News, schools, and views from a uniquely Lowell perspective

NRA and shot cops offer little comfort

My nephew was sworn in as a Massachusetts State Trooper a few weeks ago, a proud moment for my family, as well as one of continuing alarm as we hear more and more stories about officers shot in the line of duty.

Saturday’s Boston Globe had front-page stories in the Metro section about shootings in Greenland, NH, where Police Chief  Michael Maloney was killed one week shy of his retirement, as well as a shooting rampage in Chicopee on Friday, where State Trooper  John Vasquez was shot by a man with an automatic rifle; many civilians, including a school bus full of children, narrowly averted harm during the six-minute shootout in Chicopee. All this was juxtaposed for me by an article in the same paper regarding Republican candidate Mitt Romney’s speech to the NRA attacking President’s Obama’s position on the right to bear arms.

Excuse me if I’m not feeling too concerned about waiting periods and background checks for gun permit applicants, or a ban on assault weapons, which the NRA opposes.  Romney avoided mention of the controversial stand-your-ground laws currently being debated across the country and here in the Commonwealth, which are laws the NRA supports.

Depending on the state and exact language of the law, stand-your-ground legislation does not require civilians to retreat, if able, when attacked, but instead grants them the right to fight back, even in public, and to do lethal harm–all under the guise of self-defense. Aside from using this law as an excuse for deadly barroom brawls and gang encounters, other problems with the law are discussed here in this Florida article, where it notes “analysis of state data shows deaths due to self-defense are up over 200% since the law took effect,” as well as this piece from Tampa Bay News listing some examples that show, such as in the Trayvon Martin case, the victims are often unarmed.

It’s all starting to feel like the Wild West and not in a good way. It’s tough enough when bad guys have easy access to assault weapons, but to give anyone on the street access to weapons and permission to use them under the slightest provocation is a path, frankly, that terrifies me. Ask your legislators NOT to support this bill. Keep the waiting periods and background checks, increase efforts to get illegal guns off the streets, make it harder for bad guys to get weapons, and enact stiffer punishments for having them. There is no easy solution to the gunfire madness that is American society, but the NRA approach is definitely not helpful. We must demand our leaders take the steps necessary to protect our law enforcement officers and our communities.

posted in In the News, National issues, State Concerns | 0 Comments

Why Asheville?

When I told people I was taking a trip to Asheville, NC, I was surprised by the blank stares. It seems that the little mountain city is not on everyone’s go-to list. Not everyone has heard about the “Paris of the South.” Given that their climate is not that different than our own, I was starting to question my choice of destinations for a long weekend in late March. Well, I’m glad I went. Here’s a top ten list for a visit to Asheville:
more »

posted in Travel | 2 Comments

Festival of women playwrights great success

Last night’s FemNoire experience at The Whistler House, the second annual festival of women playwrights sponsored by the Image Theater, reminded me of going to comedy clubs years ago and watching a revolving door of performers. FemNoire featured nine vignettes that ranged in tone from seriously funny, to intensely dramatic, and deeply sad. The varied topics and styles kept the audience laughing, at times near tears, and always attentive.

As with most creative ventures, reactions varied in terms of which plays people preferred, and with any short piece, the challenge is to grab the audience quickly, get them to care about the characters and situation, and tell a complete story within minutes.

Some of the plays that stood out were Gay Paree by Andrea Fleck Clardy, a tearjerker about a terminally ill friend asking another for help ending her pain—it is a story about the bond of female friendship and the shared joy and agony that is life. Or Lapse by Gail Phaneuf, an hysterically funny skit between a husband and wife that begins and ends with the same line: “Why’d I come in here?” The story was a laugh-out-loud romp about the very real frustration of becoming ridiculously absent minded as we age.  House Broken by Monica Bauer had some of the strongest dialogue with long, fast-paced monologues from a conservative, career Congressman being forced to resign over sexual indiscretions caught on tape with his dog.

