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The Nation: NEW ENGLAND TURNING INWARD

4 minute read
TIME

From Boston Bureau Chief David Wood:

The beatings, the stonings and the angry demonstrations that accompanied school desegregation all seem to be behind. Where there was hatred, there now is relief and a rising sense of vitality. The South Boston Marshalls, which once fought against school busing, now run afterschool athletic programs. Luxury apartments and a hotel may be built near the places where motorcycle cops once roared into angry crowds to separate blacks and whites. “I feel hopeful about the city,” said Jerry Carey, a white social worker. “There is, overall, less paranoia, wider horizons.”

Nowhere was this new spirit more evident than on Boston Common on New Year’s Eve, when 65,000 people, summoned by the pealing of church bells, gathered to celebrate together. There were fireworks, a gigantic spinning globe with thousands of tiny lights, and a parade of celebrants wearing costumes, carrying giant puppets on poles and brandishing homemade noisemakers. “It was incredible,” said an organizer. “All kinds of people, all having a great time in the freezing cold, the whole thing organized and paid for not by the city but by the people themselves.”

There is a similar lowering of voices—and turning inward—elsewhere in New England. One sign is the sharp decline in the number of letters to the editors of newspapers. Said Roger Linscott, associate editor of the Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, Mass.: “It’s not apathy. People are involved in public affairs, but it’s all local, at-home stuff.” Town meetings in rural Amherst, N.H., have drawn overflow, boisterous crowds to debate how to limit the community’s growth. Hundreds of demonstrators have virtually halted plans to build a nuclear power plant at Seabrook, N.H.

The concern with local and private affairs shows up in other ways. On a typical Saturday morning, hordes of homeowners stagger out of local lumberyards with loads of paneling, paint and bathroom fixtures for some do-it-yourself remodeling. A surge in family outings has helped to produce a boom in downhill and cross-country skiing and in ice skating.

Despite these rosy-cheeked, Currier & Ives scenes, there are many disconcerting signs of ill health. The long-term shift of money, jobs and population away from New England continues, leaving behind a disproportionate number of the elderly and the poor. Still, New Englanders do not have a sense that their problems cannot be solved, only that the answers have not yet been found. Said Mary Newman, regional director for the Department of Health, Education and Welfare: “People are not scared, just confused.” Added Hartford, Conn., Mayor George Athanson: “People want the buck to stop with them. They want to have something to say for a change. All you gotta do is show them how to do it.” New Englanders want Carter to supply this missing ingredient—which may be asking quite a bit.

Isaac Graves, a young black ombudsman for Boston, suggests that Carter call for a people’s crusade, “for something tangible like rehabilitating housing.” Economist Richard Syron of the Federal Reserve Bank in Boston welcomes Carter’s “awareness of regional differences.” He hopes that the new President will take steps to increase business investment and stabilize the region’s high energy costs. To Harvard Social Psychologist Thomas Pettigrew, the most important task confronting Carter will be to provide a national sense of idealism. Says Pettigrew: “The country might be relieved; we haven’t had much idealism lately.”

Some New Englanders see a parallel between this pre-Inaugural period and the one that preceded John Kennedy’s presidency. Said Williams College Historian James MacGregor Burns: “In 1961 people were waiting and not knowing what would happen. They didn’t expect much from Kennedy. But his big impact came with his Inaugural speech. Only a remarkable address [by Carter], followed by a pretty consistent sense of direction and action, will begin to impress people.” On the other hand, Burns warned, people may be less receptive now than they were 16 years ago—”there is a general distrust of Government, a general malaise, a profound skepticism.” Franklin Roosevelt may have been right, noted Burns, when he observed that the American people can be moved only once in a generation.

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