I Stand With You by Hayley Fife

Multiplicity Commons No. 7

Posted Posted in Blog, Multiplicity Commons

I Stand with You

by Hayley Fife

Growing up, I never imagined I would have to post #BLM to help fight for my Black friends. As an 18-year-old member of Generation Z, I didn’t think that in my lifetime, we would still be fighting for equal rights. I haven’t participated in a protest. I still live with my mom and she doesn’t want me going, although she supports the movement. But as much as I can, I’ve been sharing photos, links, and messages of support on social media. I try to talk about Black Lives Matter as much as possible in classes and with friends and family. I vote.

When George Floyd was killed by police in Minneapolis, my heart broke for the Black community. I felt ashamed to know that they felt unsafe around white people, especially around police, who should make us feel safe. I’m even more ashamed that so many of these officers keep getting away with murder. When I think about my Black friends getting pulled over, it scares me. I worry about their safety, about them getting yelled at, about being thrown out of their car simply because they’re Black. Seeing police on video hurting innocent people shines a light on the injustice going on under our noses. Real change needs to happen very soon. It needs to happen now.

Sometimes I want to scream about it. The pain Black people feel is real. The hurt they are expressing is real. The fear in their body is real. How dare people say BLM is for publicity, as if Black people choose to be killed. Police are “blue” 40 hours a week; Black people are targets 24/7, 365 days a year. My Black friends carry fear around like it’s normal. But it’s not normal to fear for your life when getting pulled over. When the men in blue kneel on the necks of innocent men you love—Black fathers, husbands, brothers, sons—in the street while their actions are recorded. They kneel on your rights. Shoot up your houses while you’re sleeping. Throw tear gas into your peaceful protests.

Do all cops act this way? No. But the ones that do get away with it.

I’m not Black, but I stand with you.

About the Writer

Hayley Fife is an 18-year-old college student at Bay Path University majoring in forensic psychology. She has always had an interest in writing—and in social justice. She fully supports the BLM movement because “all lives don’t matter until Black lives do, too.”

Holding Vigil for George Floyd by Cindy Stewart

Multiplicity Commons No. 6

Posted Posted in Blog, Multiplicity Commons

Holding Vigil for George Floyd

by Cindy Stewart

Holding Vigil for George Floyd by Cindy Steward

Under a nine-foot bronze statue of Mahatma Gandhi at the

Pacifist Memorial in Sherborn, Massachusetts

Eight middle-aged women                  held space for the

life of George Floyd.

When he cried out for his mama as his

neck was being crushed          we were

beckoned. He was our

son. In silent vigil we stood at the

edge of the street                                 and held

pictures of his face no longer gracing our earth.

We held him in our

hearts as we                            held every other

Black person who has lost their

one precious life.                    We circled the

Victims of Violence stone and spoke

words to the universe of the

injustice of his death and of our         having to hold

vigil for a senseless loss, once again.

Through our fury                                we wept.

About the Writer

Cindy Stewart works with adults with special needs at The Life Experience School. She is the mother of three amazing adult children and a student in the MFA in Creative Nonfiction program at Bay Path University. Cindy lives and writes on a small farm outside Boston.

Multiplicity Commons No. 5

Posted Posted in Blog, Multiplicity Commons


by Kamil Czyz

Flight by Kamil Czyz

Cop’s knee on his neck,
phones bore witness while he pleaded,
but we stood back,
obeying the badge.
Believing the pledge.

The next day,
unyielding, unmovable rage.
We overflowed streets with fury
and fire,
a pageant of soot and angst,
a sacrifice of torched cars and golden buildings
to cleanse the shame.
Glittering posts, photos of unintended violence,
unquenchable wrath.

Then, washing lines blossom,
a unison of face masks and angry t-shirts
whispering in the wind, quiet.

About the Writer

Kamil Czyz was born and raised in Olsztyn, Poland and now lives and writes in Gdańsk. His poetry has been published in Coffin Bell Journal, with forthcoming work to appear in Chitro Magazine and The Dead Mule.