Another play, A Parting Gift by Leslie Powell, was an intense look at domestic violence while Wife of Bobo by M. Lynda Robinson featured the most physical comedy of the night in this tale about a woman married to a clown, literally. In all, FemNoire was a fantastic good time well worth the admission price of $19 and a wonderful way to experience women’s voices in the Merrimack Valley in the incomparable venue of live theater. Kudos to all involved!

posted in Theater, Women's issues | 0 Comments

Walking While Black author makes a point

I have always believed racism is fear—the demonizing of those who are different—based on ignorance, which is why it was hugely important to me that we raise our children in the diverse community and school system that Lowell has to offer. More than 40 languages are spoken at Lowell High School, and from the moment they enter preschool, our children are taught to accept and respect each other’s differences, whether they are ethnic, cultural, religious, food, language, or skin color.

Like many of my white, progressive, middle-class peers, I honestly believed things were getting better for our black brothers and sisters: Obama, Condoleeza Rice, Colin Powell—the names and numbers attest that we have made progress in becoming a more accepting community. But obviously, token success stories do not mean pervasive bigotry has been eradicated. I see now my optimism was naïve, wishful thinking and not routed in the reality of many black people’s daily lives.

As author Cynthia Dagnal-Myron pointed out on a segment of Democracy Now I caught on LTC channel 95 this morning: “I don’t know how much progress has been made. … [In] your day-to-day life, if you’re an African-American woman or man, you still feel the things that my parents felt. … So, for those who think that it’s over, they’re not walking in our shoes.”

Warning: if you do watch the segment linked to above, be prepared for graphic photos of Emmett Till, a 14-year old boy killed in 1955 in Mississippi. His mother, who was Dagnal-Myron’s fifth-grade teacher, insisted on an open casket so all the world could see the horror that racists had committed against this child and his family—really against all of us who wish to live in peace with each other. The connection to what happened last month to Trayvon Martin is not lost on anyone, nor is the despair from the realization that things have really not changed that much at all.

posted in In the News | 0 Comments

Yes, we’re baack, but times are changing still

After three years of publishing online, we took a break, but now we’re beginning to re-enter the wonderful wacky world of blogging. (If a post is published but no one reads it, does it really exist? We like to think so.)  Which, of course, begs the question: “Are you still out there?” Somehow–like weight and hair styles–our blog fluctuates. Publishing these last several posts since our hiatus, we also have had some technical difficulties, and we’ve decided our old-fashioned template is not adapting well to the newer version of WordPress.

Back in the old days, when we started posting on jackiedoherty.org, we were using WordPress 1.5; our current version is in the 3s. (We’ve been offered to upgrade to 3.3, but that may bring additional glitches to the site, so we’re holding off.) In the meantime, we’re working on a snazzy new look with a new template, new photos, etc–actually, we’ll get a web developer to help with all that snazziness, and we may even get a new writer or two, so stay tuned. Don’t worry, it will still be purple in flavor and tenor (naturally), and Margaret and I will still be at the keyboards.

When we are fully back online with our new look, we will throw a huge party, take out a full-page ad in The Sun, let all the other local bloggers know, and tweet until our fingers are numb! jkjk

posted in Technical | 0 Comments

1Q84 – possible spoiler!

I’ve been reading Haruki Murakami’s novels and short stories for a long time and have often struggled with how to describe his works. His understated writing style, slight, not-always-apparent playfulness, and ultimate compassion for the human condition combine with a fearless creativity (one of his stories features a giant, talking frog) to compel the reader’s concern for the central character–often a subdued Japanese everyman/woman, usually living alone in a cheap, high-rise apartment, who gets caught up in events and forces that are beyond his or her control. The man in the aforementioned story, for example, just comes home to his apartment after a routine day, a briefcase in one hand and a bag of groceries in the other, and there is the frog. Giant. Talking. There is often a mystery at the center of Murakami’s fiction. Often the mystery is left unexplained at the end. The bewildered protagonist struggles to understand what is happening, but never does. The reader can relate. A sort of dreamy vagueness pervades some of the works and can leave a reader vaguely dissatisfied, which is how I have felt occasionally upon finishing one of his books. Yet, the unsolved mysteries represent a reality that the characters have to deal with whether they understand them or not, which is how life is, really.

