been a big, strapping German Chilean, but when I came to know him he was a wizened and sick man who no one wanted to tell that he was dying.  The family members clustered around his hospital bed talking about his getting out, renewing his driver’s license, etc. Making plans we all knew would never come to fruition.  An operation did not keep his death away.  On a steaming hot February day Rene passed on to other dimensions.

One month later, I awoke from a dream I will never, ever forget.  Honestly, it was more a vision than a dream; so real and clear that even now more than a quarter of a century later I can still recall every detail.

My father was in front of me, radiant and full of light.  But one important thing was different about him than the last time I had seen him. At his throat was a large hole with light beaming out of it in all directions.  He was so beautiful.  My heart felt full, and then overflowing.

I was not so surprised when I received the message later that day that he had died of pancreatic cancer. 

A few days later as I was preparing my journey home for his funeral, he came to me again in another dream.  This one was even more light-filled than the previous dream.  “Don’t be sad Skye,” he told me with a smile.  “All of the pain is gone.”

I have pondered that last line he told me ever since.  “What pain?”  I would ask myself.  What pain was he talking about?  The inevitable pain of being a human?  The particular pains of his life?  Something else?

At the time of his death, my father had a second wife and a step daughter he helped raise.  Relations were strained in large part due to this second wife’s alcoholism.  She did all she could to keep my sister and me away from my father.  At his funeral, all we learned about his death is that he had probably felt bad for months and not seen a doctor.  (Generally speaking, doctors are not good patients).  And when he reluctantly went to the hospital, he was diagnosed with advanced pancreatic cancer.  So the story goes, he refused an operation and all medication.  He tried to get released but the hospital staff refused, claiming he was mentally unstable and probably suicidal.

How can someone be called suicidal when they are in the advanced stages of a terminal disease?  My father knew the odds of advanced pancreatic cancer.  He knew he would die from it, and that even an operation would not stop this relentless disease.

I recently read about an interesting study that found that doctors and others in the health professions refuse treatment and even take their own lives when faced with terminal illness at a much higher rate than any other group.

A few months ago I learned from my step sister with whom we recently reconnected that my father had contacted someone who gave him a dose of an homeopathic remedy to let him pass on.  This month a nurse I know told me what it was, and that in the state she used to live in and practice, a person can decide to leave this world of their own violation under certain conditions such as terminal and/or degenerative diseases.

I understand that
New Hampshire has been considering similar legislation for some time now.  On the date of my father’s birthday and near the date he chose to leave the pain of his body through an herbal avenue, I am coming forward to support legislation that gives an individual the freedom to legally end their life if facing terminal illness.  I know without a doubt that my father is smiling down on me as I write this, and that his dream message to me about the pain gone really was true for him.

Posted in healing, inspirational thoughts, skyestephenson, writing | Leave a comment

A TALE OF TWO CITIES – Published in the Monadnock Shopper February 2013

People's History MuseumI write from Manchester.  Manchester England.  The town for which the largest city in New Hampshire is named.  Perhaps more importantly Manchester, England is where the industrial revolution began.  Here in this midland city mechanized textile mills were first introduced; cotton grown by slaves from the south of the United States and elsewhere was turned into mass produced fabric with the help of laborers, some six years old, who worked 14 hour days, 6 days a week shifts under squalid conditions.

As I walk through the newly inaugurated People’s History Museum, I learn much about the workers’ struggles for fairer living and working conditions here.  I close my eyes and see the face of some of the young children mill workers in towns throughout New Hampshire and western Massachusetts  captured in sepia tones in old photographs I have seen.  Their lives not so different from the English Manchester workers.People's History Museum 1

Nearly a decade I have been living in the Monadnock region but there are still aspects of the culture here that puzzle me.  One is the clear lack of government and general citizen support for funding education from pre K all the way through university.  Despite New Hampshire’s relatively high per capita income, as a state we consistently rank towards the bottom of education funding.  This includes being 50 out of 50 states in university funding.

Recently a multigenerational native helped me understand this phenomenon.  As he put it, “New Hampshire was historically primarily a state with many mills and factories.  And like mills everywhere, the mill owners and wealthy elites found it to their advantage to keep their workers undereducated. “

He continued by stating, “There is still a lot of that mill mentality in New Hampshire.”

Back to the People’s Museum in Manchester, England.  Crowds of young school children are visiting and learning of the heroic struggles and brave quests for better working conditions and a more just society.  These working men and women are lauded as strongly as military figures and veterans.  And in a way the struggle for the average person to not be exploited and society to be more fair can be viewed as one of humanity’s greatest efforts.

I wish I knew more of the brave men, women and children in New England who fought for better working conditions.  Some cultural commentators of the United States point out that as a nation we sometimes avoid acknowledging the role of class and presence of entrenched social inequities.  Some in New Hampshire may date back to mills and have not yet been fully redressed.

Perhaps Manchester, New Hampshire can learn something from its namesake in England.

People's History Museum 2

Posted in Community healing, New Hampshire, social justice, travel, writing | Leave a comment