Speaking Up, Finally by Susan Barry-Schulz

Multiplicity Commons No. 4

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Speaking Up, Finally

by Susan Barry-Schulz

Speaking Up, Finally by Susan Barry-Schulz

I am by no means an expert on racial justice issues. I grew up in a mostly white town and moved to another mostly white town in the Hudson Valley region of New York State with my husband and our newborn daughter 25 years ago. Not long ago I would have considered myself a “nice” person who “treats everyone the same” and left it at that. Coming of age in the northern suburbs of Buffalo in the 1970s and 80s, I was socialized to avoid any discussions that could cause discomfort or tension. But in recent years I have found myself belatedly driven to answer this question: What does it really mean to be white in America?

There are many people much smarter than I am who have long pointed out that the key to making real progress on the problem of racism in this country lies in the willingness of white people to honestly consider and acknowledge the answer to that question. I don’t know why it took me so long to ask it.

After reading Debby Irving’s Waking Up White, I continued to explore the concept of whiteness as a racial identity in America by reading books on race theory and racism, including Ijeoma Oluo’s So You Want to Talk About Race and Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between The World and Me. I listened to podcasts such as Scene on Radio’s Seeing White and attended lectures by speakers directly addressing these issues. But as a poet myself, I found it just as important to read literature and poetry by people of color. Which writers are included in our school curriculums? Whose voices are we not hearing? How do we challenge the ideas of what is considered literature? Who makes these decisions?

As I read, listened, and reflected, it became more and more apparent to me that our nation’s past and current policies have a direct impact on opportunities for equal access to loans, housing, healthcare, fair pay, education, criminal justice, and representation in the arts—all rights and benefits that I, a white person in America, have had the privilege of taking for granted. Until now. It has been painful to recognize the ways in which I, through silence and inaction, have been complicit in the systemic racism that persists in this country and that continues to hold all of us back from reaching our full potential as a society. There is, however, no progress to be made, no benefit to anyone in centering my discomfort.

At the Democratic National Convention in August, Kamala Harris said, “Years from now, when this moment has passed, our children and our grandchildren will look in our eyes and ask us, ‘Where were you when the stakes were so high?’ And we will tell them, not just how we felt, but what we did.”

I am hoping I can do better and the first thing I must do is to speak up. Even—especially—when it is uncomfortable.

About the Writer

Susan Barry-Schulz is a poet and licensed physical therapist. Her poetry has appeared in The Five-Two, The Wild Word, SWWIM, Shooter Literary Magazine, Barrelhouse online, South Florida Poetry Journal, The New Verse News, Panoply, and elsewhere. She is a member of the Hudson Valley Writer’s Center and lives in a lake neighborhood in Putnam County, New York with her husband and one or more of her three adult children. It all depends.

Black Lives Matter: Two Poems

Multiplicity Commons No. 3

Posted Posted in Blog, Multiplicity Commons

It Took One Week

by Ramon Jimenez

It only took a week for people
to come out of quarantine into the streets of Seattle
mustering the will to face baton beatings
and gas blasting through the nighttime sky.

Police officers armed to the teeth
with military grade artillery,
and a confused National Guard
stalking every corner of downtown.

Useless against the rage of 400 years.

The local news stations of Kiro, Komo, and King 5
Replayed only the images of looting and rioting,
more focused on storefronts
than Black and Brown lives lost in broad daylight.

Even the mayor was spellbound.
Taking a knee
Giving out a couple of hugs
her lovely liberal city
burning before us all.

About the Writer

Ramon Jimenez is a writer and educator who resides in Seattle, Washington. Originally from Inglewood, California, he now teaches language arts and runs a summer youth poetry program. He writes poetry that focuses on immigration, culture, and travel, and is interested in exploring locations and how they connect to memories.

Crying for Water City by Amy Stonestrom

Multiplicity Commons No. 2

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Crying for Water City

by Amy Stonestrom

Crying for Water City by Amy Stonestrom

A strong gust of wind rattles the windows and shakes the house with such force that I wonder if I need to gather my chicks and hurry to the basement.

Then nothing. All is calm.

Minutes later I jolt in my chair at the sound of firecrackers pop, pop, popping in our front yard. Firecrackers? It’s only late May. From the next room I hear my son’s deep, calm voice.

“The tree fell.”

“The tree?” I’m envisioning the small flowering crab with the skinny trunk. Fine, I think.