In Murakami’s latest,1Q84, a blockbuster that weighs in at 900 plus pages, there are plenty of mysteries, lots unsolved at the end (again, like life), but the story is anything but dreamy. The two central characters, Tengo and Aomame, are both caught up in dangerous missions, they both sense that they are in some kind of alternate world (the extra moon in the sky is a clue), and they are both trying to find each other before it is too late. There is an Orwellian subtext, but I have to admit, I didn’t think of it that much. The story itself pulls you in and keeps you engrossed until the end.

It’s a big book, and this is a short review, but I found this latest work of Murakami to be amazing. It was gripping, suspenseful, shocking, bizarre , and, finally, quite moving. After all, life can change quickly, a metaphorical second moon can appear in our skies at any moment and utterly change our version of the universe. And, in Murakami’s world, there are people who accept reality, whatever form it takes, and deal with it, and find that they can protect themselves, their inner selves and integrity, despite what outside forces seem to prevail. There is something rather beautiful in that.

posted in Books | 0 Comments

Why community service matters–a study in hair styles

It’s been a few months now of not having to attend school committee meetings since my term ended in January 2012. I’ve had a chance to reflect on the last eight years, specifically the reasons I ran, our accomplishments during my terms in office, and the work still to come. I first ran in 2003 because I felt needed and that I could make a difference. I remember thinking, my whole life up to that point seemed to have been in preparation for running. In some ways, it was true:  my education as a writer, my work experience in teaching and corporate communications, and most significantly, my activist role and leadership on the Citywide Parent Council—all helped shape me to become a successful candidate and then a member of the Lowell School Committee.

Serving on the school committee was draining, exhilarating, exhausting, and meaningful.  It aged  and inspired me.  I was honored to do the work. If I knew then what I know now, would I still have done it? Absolutely. There’s something to be said for 20/20 hindsight; certainly there were things I would have done differently—most of all,  I would not have taken myself so seriously.

Clearly, the biggest takeaway is what I learned and what I was able to contribute to my community by being involved.  Campaigning successfully for four terms tested my stamina, communication skills, and courage. Serving for eight years taught me how to build consensus, take public criticism, and persist in reaching my goals. Through it all, I modeled for my children what it means to be an active, contributing member of a community.

I’m not saying everyone must run for political office, but each one of us must find a way to contribute to a world outside ourselves and our families–not only because we’re needed, or because it will challenge us to  personal growth, or even because it will make a difference although it will–and all those reasons are valid. We step outside our safe circle and get involved because that is how we connect to others and a purpose beyond ourselves, and that is how we make meaning of our short time here.

Below is a snapshot of a video created by Jack Pinard, at LHS Channel 22, to commemorate that service. If you can get past the crazy and varied hair styles of the last eight years, you can see me—one woman trying to make a difference. I urge you to find your way to do the same.

posted in Campaign, Local Politics, school committee | 0 Comments

Campaigning uses all your skills

Running for a local seat often requires a candidate with communication skills that go beyond simply being able to stand in front of an audience and deliver pithy sound bites. In addition to being a good public speaker, a local candidate must have the skills to write and design their own print, online and broadcast campaign materials, the funds to pay others to create their copy, or a campaign staffer who can do it.

Fortunately for me, my entire career has been focused on writing using creative communication as a tool for personal branding, information and marketing, so this aspect of being a local candidate was a natural fit. It also helped that Margaret, my campaign manager, was a gifted writer, editor and graphics designer. Together, we put together some quality campaign materials.

Over the years, my favorite ones to write and produce were the radio ads. Several times, we did mini skits with children around various themes connected to education and my candidacy. When my daughter was in the fourth grade, she performed an entire radio ad, which I wrote, that went something like this: “Many of my friends will tell you the schools would be better if we got out early, had less homework, and spent more time playing instead of learning. Thank goodness, my friends aren’t old enough to vote! They don’t understand that Jackie Doherty is working hard to make our schools better at teaching us what we need to learn…. Vote for Jackie Doherty and you’ll be making a great choice.  I should know; she’s my mom!” Jovanna was fantastic.

