This column is written in the memory of Mr. Maurice Gumbs who passed away a few years ago. He was a friend, “big-brother”, mentor, and a harsh critic of mine (at times). Long before the advent of political blogging on the internet, Maurice had started publishing a local newspaper in Brooklyn: the objective being to inform the public about the political happenings within the Brooklyn community and the city at large. May he rest in peace.
We all have individual personal reasons for doing the various things we do. Sometimes it is all about ego. Other times it’s all about personal ambition. Now and then there are those who do things with revenge being the motive; and if not only revenge, then there are often other sinister or even diabolical plots behind thoughts, words, actions, and/or deeds.
It appears to me that in politics (“the only game in town”), seldom are things done altruistically. With that said let me talk about “Room Eight New York Politics”.
Next month we celebrate our tenth anniversary here. This website created in March of 2006, by Ben Smith (Buzz Feed) and Gur Tsbar (New York Times). It has barely survived the last few years. Were it a human infant, Ben and Gur would be charged with abandonment, endangering the welfare of a minor, and/or criminal neglect. And this leaves me to wonder what was the real motivation for starting this site. I think it is time for all the pioneers to re-asses our commitments and overall objectives.
I remember when I was first recruited to write here I was sold the idea that this website would be a political-writer’s-colony: one wherein community activists and obscure political scientists could come up and air their political views; inform the public of things happening in their various locales; share valuable information on public events; highlight individuals and organizations doing great community work; explicate public policy prescriptions for nagging problems; break hard news; etcetera; etcetera.
At first I was somewhat reluctant since I had seen close up what the backlash could be when a community-activist wrote political stuff critiquing local black elected officials. I saw the viciousness and vindictiveness of those in power who not only felt they were above the law but also felt that were were beyond reproach. You see; for many years I had quietly worked behind the scenes, with a man brave enough to publish a political newspaper: aimed at informing the public as to what was “really” going politically. There were times when he took verbal beatings from elected officials and their spineless lackeys.
I met this soul-brother within months of my arrival in NYC (1973). He too was born in Trinidad. He was a pioneer. His name was Maurice Gumbs. In the 1980s he published a political newspaper in Brooklyn called “Footnotes”. I recruited him to write on Room Eight back in 2006. He did write here for a short time during our early years. Maurice would call me up at all hours -from all over the world- to get information as to the “ political happenings”within the areas I peregrinated. He would follow up many a kernel to eventually write compelling columns as to the “ins and outs” and the “goings-on”. He knew the players. He knew the history. He was a brilliant writer. He was a brilliant analyst too.
Back then I was a youngster with all sorts of ideals. My political activism probably reached its zenith during my five-year tenure at Columbia University (1980-1985); and furthermore during my two-year tenure at Fordham University (1985-1987). I had joined so many political clubs in all five boroughs of NYC, that you needed fingers and toes to count them. I regularly chased community-board meetings, precinct-council meetings, school-board meetings, et al. Plus I belonged to quite a few civic groups, had membership (or directorship) on various boards, and even worked in the non-profit sector. I was a walking information-bank. Beyond this, I was also active politically; having cut my teeth on numerous insurgent challenges to elected officials all over the city since 1974.
For the sake of full disclosure, let me state that “political-activism” was thrust upon me in my cradle. My father was a political activist. He ran for local elections -back in my homeland (Trinidad) -before I was even born. At his retirement he was a member of the diplomatic corps.
By the time I was six he he had run for national elections. He was later elected to the city council of the capital city. As a toddler I was listening to public speeches from some of the well known intellectuals of the island: including the world-renowned historian Dr. Eric E. Williams: the author of “Capitalism and Slavery”. By the time I was a teenager I had already read Karl Marx. It was no coincidence that in my youth I was involved in the “black power” movement of the late sixties and early seventies. To me: community-activism is the “vig” we pay for time spent sharing this earth. On many issues my politics happen to be on the left side of the political spectrum. In economics I am even more “left” than Bernie Sanders (I will write that column soon).
Over the years we have failed to recruit new blood to Room Eight; and this is probably the main reason why this site has lost its glow. A decade ago there were many political blogs operating in NYC. Today there are just a handful. Gone is the Daily Gotham; from which I miss the columns of Michael Bouldin and David “Mole”Michaelson. They kept everyone on their toes and were quite informative also.
Nowadays Gary Tilzer is trying his best with the “True News” blog, but rigor-mortis is setting in. Meanwhile the Huffington Post has grown; so too Buzz Feed, Daily Kos and a few others. In this city we need a website like this one here; but we also need writers. Thank God for Larry Littlefield: he is the real “MVP” on “Room Eight” (not Howard “Gatemouth”; and definitely not me).
People keep telling me that we have created a void by letting this site slip. They say that many looked to this site (and Daily Gotham) in order to stay up on the everyday political happenings in various corners of the city (especially Brooklyn). There are folks out there who would love to see a return to the old days when writers were more prolific with their finished-product. They may be dreaming.
What will be become of “Room Eight” is anyone’s guess. During the summer of 2008, I was told that we had a month wherein this site received nearly a million hits. Nowadays I dare not seek out that number. I am certain its way way down from those glory days. I still run into folks who claim to read my irregular columns and admonish me to step it up. I still get calls from strangers seeking my views on salient political issues. Many of the students to whom I lectured at various city universities still touch bases and plead with me to return to full-time political-writing. So many of them claim to have learned so much about politics (in general) from this site.
The reasons why my writing-output has dropped off are numerous. At the end of December 2011, I was laid-off from my “adjunct-lecturer” position at Brooklyn College’s Center for Worker Education. That situation reeks of racism. Eventually “the truth will out”. It’s an ongoing matter.
In February of 2012, my wife was diagnosed with cancer. In January of 2013 I was involved in an auto accident and my injuries eventually required surgery and rehab. My wife passed away last June. And when you lose someone with whom you lived for the last thirty-five years, it takes some time to get over the grief and the pain. She was also the best friend I have ever had.
I honestly haven’t been motivated to writing political columns over the past few years as before; even though I have aborted many a column: to the point where the right-to-life people have my “wanted dead or alive” photo on milk cartoons. As you can imagine, there have been other things weighing heavily on my mind during this time.
During these past four years I have been denied political jobs I should have gotten; and it is usually because many elected officials find me too controversial (their words) to hire. Others clam to be still chafing from what they perceived as personal attacks from me in some column I wrote somewhere along the way.
For our tenth anniversary I am issuing a challenge to the writers here. I will do a bi-weekly column if you all match me. Let’s restore this site to its former glory.
I believe that Room Eight’s new editor (Matthew David Johnson) is well meant. And as such, I am willing to cooperate with him in whatever restoration plans he concocts. As a key writer here, I would love to hear from Ben Smith or Gur Tsbar from time to time: but I have concluded that they are both “big time” now; and as such we underlings will have to hope one day only to touch the helm of their garments. Ben Smith can be regularly seen on cable-television stations like CNN and MSNBC; and that’s great; but every now and again one needs to walk the streets of the old neighborhood just to look up old friends and stay grounded.
Stray tuned-in folks.