“Mom, the tree fell,” my son says again, and now we’re both rushing to the front door. There it is, lying almost at our feet. Our enormous red maple, Acer rubrum, split in two. One half stands upright, the other half covers the yard. The top of the canopy lies just short of our living room window.

Last fall, the blaze of the collective foliage was so beautiful it caused an ache just behind my rib cage. I feel the same ache now, knowing I will never again witness this display.

Split in half.

Just like each one of us right now.

Drew says what I am thinking: “It’s because of the protests and riots.”

Red has survived countless blizzards, spring storms, and straight-line winds but it would not stand while Minneapolis fell.

We now live 20 miles from downtown, separated by one state line and two great rivers. Today, I long for our old neighborhoods in Minneapolis and St. Paul. We still call them home, will always call them home. The Twin Cities. Conjoined but not identical.

Each time I close my eyes, I hear Mr. Floyd cry out beneath the unyielding knee. I see the burned-out buildings, the supremacist instigators. I taste the justified anger.

The land of ten thousand lakes, now a waterfall of tears.  

Drew and I walk carefully among the fallen branches. I want to cradle each newly opened bud in my cupped hands. Together we approach the gaping wound in the trunk, previously hidden from view. Giant ants climb through the oozing sickness. Disease and decay found their way to the center while we weren’t looking. Or maybe we choose not to see it. I step closer and gag from the stench. I wonder if we could have stopped this destruction had we treated the wound sooner.

Split in half.

Just like each one of us right now.

About the Writer

Amy Stonestrom’s essays have appeared in Brevity, Superstition Review, Defunkt, Storm Cellar Quarterly, Parhelion and others. Her work has won awards from the National League of American Pen Women and Street Light Magazine’s memoir/essay contest. Currently an MFA candidate in Bay Path University’s creative nonfiction program. You can find her at amystonestrom.com.

Social Justice Today by Aprell May

Multiplicity Commons No. 1

Posted Posted in Blog, Multiplicity Commons

Social Justice Today

by Aprell May

Breonna Taylor. Delano Walker Jr. Dominic May. Mark Scalise. Lenny Brown. Benjamin Schoolfield. Sandra Bland. Rodney King. Melvin Jones. George Floyd. Ramona Africa. John Africa. Emmett Till. Colin Kaepernick. Darryl Moss. Philando Castile. Atatiana Koquice Jefferson. Kendrick Johnson. Ahmaud Arbery. Eric Garner. Ramsey Orta. Vauhxx Booker. Tamir Rice. Treyvon Martin. Botham Jean. Amadou Diallo. Fitzroy Gayle. Terence Dickerson. Michall Brown. Elijah McCain. Nelson Mandela. Angela Davis. Frank Embree. Daniel Prude. Tamron Hall. Leroy Martinez. Emmanuel Mumford.

As I reflect on these names of people living and dying with injustice, I am both sad and strengthened. I am sad for the bloodshed. I am sad for loss. I am sad for the pain and hurt suffered by the families of every human being on this incomplete list. Torn-apart families and communities for centuries on end. Each family missing parents, siblings, extended family, and friends. Their names are a representation of missing memories, of lost love and family traditions. Some names belong to my family. Some to my friends.

I am sad because of the number of the commenters on public news forums who seem indifferent to systematic oppression. Some of them saying that capital punishment without a jury is okay for misdemeanor crimes. Death being served with a warrant, as in Breonna’s case. Our people are still told to “get over it,” while our flesh is being crucified each day. How do we get over the first ones, tied and chained, the ones who did not make it off the coast? Those who were thrown off the ship? Those who chose death at the bottom of the Atlantic? How do we get over it now, when CBS News reports that more than 160 Black people in our country have been killed by police this year alone?

And yet I am strengthened to see my community stand up at protests. I am strengthened to see that, contrary to propaganda, people aren’t only crabs in the bucket, pulling their neighbors down, but some are lifting as they climb. Classmates creating art. Bosses sending out sincere emails telling staff to check on their Black coworkers. High-school teens organizing large protests amidst a pandemic. I am strengthened to see social justice groups forming all over the country. My cousin in East Hampden organized a social justice committee whose mission is to let the town know that “a knee is not enough” for some of its citizens.

