Connections: A Fighting Mood

We are, as the proverb would have it, definitely living in interesting times

East Hamptoners, both full and part time, are in a heightened political frame of mind these days, which doesn’t seem to be quite so true in Southampton. This may be due to the Democratic primary that took place on Tuesday, while there was none next door. 

Evidence of passionate political concern can be found in the marches held here in protest of  various actions of the Trump administration. It also can be found among the rank-and-file Democrats in a group known as East Hampton Resist and Replace. 

Similar groups sprang up from coast to coast after the inauguration, spurred in part by the wallop Democrats took in the election and in part by many Americans’ growing sense of horror that the institutions of our democracy — from the independent judiciary to the free press — were under attack. It wasn’t just Facebook memes that helped spread what might be considered a movement, it was the rise of energized political action commitees (like PAC for a Change, whose logo is a pair of boxing gloves) and “resistance” groups of all stripes. Here on the East End, there are now quite a few resistance organizations, both new and simply newly focused, including Indivisible Riverhead (now Indivisible East End), the loose coalition of folks based around a Facebook page called Let’s Visit Lee Zeldin, and Progressive East End Reformers, a.k.a. PEER/NYPAN.

East Hampton Resist and Replace was brought together by David Posnett, a retired physician who lives in Springs. The group has grown rapidly and is currently working to get second-home owners to register to vote here. The idea, which grew on social media over the last year, is that if enough new voters are Democrats, they could outnumber the First District’s Republican majority. That would be an extraordinary feat, given the district’s demographics and given that Mr. Zeldin won election by more than 58 percent of the vote. But these activists do not seem deterred.

Further evidence of the populace’s mood was on display at Guild Hall this summer with full houses at its Hamptons Institute programs on “The Trump Presidency and the Constitution” and “The New Normal in News: Ideology vs. Fact,” as well as one on climate change. Applause and questions expressed the boisterous audiences’ opinions.

And then came a reading at the John Drew Theater of Guild Hall on Saturday night of excerpts from the transcripts of hearings in the 1940s and ’50s by the House Un-American Activities Committee. The program, titled “Are You Now or Have You Ever Been?” was sold out more than a week in advance, which has to tell you something. 

The well-heeled audience, and by that I mean fashionably dressed, may have been drawn to the event because James Earl Jones, Matthew Broderick, and other well-known actors were among the some 25 members of the cast doing the readings, but their interest in today’s politics came over loud and clear.

Josh Gladstone, the artistic director of the John Drew who worked with the actor Harris Yulin to bring the production here, was also in the cast, having some pertinent lines from the director Elia Kazan’s testimony before the committee. Mr. Kazan had appeared once, refusing to answer questions, but changed his mind and asked to appear again. This time, he explained, as Josh read, “I want to tell you everything.” Kazan was widely condemned for naming eight men and women as having been members, as he had, of a Communist wing of the Group Theatre, which the committee had targeted. Regardless of what evidence may or many not have been presented, many of those named lost their livelihoods, reputations, and, in some cases, even their lives.

Kazan, however, avoided being blacklisted and went on to direct some of Hollywood’s most enduring films. Condemnation followed him throughout his life, as the anti-Communist madness subsided, even reaching Main Street, East Hampton, when a longtime activist stood outside Guild Hall with a placard protesting Mr. Kazan’s appearance there years later.

We are, as the proverb would have it, definitely living in interesting times. I don’t know which way the wind will blow, but it is obvious that the nation and the world are at a historic turning point. Some days, when I hear of the ways in which new media can connect us and can provide a bulwark against oppression, I think that’s a blessing. But most days, when some fresh horror — whether brutal evidence of climate change or unabashed acts of hatred against minorities — is in the headlines, I feel these Interesting Times are indeed a curse.