Last night, She Who Must Be Dismayed returned from a meeting of the Buffalo Board of Education, where she had delivered a few choice words on behalf of a certain singing group that convenes around our dining room table from time to time to eat popcorn and make plans for a better world. A delegation from the group had gone to Albany on Wednesday to perform their show for Mary Ellen Elia, the state education commissioner. They’d left behind a duet to hold down their monthly gig in Council Chambers, and Dismayed was flush from the performance.
(Elia, by the way, was a no-show at the Albany date. But the singers sang anyway, and their presence earned some decent media coverage.)
“Who on earth is Juliet Thompson?” said Dismayed, slamming the front door—not because she was in high dudgeon, but because slamming it is the only way to get the door to close properly. “Is that Russ Thompson’s wife? Your Tea Party friend?”
“Jul,” I said. “Just Jul. And it’s Rus. Just Rus.” They’re short on letters in that household. “And he’s not really my friend.” One of the things that earns Dismayed her name is her incredulity that, as part of my job, I keep acquaintance with people whose politics she abhors. I don’t fault her for this, and it’s getting more difficult to do so in these trying times. Rus Thompson and I used to get along fine before he started wearing tricorner hats and driving Carl Paladino all around the state. Either of us could call the other now and have a civil conversation. But things have grown strained. I’ve never met his wife, who is a full partner in his political activism, just as I try to be a partner in Dismayed’s. I’d become familiar with Jul Thompson’s screeds through the reluctant documentation of Alan Bedenko, one of The Public’s columnists, who’d been drawn into online combat with her a couple times, but that’s all.
“Was Jul at the meeting?” I said. It struck me as odd that she should have been: The Thompsons live in Niagara County, far removed from the travails of the Buffalo Public Schools. Before that, they lived in Grand Island. So far as I know, they’ve never been Buffalo residents.
Dismayed nodded. “She said she was there to ‘clear up’ some things about the rally in Niagara Square with the Confederate flags and the neo-Nazis.”
That’s the rally where Erie County Sheriff Tim Howard, in uniform, gave a speech despite the presence of that flag and the white nationalists passing out literature under his nose. The rally that Rus Thompson MCed. The one at which Park District school board member Carl Paladino gave a brief, rambling address.
“She cited Jefferson Davis, for crying out loud,” said Dismayed. ”She talked about blacks bravely fighting for the Confederacy and honoring the Confederate flag.”
Ordinarily, when Dismayed’s organization performs at Buffalo school board meetings, the Bright-eyed Boy and I watch a livestream of the event and cheer her on. We hadn’t done that this time, because we expected no fireworks. As a result, I’d missed Jul Thompson’s performance. I frantically looked online for some record of it and was (ahem) dismayed that the Board of Education site had no such record to offer. I need not have worried: Jul Thompson proudly posted the text of her remarks on a local Tea Party website, apparently just as soon a she got home to a computer. Here they are, unedited:
I hope to clear up some gross misconceptions about our Spirit of America Rally, and hopefully provide a little insight.
I PULLED THE PERMIT, and our group TEA New York, dedicated to fiscal responsibility and Constitutionally Limited Govt, along with SCOPE – the Shooters Committee on Political Education, COSPONSORED the event, and THIS is the summary, published in part, online:
The purpose of this event “was to join the chorus of similar events across the nation, fellowship with other liberty-loving Americans, and generally express our love and support of America’s founding principles enshrined in the divinely-inspired US Constitution.”
We opened in prayer to God through Christ, we recited the Pledge, we listened to great speakers including the Sheriff who properly instructed us on the Rule of Law and we displayed patriotic signs and flags.
Yet without missing a beat, some clearly partisan politicians and others here called it a “radical event” that featured “nasty signs and inciteful hate speech,” all together fueling the BIG FUSS… over NOTHING. Conspicuously missing were any criticisms over the black-veiled “anti-fascists” doing everything in their power to shut down our free speech.