I am encouraged when I see white moms banding arms because they were summoned when George called for his mom. Or the white man yelling, “white bodies to the front,” at the Springfield Black Lives Matter protest. Or the hearing-impaired girl who stood in front of me while we waited for the Springfield Police Department to take a knee in solidarity. She waited all night by herself and into morning to no avail. Professors creating political art and the president of my university attending a Juneteeth program.

I am strengthened to see the resilient people who hold values in social justice and equality.

I am strengthened to see this generation fighting for civil rights by “owning their now.”

About the Writer

Aprell May is currently a graduate student, completing her final year in the MFA in Creative Nonfiction at Bay Path University. A tribal member of the Native American Inter-Tribal Council of Western Massachusetts, she interns at the Springfield Library and Museums in collaboration with a collector to create a living community exhibit in the Native American Hall. She contributes to Bay Path’s Network News, the Voices of Resilience, and the Women on the Move conference. Aprell is at work on her first memoir, Classic Fly.

Quick Work No. 6

Quick Work No. 6

Posted Posted in Blog
Quick Work: Short Takes on Epic Truths

Here, in micro-flash nonfiction, writers make quick work of compelling stories.

Leading up to Multiplicity‘s second themed issue, we present five short takes on work and working. If you enjoy these bite-sized stories, check back for the feast of essays, profiles and poems in “Work,” launching online on November 18, 2020.


by Kara Knickerbocker

Sometimes I miss how solidly I walked in those steel-toe boots. I wore splotches of oil on my denim jeans and felt like art in my own body as I moved through the garage.

One scorching day that July, we three girls took our lunch break to get ice cream. Then we drove a little further, pulled the truck into a secluded field, rolled up our long jeans and stripped down into sports bras to even our tans. I remember the laughter stretching to the sky, how carefree in our double-scoop-sweet lives we were then.

Work Is Not Cancelled

by Marla Zlotnick

We are four people in tight quarters, donning masks and gloves at all times. There’s me, seasoned, focused, though not lacking in humor. There’s the polyamorous goth millennial regaling us with sexual escapades; the rock climbing childhood cancer survivor with a compulsion to hand feed chipmunks;  the middle-aged manager addicted to the phone.

Rules of quarantine are abbreviated. Physical distancing is impossible, afflicted employees cause temporary premises shutdowns for decontamination. But in Specialty Pharmacy, there’s no option for work from home. We prepare and deliver prescriptions to the vulnerable and underserved.

What’s essential is that they are not forgotten.

A Caddy and Death

by Ursula Saqui

My boss is impeccably dressed for the long drive to our monthly meeting. I’m in the passenger’s seat with a hole in my pantyhose, wiggling nonchalantly to unstick my exposed thigh from the Caddy’s leather.

On today’s agenda, we have a split penis, an exploded stomach, and a suicide.

I’m a state-contracted mortality review specialist, and after six years and over 2,000 cases, I feel relieved when people in their 80s just quietly pass away.

Overall, I hold up well watching people die on paper, until I break the cardinal rule of looking up their obituaries. Then I cry.

Financial Advice

by Meryl Baer

You’re withdrawing money from your IRA for your granddaughter’s breast implants?

You want to buy a penny stock because your daughter’s boyfriend’s father said it was a good deal?

You’re going to pay taxes and penalties on an early IRA withdrawal so you can take a cruise?

Your son told you the country’s financial system will collapse so you have to take out all your money, and he says don’t worry, he’ll take care of it for you?

So many times, I wanted to scream, “ARE YOU NUTS?”

But I could not.

Home Office, No Office

by Lilve García

I want to flirt with the idea that I am a full-time writer.
Sitting at my desk uninterrupted for a couple of hours, at least.
A cup of tea at hand, next to warm toast with cinnamon and honey. A soft, almost inaudible
Tibetan melody in the background. The beautiful flame tree of my neighbors displaying a full
bloom out my window. But then, five minutes later, my reality check. The little voice behind
the door, calling mama, that reminds me I am precisely the designated food provider of three
Charybdis. A full-time mom playing with words.

