Bernie, Garrison, LittleHands & the Rainbow Toilet: My Top Blog Posts for 2016

It’s Top Ten List season, and how can I refuse?  Yet  out of more than 130 blog posts, how can I choose? 

One way is to do it by the numbers: And the clear #1 on that score went up on February 12. It called out  the slighting comments made by Congressman & civil rights legend John Lewis about Sen. Bernie Sanders, in the thick of a hard-fought primary struggle with Hillary Clinton.

I revere John Lewis; but the post also stood up for Sanders’ activist record as a college student — not as a movement hero or leader, but as one of many who did his bit, took his lumps, and had been a loyal ally for fifty-plus years since.

The post must have touched a nerve. Within about 36 hours it had more than 12000 views and had been forwarded too many times to count. And maybe its message made a difference; anyway, Lewis soon “clarified” and softened his statement, in the interest of “unity.” 
Further, this spike in readership pushed the total blog views over the 100,000 mark, a landmark important to me. If the post hadn’t quite gone “viral,” it had at least become contagious.

The #2 post in hits also dealt with a public figure, radio host Garrison Keillor, who retired in July from his “Prairie Home Companion” after more than forty years of weekly broadcasts. The piece disclosed what I regard as two “secrets” about him that I had discovered in almost as many years as a fan. 

One “secret” was genuinely unknown, and the other was gleaned from a forgotten monologue in a show he did in late 1990. That both had to do with war and peace was in one sense sheer serendipity, but in another it was quite revealing about life in the decades we lived through on rather parallel tracks. I’m not surprised it garnered a lot of reader interest.

For #3 through #6, how could I pass by Quakers, whose past, present & uncertain future have been the blog’s bread (gluten free) & butter? Much work went into covering this “beat,” particularly the internal travail of a few yearly meetings. 

All that is in the record, but I feel little urge to rehash them here. Is that because more “worldly tumults and commotions” (to borrow a euphemism that cropped up in many old minute books) currently make our intramural spats look petty & puny by contrast? 

I’ll leave that query hanging. 

In the meantime, a post from last May (err, Fifth Month), on “A Quaker Memorial Day,” drew an unexpectedly large readership, without mentioning these recent troubles. The post tracks the long, difficult ordeal of Jesse Buckner, a Carolina Quaker who said no to war in 1862, in the form of the Confederate army draft.

Repeatedly imprisoned, subject to forced labor, Jesse stuck to his (no) guns, and managed to survive the war and then live quietly afterward. I expect Jesse would be surprised and reluctant to be recalled as an example; but his story loomed large for me, amid the “worldly tumults and commotions” when I found it.

Another exemplary figure rose from the still smoking ashes of North Carolina Yearly Meeting (FUM), the long, unedifying self-immolation of which has been a regular topic here. A longtime pastor, Willie Frye was supposed to have been sidelined and forgotten, due to a witness that repeatedly proved unpopular among its reactionary leading circles.

Willie Frye

Instead, he left a paper trail which has begun to emerge which offers, not vengeance, but eloquent vindication. In the face of repeated rebuke, Willie  preached and practiced Quaker convictions, once traditional here but now widely and openly scorned, about racial equality, the rejection of militarism and war, and then, when life brought new lessons, the inclusion of gays and lesbians as equals too. I was gratified to find the evidence of this suppressed witness, and grateful to begin bringing some of it to light.

Scorned tradition: “A lifelong Friend but never a pacifist.” Headstone at New Garden Friends Meeting, Greensboro NC.

And speaking of traditional convictions banished, the matter of race came up again in major posts about The Ku Klux Klan, which both explored the many shocking connections between it, in its 1920s second heyday, and Quakers, and the equally unnerving survival of its key agenda items, long after the Klan’s eclipse as an organization, and their deep influence on the 2016 presidential campaign (& its still-unfolding aftermath).

For #6 and #7, there’s the local issue that refused to go away, North Carolina’s notorious Bathroom Bill. My comments were the merest wisp of foam on a surging ocean of deserved ridicule of a state that is overall not nearly this bad, but is presently captive to elements that know no shame and have routed reason.

This saga began with the perniciously absurd, descended through worldwide humiliation, and now hovers somewhere near complete disgrace and degradation. And yet it remains, like ordure stepped in by, alas, all of us here, fouling the air with every step and leaving malodorous footprints  wherever we go

A post from mid-year worked to get behind the outward panic & hysteria of its advocates, and examine their underlying (mis)interpretation of selected biblical texts into a divine mandate for discrimination. (really, friends, the Bible is better than that.)

And then, despite its continuing heavy costs, this story has also had its more colorful moments: as in the tale of the Rainbow Toilet, an art object bestowed on the (now departing) governor’s lawn.

Looking beyond our state borders to more substantive matters for #8, much attention was paid to the struggle of American Indian groups at Standing Rock in North Dakota, against a pipeline which was planned to cross lands sacred to them. Through the fall and into the harsh Dakota winter, Standing Rock became a place of pilgrimage for activists of many colors and backgrounds.

It was not in the cards for me to travel there; but in mid-autumn l found some neglected information about it, and a little-known “security company” named TigerSwan operating there. 

This company had Carolina connections which I had learned about in other work, and its role in Dakota carried large significance. The exploration of these connections became what may have been the most important post on the blog this year: “Standing Rock, TigerSwan & the Dawn of Officially Occupied America.”

Why do I think it was important? For one thing, it had immediate impact, gathering more than a thousand hits and many repostings in barely a day, at a pace which could soon have equaled the record-setting “Lewis & Bernie” post months earlier.

The other reason I think it was important is that someone took the trouble to hack it on the second day, and plunged the entire blog into the internet’s outer darkness for almost a week. When we managed to revive the site, that post was gone: completely disappeared from it, like an amputated & cremated limb.

So I never did get to Standing Rock, but paid some dues there anyway. And with this post, made a contribution too.

We managed to reconstruct  and re-post the piece; and more important, the protectors at Standing Rock won a great (if not yet fully assured) success. Yet the post is still worth reader attention, because –as the hackers likely knew– its implications range far beyond the bluffs and hills of Dakota.

The November election, which I prefer to call The Earthquake, continues to dominate news & punditry, and I’d prefer not to close by adding to it.

But a couple of posts may be worth mentioning in passing: #9: “The A-Team: Pundits Who DID SEE Trump Coming.” This is a short list, and could be expanded a bit, but not by much. For let it never be forgotten that in 2016, we saw not only the rise of “post-truth” and “fake news,” but also the utter & repeated failure of those whom we have regarded as wise, prescient & expert in matters of politics & policy.

Yet as with all such generalizations, there are honorable exceptions. I say we need to keep in mind those who showed foresight and  cogency, because in the months to come, we’ll need sound counsel more than ever. (And to this list from last summer, I would now add a few more, such as Michael Moore. You are welcome to suggest others.)

One other person of  eminent wisdom is featured in #10: Ms. Hazel from next door. Her brief but telling  Message from The Day After still resonates, as do those of the floral chorus that echoed her words.

Happy New Year.


Ms. Hazel’s post-election rose.


One thought on “Bernie, Garrison, LittleHands & the Rainbow Toilet: My Top Blog Posts for 2016”

  1. And Happy New Year to you, Chuck Fager, with thanks and congratulations on the informative, provocative and impactful Year you have had!

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