The Gadsen and Confederate flags appear to be a source of confusion for some, BOTH of which are symbols of opposition, not to the abolition of slavery but to an ever-encroaching federal government. The FACTS ARE that between 60,000 and 93,000 Blacks willingly and BRAVELY fought for the South. “Black Southerners in Gray” by Richard Rollins provides some insight into WHY the Confederate Flag is a source of pride to many Blacks. Whether we disagree or refuse to acknowledge the facts, on this we are unlikely to find ANY common ground. But the President of the Confederacy himself said “We are not fighting for slavery. We are fighting for Independence.” No one at our event disrespected the Black community. We simply have different views about the symbolism of the Confederate Flag.
That said, we know that many racial groups form specific groups to work for common interests they feel must be defended — looking out for their own interests, not always or necessarily for the good of the whole.
We have the NAACP, the Congressional Black Caucus, the Hispanic Caucus, the Asian Caucus, LA RAZA, who are all asking “what’s in it for us?” Here, in a multi-racial school district, we even demanded a Black Superintendent. Some of us were appalled at such a demand, but we’ve come to understand, this is just a group looking out for their own interests they feel need to be defended.
Contrast this with a Board Member who represents no such group, continually subjects himself to disproportionate outrage and assaults on his character simply because he wishes to SHARE the wealth, lift UP the inner cities and RAISE the level of achievement to foster a little hope and a future where hope and prosperity have become stagnant here over the last 50 years. We can now easily forgive 50 years of failure, but continuing the same mistakes of the past? We cannot accept.
On some things we simply will never agree. But hopefully, we can agree that overall, the Buffalo Public School System is NOT a success story. We can only encourage you to embrace some very necessary and long overdue change.
Thompson’s repeated use of we reminded me of something Dismayed’s uncle likes to say to people who lean heavily on the first-person plural: “We? Is there a mouse in your pocket? Who’s we?”
Here’s something I know, because I sometimes keep company with folks whose politics Dismayed abhors: The last time Jul Thompson publicly rushed to the defense of Carl Paladino—the board member to whom she refers in her remarks—she was ordered by Paladino’s people to knock it off, told she was doing him more damage than good, informed that her outrageous remarks were compelling Paladino to defend her when he needed to defend himself. In short, she was told, there’s no we here.
Let’s leave aside the remarkable chutzpah it takes for a white woman to inform the black women of Buffalo’s school board that the Confederate flag “is a source of pride to many Blacks.” And as to the claim that “between 60,000 and 93,000 Blacks willingly and BRAVELY fought for the South,” I’ll allow others to parse its legitimacy and its origins.
(You know who’s qualified to do that? Why, Dismayed, who is a trained historian specializing in African-American history.)
I’d like to focus instead on the only we Jul Thompson brought to Council Chamber with her. She brought Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy whose secession was absolutely about preserving slavery. Davis, who was an unabashed white supremacist and proponent of slavery until the day he died. She cherry-picks a quote that purports to prove that the Civil War was about federal overreach and not about slavery (as if the Southern states did not equate the two), but there are lots of cherries in a tree, and many cherry trees in an orchard. Every state that seceded, beginning with South Carolina, was quite clear that preserving slavery was the crux of the matter.
Here’s the Jefferson Davis that Jul Thompson chose not to quote in her remarks to the Buffalo school board, though she could have found this quote in whatever online source she mined for an affirmation of her politics: “We recognize the negro as God and God’s Book and God’s Laws, in nature, tell us to recognize him. Our inferior, fitted expressly for servitude.”
Jefferson Davis was the mouse in Jul Thompson’s pocket last night. And I cannot think of a finer companion for her.
But what about at-large school board members Larry Quinn and Patti Pierce? Both have defended Paladino against accusations of racism and misogyny in public—in the media and at school board meetings—and in private. Both have filed affidavits with Mary Ellen Elia defending Paladino against the board majority’s effort to remove Paladino from office. Are Quinn and Pierce comfortable keeping company with Jul Thompson and the mouse in her pocket? I don’t know Patti Pierce. I do know Larry Quinn a little. Shame on them both. They have joined the acquaintances about whom She Who Must Be is, quite rightly, dismayed.