About the Writers

Kara Knickerbocker is the author of The Shedding Before the Swell and Next to Everything That is Breakable. She lives in Pennsylvania and writes with the Madwomen in the Attic. Find her online at karaknickerbocker.com.

Ursula Saqui lives in the Midwest with her family, where she is always cold and hates sitting still. She can be found almost everywhere @UrsulaSaqui, chatting about running, writing, and food.

Meryl Baer worked for a financial firm, eventually quit and moved to the New Jersey shore. Her recent stories have been published in Pomme Journal and Perspectives Magazine. Her blog, Beach Boomer Bulletin, is published at merylbaer.com.

Marla Zlotnick, a native of western Massachusetts, was happy to return home from Boston when she made a midlife career change from advertising to healthcare. Her contribution to Quick Work marks her first journal publication.

Lilve García is an emerging writer from the Dominican Republic who recently published her first volume of poetry, Poemas Tempranos. She has three kids, a degree in architecture, and an interest in science fiction.

The Quick Work series is curated by Multiplicity Contributing Editor, Kate Whouley.

Submissions to Quick Work are currently closed, but we always welcome submissions for Multiplicity Blog. More details here.

Her Town's Claim to a Kind of Fame by Suzanne Strempek Shea

Her Town’s Claim to a Kind of Fame

Posted Posted in Blog

By Suzanne Strempek Shea

I left home for college with the normal amount of angst about meeting new people.

I needn’t have wasted time fretting—I quickly found out I had an easy icebreaker.

“You’re from where?” strangers would ask.

“Palmer, Massachusetts.”

They’d nod blankly, as you do when meeting someone from a place you’ve never heard of but want to appear as if you have. Then they suddenly would stop: “Wait—why do I know that name?”

I learned to stand there and let them figure it out, which they usually did. They knew of my tiny Western Massachusetts town because since earliest memory they’d seen its name printed on the side of baby-blue cartons stashed beneath their bathroom sinks. My hometown, and its most famous product, had sneaked into their psyches.

Tampax. Palmer, Mass.

Actually, the location should have read “Three Rivers, Mass.,” the village in Palmer where the plant towered on a ledge beside the Chicopee River, 11 houses down from the one where I grew up.

I passed the place nearly every day of my young life. I cannot pinpoint when I realized the unusual and highly personal nature of the things made within those brick walls, but I have always felt a kinship with kids who grew up in the shadows of offbeat manufacturers.

I once met a guy whose town thrived because of a condom company, and a woman whose high school class partied next to a brassiere factory. As embarrassed teens, they, too, had lied when out-of-town dates asked what was made in that building over there, always giving an answer like “Shovels.” Brothers and sisters they were to me.

Tampax was just another part of my Main Street, part of the scenery, this huge structure with its odd series of angled roofs. For 55 years, it turned out feminine hygiene products, and took in several generations of employees who’d otherwise be commuting far and wide for work in our largely rural area. Their cars and trucks jammed the parking lot for all shifts. They busied Main Street, walking at lunch for a bite at Dominick’s or to errands at the drugstore or the bank.

Get a job at Tampax and you were set for life. After all, you were making something that was never going to go out of style.

Everybody I knew worked there, had once worked there, or knew it was possible to work there.

I spent three months at Tampax my first summer back from college, hunching from 7:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. at a noisy and lightning-fast packing machine, feeding into its ever-hungry maw the fashionably shaded purse containers that came free in every box and that offered a discreet way for customers to carry along a pair of products. When my machine froze, a stern Portuguese woman materialized with the right combination of impressive whacks and shoves to get those Super Pluses rolling freely once again.

On the way to lunch across the street, my line-neighbor Elmo and I stopped to admire the glass case displaying Tampax from around the world. The case held boxes labeled in languages of faraway places where the tampons had traveled and where we could only dream of visiting. Once a month, need ‘em or not, we were handed our employee bonus: a free box of 40.

The job also gave me a decent salary, a great reverence for those who do line work, and the determination to avoid it at all costs in the future. It cast a new light on my father, who, beginning in his teen years, had toiled in the filth of the Uniroyal tire factory on another rocky ledge 18 miles downriver. How could he do the same exact boring thing every single day, I found myself wondering for the first time.

“Everybody has to do something for work,” is how I remember him putting it. “I’m lucky to have a job.”

