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Politics

Al Smith and American Healthcare

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Al Smith and American Healthcare

Today is a good time to revisit a line from a 1928 speech by the great Al Smith (1873-1944).

I shall continue my sympathetic interest in the advancement of progressive legislation for the protection and advancement of working men and women. Promotion of proper care of maternity, infancy and childhood and the encouragement of those scientific activities of the National Government which advance the safeguards of public health, are so fundamental as to need no expression from me other than my record as legislator and as Governor.
— Al Smith, 1928

Smith, known as "a man for the people", was denied the presidency (most notably in 1928) by an uneducated electorate that chose to believe fear-driven propaganda.

The famous artist Norman Rockwell painted 'Al Smith was fellowman to every man' after Smith's death in 1945. In the painting, Smith is surrounded by children representing diverse backgrounds.

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Al Smith and Fearmongering, Racist Propaganda in the 1928 U.S. Presidential Election

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Al Smith and Fearmongering, Racist Propaganda in the 1928 U.S. Presidential Election

The images below show an article from 1928 that was published to an unknown number of voters. If you've seen my film The Sidewalks of New York, you know that the tactic of fear was used to scare people from voting for Al Smith in the 1928 presidential election. They denied him the presidency, despite history showing us today that he had the qualities and experience of someone who truly could have been one of our greatest presidents, even with the inevitable 1929 stock market crash.

To bluntly summarize, the 1928 article wrongly acts like black people are scary and not to be trusted, and that they regularly offer insults to white women on street corners in Harlem. It also says that if Smith is voted in, the White House will be sure to cater to the needs of African Americans.

Just like The Country Editor and World Press News existed in 1928 to push out propaganda, there are today "news" outlets on the internet that publish misleading stories. People in 1928 passed around the articles by hand. Today people click 'Share'.

Unfortunately, just as people 89 years ago blindly believed what they read without making any attempts to check any available sources, today many people continue to do the same, despite there being a greater abundance of information, and despite all the years of education and life experience. Add on top of that the fact that most American homes have been using the internet in their homes for around 20 years, yet they still don't seem to know how to use it to properly gather facts, data, and sources.

I believe that this comes not only from bigotry and hatred, but also it comes from a need for people to feel correct about the votes they've cast, and the parties they've chosen to support. Very often the people experiencing this are in denial that they are the problem, again because of the need to feel correct. They're stuck. They choose parties like it's the same as sports, even though the only true team is the party of "What's Best For The Country?".

The past holds lessons that can help us in the present. I hope that one day the world can understand this simple idea.

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History is Repeating Itself on Immigration

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History is Repeating Itself on Immigration

In a time when the issue of immigration is consistently on the front pages of newspapers in the U.S., today I share the Author's Preface from Oscar Handlin's 1958 book Al Smith and His America:

On both sides of the Atlantic, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries a vision took hold of men’s imaginations, a vision so close to reality as to be utterly convincing.

America was the promised land, the society of open opportunity, where every man, whatever his background or origin, could move to the place to which ability entitled him. The poor could grow rich, the weak powerful and the humble proud if their talents justified it. The lad born in the log cabin could some day dwell in the White House.

The Statue of Liberty in 1905. (Credit: Henry G. Peabody and Detroit Publishing Co., Library of Congress)

No matter that the dream was not altogether true to life—inherited wealth and distinguished parentage did make a difference—still it was true enough to lead on, in faith, the millions of Europeans who became Americans. To the immigrants and to their children this was the most hopeful aspect of life in the United States. They could not escape the contrast with the society they had left behind in which status was rigidly fixed and opportunity conned to a fortunate few. Here the whole community profited through finding the abilities it needed when and where it needed them.
Syrian immigrant children play on the sidewalks of New York in the early 1900s. (Credit: George Grantham Bain Collection, Library of Congress)

Syrian immigrant children play on the sidewalks of New York in the early 1900s. (Credit: George Grantham Bain Collection, Library of Congress)

So much greater, therefore, was the shock to discover as the twentieth century opened that artificial barriers to opportunity were being raised in contravention of these ideals. The challenge to the traditional conceptions of equality and opportunity produced a dark episode in American history. Al Smith, who lived through it, was peculiarly its victim. The society which miraculously opened to him his greatest opportunity spitefully tripped him up when he attempted to seize it.

Syrian immigrant children pose on a stoop in New York at some point between 1910 and 1915. (Credit: George Grantham Bain Collection, Library of Congress)

The buoyant optimism of Americans has often deceived them into thinking that their whole history was one great success story. Yet the failures have, in their own way, been as significant and as important as the successes. The life of Alfred E. Smith had a full measure of both.
— Oscar Handlin, Author

Experience the life of Al Smith by watching my documentary The Sidewalks of New York on YouTube. Here's the trailer.

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1917 vs 2017: The Post-Inaugural Women's March

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1917 vs 2017: The Post-Inaugural Women's March

As I watched the coverage of massive crowds across the world for today's Women's March, I began to wonder if perhaps 100 years ago following the 1917 inauguration there might have been similar gatherings.

The photo below shows March 1917. In 1917 the inauguration was on March 5, 1917. Most inaugurations took place in the month of March until 1937.

The photos I found on the Library of Congress website (courtesy Harris & Ewing) show women picketing in front of the White House. Some of the photos do not display a month, but all are from the year 1917.

100 years later women are still fighting for their rights, and in the same way that women in 1917 met opposition from a large portion of the public, today's Women's March also met opposition.

Today in some cities women blocked traffic, and in 1917 they did the same thing in front of the White House. Also, arrests were made in 1917 for peaceful protests, as described by some of the photos. According to this photo, six months in prison was a sentence given to some women.

The women in 1917 and 2017 all had clear goals. In 1917 they wrote them on signs. At today's marches they still had signs, but they also created websites and organized on social media pages. Women have been fighting for rights for well over 100 years, but it is striking to compare post-inauguration 100 years ago to what happened today. Crowds today show those in favor of women's rights are stronger than ever.

It should be a compelling moment for those who are opposed to today's marches to see these images from 1917, and realize that perhaps it is those who gather by the millions to march peacefully who are on the right side of history.

If after this week you seek a inspiration that there can be good and honest politicians in this country, I direct you to my recent documentary that tells the most fascinating tale in New York history.

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