My latest radio venture was to change the words of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” to fit my candidacy and focus. (Writing the lyrics was a new challenge.) I called it “Somewhere Over Mill City” and my dear, college friend Martha sang it for me. I taped the below video on my porch, so the sound quality does not come close to when she sang it at the WCAP studio and it aired on the radio.

posted in Campaign, Local Politics | 0 Comments


I just got back from voting for Eileen Donoghue and heard that turnout is pretty low today. Then I received a timely email reminding me that the right to vote for women was once a hotly-contested issue. This was one of those forwarded emails that I typically don’t bother to open, but it was very well done with photos of suffragettes and a description of how hard they had to fight and the abuse they put up with – being beaten, jailed, vilified and threatened with institutionalization for insanity! The email reminds us that it was only 90 years ago that women finally prevailed and were allowed to vote; it also describes the “night of terror,” November 15, 1917, when 33 women were jailed for picketing Woodrow Wilson’s White House. The warden gave his men permission to teach the women a lesson, resulting in horrendous abuse. The friend who wrote this email mentions a movie starring Hilary Swank, Iron Jawed Angels, which she says is a must-see to give us all some “shock therapy” and a needed reminder of the importance of voting. She adds:

one of the leaders, Alice Paul, embarked on a hunger strike, they tied her to a chair, forced a tube down her throat and poured liquid into her until she vomited. She was tortured like this for weeks until word was smuggled out to the press.

So, refresh my memory. Some women won’t vote this year because – why, exactly? We have carpool duties? We have to get to work? Our vote doesn’t matter? It’s raining?

So, let’s all vote for ourselves, for our daughters and for those women who fought so hard and were so brave. A doctor who was asked to declare one of the leaders insane countered that she wasn’t crazy, but brave, adding, “Courage in women is often mistaken for insanity.”

posted in State Concerns, Women's issues | 0 Comments

School board decides whether to spend or save while city manager spins

The Lowell School Committee will meet tonight to discuss, among other things, what to do with new $4.8 federal money earmarked for the education of Lowell’s children (Obama’s Education Jobs Funds). The meeting will be televised live at 7 p.m. on cable channel 10 (also available on streaming video through LTC). Today’s Sun has an article highlighting the board’s finance subcommittee meeting on the issue where school administrators recommended saving the $4.8 million because the district will face a $9.5 million hole next spring when it plans its budget for the school year ending in 2012. That prediction is based on fixed cost increases (health insurance, step and lane changes) as well as the loss of one-time funds used to balance the current budget (stimulus money primarily, but also savings due to a lease reduction and contract settlement). The predicted $9.5 million gap in next year’s budget (FY 2012) assumes level funding from the city and state.

Meanwhile, this morning on WCAP Radio, City Manager Bernie Lynch discussed the city’s position regarding its allocation last spring of an additional $1.17 million to the schools. The budget for the current school year (FY 2011) was based on a total cash contribution of $16.6 million from the city that included the additional $1.17 million allocated last spring. According to the city, that $1.17 million was based on pension reform that has not resulted in the expected savings. Lynch’s point on the radio this morning (as I heard it) was that the schools should use the federal money now to let the city off the hook until next spring… (When presumably the city will provide additional funds for education???) This part was never clearly stated.

It’s interesting framing, and you’ve got to hand it to Lynch’s skill as a “spin doctor” that he takes the city’s $266 million operating budget, which included new jobs, raises, and no layoffs on the municipal side, and attributes the additional $1.17 million earmarked for the schools as being under-funded. Last night, CFO Tom Moses told the school board that from the outset, the manager indicated savings from pension reform was how he would fund the education earmark; he also noted that the city has other options to meet the funding requirement, such as raising taxes….

Either way, it’s spinning at the genius level. Despite 17 straight years of under-funding education and only a very recent history of actually making its minimum contribution to its schools (the FY 2011 commitment exceeds state requirements for the first time ever), it appears the city manager would now like to delay that commitment, make it look like taxes are going up because of the schools, or at the very worst, renege on it completely…And on that issue, I’ve got a spin of my own–more on that later.

posted in Local Politics, Money Matters, school committee | 2 Comments

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