As was everybody I knew who worked at Tampax, who had once worked at Tampax, or who once had believed it would always be possible to work at Tampax.

I put that in the past tense because though tampons have not gone out of style, the small-town, old-style factory has. The first blow was a curious change in the company’s name, to “Tambrands.” Downsizing followed, ending the jobs of a couple of hundred people. Then in the summer of 1997 came word that the new owner, Procter & Gamble, would close the entire plant by year’s end. The futures of employees, their families and local businesses would be shaken, and the great building would sit empty and idle.

For the first time in 55 years, my town’s kids would have something in common with too many other kids across the country. They’d have a closed-down factory to pass.

Everybody has to do something for work. But when it comes to making tampons, and making a decent living, people wouldn’t be doing those somethings there any more.

And none of us in town will have the least bit of trouble telling anybody who asks just what goes on in that building over there on our quiet and deserted Main Street.

The answer will be simple and sad and true.


Author’s Note: A version of this essay was written for The Philadelphia Inquirer in 1997. The factory building breathes with new life now, as the Palmer Technology Center. Tenants include those who build motorcycle seats, move libraries nationwide, create artisanal chocolates and, most importantly, make it a place where people once again go to work.

About the Writer:
Suzanne Strempek Shea
writes nonfiction, fiction and journalism, and has authored 11 books. She is writer-in-residence and faculty member at Bay Path University, where she created the MFA program and leads its annual Summer Writing Seminar in Dingle, Ireland. Suzanne is the winner of the 2000 New England Book Award, which recognizes a body of work’s importance to the region. She has a special interest in working with those writing about trauma. Her freelance work has appeared in publications including Yankee, Down East, The Bark, Golf World, The Boston Globe, The Irish Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and ESPN the Magazine.

The Presidential Classroom by Kara Lynn Puskey-Noble

The Presidential Classroom

Posted Posted in Blog

By Kara Lynn Puskey-Noble

When life gets stressful, I go to the barn and clean stalls. Forking up manure, pushing around a loaded wheelbarrow, sweeping—caring for my livestock settles my mind and clears my head.

Between the pandemic and the election, I’ve needed to spend a lot of time there lately.

In the barn, I try not to think about the uncomfortable realities of the present or the bleak pronouncements about the future spouted by social media pundits. My mind wanders into the past. The current state of the present and the future makes even high school look good.

As a 17-year-old high school senior, I was always on the lookout for anything that might improve my chances of getting into college. When my history teacher announced a schoolwide competition to attend a weeklong national honors program in Washington DC called the Presidential Classroom for Young Americans, it caught my attention even though I wasn’t particularly interested in politics.

According to its mission statement, the Presidential Classroom offered the “best and brightest students unprecedented access to the federal government and the people who shape public policy.” Only four students would be selected from my high school and the competition was fierce. It was a longshot, but I applied anyway.

To my astonishment, in January 1979 I found myself standing in Washington National Airport, fresh off my first airplane flight, scanning the crowded terminal for somebody holding a sign that read Presidential Classroom.

Forty years later, most of the details of the trip are blurry. Only the biggest revelations and strongest emotions linger in my memory. Like the cute guy from Alabama who flirted with me at the opening reception in the ballroom of a glamorous Washington hotel. Meeting teenagers from all over the U.S. and its territories was exciting, but his big brown eyes and genteel drawl really impressed this New England Yankee.

At the same reception, I met Senator and astronaut John Glenn. I was so awestruck and tongue-tied, he had to prompt me to shake his hand and say hello.

I remember the thrill of seeing the real Constitution at the U.S. Archives—and being told it would automatically drop into a protective vault below it in the event of a nuclear attack.

Jimmy Carter’s White House looked as comfortable and reassuring as Mr. Rogers’s television living room. Even so, when we were allowed to peek into the Oval Office, my first thought was That’s where Nixon sat when he resigned. It was a relief to know those dark days were behind us.

As I stood beneath the magnificent dome of the Capitol Rotunda surrounded by statues of the luminaries of U.S. history, all I could think was that I was standing where they put Abraham Lincoln’s casket after he was assassinated. We were told that the catafalque, the wooden platform built to hold Lincoln’s coffin in 1865, had been used to support every coffin laid in the Rotunda since then. Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s casket was placed atop it when she became the first woman to lie in state in the Rotunda in September 2020.

I was furious when Massachusetts senior Senator, Ted Kennedy, blew off our scheduled meeting. “The Senator is very busy,” his staff said.

I was mollified when our Congressman, Silvio O. Conte, warmly welcomed me and my classmate, Christine, and led us onto the floor of the House of Representatives before it opened for the day’s session. We stood several rings into the chamber’s semicircles of polished wooden chairs gaping at the huge American flag behind the podium where Boston’s gruff Irish son, Tip O’Neill, presided as Speaker of the House.

“Someday, one of you might sit here,” Conte said quietly.

At Arlington National Cemetery, after watching the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, one of the boys asked about Vietnam and the Fall of Saigon in 1975. “That’s history,” said the officer assigned to supervise our visit. “We need to focus on the future.”

The Smithsonian’s new Air and Space Museum opened during the hoopla of the national bicentennial celebration in July 1976. Standing in front of its exhibit of the capsule from 1969’s Apollo 11 moon flight, my thoughts flashed back to my first meeting with my high school guidance counselor in ninth grade.

“What do you want to be in the future?” he asked me.

“I want to be astronaut,” I said. “I want to work for NASA.”

He frowned at me. “Girls can’t be astronauts,” he said. “Let’s talk about more realistic options. You could be a nurse or a teacher.”

The Presidential Classroom taught me I had other options. I could work to make laws that would change stupid rules like that.

One of our final trips of the program brought us to the Lincoln Memorial. We clustered around the spot at the top of its marble steps where contralto Marian Anderson sang to a crowd of 75,000 on April 9, 1939 after the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) refused to allow her to perform in Constitution Hall because she was black. Eleanor Roosevelt, outraged by the DAR’s actions, promptly quit the group and arranged an alternate concert venue.

Almost 25 years later, on August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech from the same spot.

Standing there shivering in the chilly January air with my Presidential Classmates, I felt sure I heard echoes of Anderson singing “My country tis of thee…of thee we sing.” I swore I could hear King say, “…even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream…a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.”

Leaning on a manure rake in my barn and thinking back on that trip, what I hear loudest now are two nagging questions.

Has my generation moved this country toward that dream or away from it? Have we made things better or worse?

Things have changed. In 1979, all nine Supreme Court Justices were male; now three of them are women. Back then, the 96th Congress had only 16 voting African American members. Today’s 116th Congress includes 56. We have more regulations, but less pollution; higher taxes, but fewer armed conflicts with other nations. We are still plagued by “isms”—racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, ageism—among others. We all know the economy is still a work in progress.

I’m not objective enough to judge whether we’ve driven this country forward or plunged it off the road into a ditch, but the more I stand in the barn and think about it, the more I share the opinion of Ben Franklin, who had a keen interest in agriculture and who mucked his share of manure. The Presidential Classroom, taught me how the 81-year-old Franklin addressed similar questions in his final speech before the Constitutional Convention on September 17, 1787:

“When you assemble…[People] to have the advantage of their joint wisdom, you inevitably assemble…their prejudices, their passions, their errors of opinion, their local interests, and their selfish views. From such an assembly can a perfect product be expected? It…astonishes me…[that] this system approaches so near to perfection as it does.”

We’re as diverse, passionate, and opinionated as the folks in Franklin’s day. We’re definitely as imperfect. But we’ve managed to keep the republic that is this “democratic experiment” going so far. Hopefully, if we keep shoveling, then forkful by forkful, we’ll get things cleaned up enough to truly realize the American dream.

About the Writer:
Kara Lynn Puskey-Noble
is a writer and editor whose work has appeared in publications ranging from textbooks and dictionaries to newspapers and magazines. She served as the editor for Merriam-Webster’s language question-and-answer column, “Take Our Word for It,” their public radio program “Word for the Wise” (WAMC, Albany, NY), and their online “Word of the Day” feature. Her equine-related stories have been published in Massachusetts Horse, Connecticut Horse, and The Competitive Equine. She holds a BA from Amherst College and an MFA in creative nonfiction from Bay Path University.