My Turn: Finding the local angle

For the Monitor
Published: 2/8/2021 6:00:05 AM

Back in the 20th century, most American cities, large and small, had their own newspaper, with an office in the downtown business district.

Before text messages, before email, and even before fax machines, the best way to communicate with reporters and editors was often to walk right into the newsroom.

The Concord Monitor, then located on North State Street at the corner of Pleasant, was no exception.

Just off the hall by the newsroom was the office of Tom Gerber, an older (i.e. a few decades senior to me) avuncular sort of fellow, who served as the paper’s editor. His door was usually open, so I could pitch to him my ideas for a column.

It was the early 1980s and I was the young (i.e. a few decades younger than I am now) staff person for the American Friends Service Committee’s New Hampshire Program. The Reagan administration’s aggressive and militaristic foreign policy – expansion of nuclear weapons production, increased hostility toward the Soviet Union, and backing of right-wing governments and counter-revolutionaries in Central America and Southern Africa – occupied most of my attention. And I thought the Concord Monitor’s op-ed page was a great place for my analysis of Reagan’s latest outrage.

With firmness, Mr. Gerber explained that his paper already laid out good money for syndicated columnists who analyzed national and international politics. If I wanted the Concord Monitor to publish what I wrote, he patiently explained, I needed to find a “local angle.”

Taking his advice, I wrote a column tying the issue of war toys to an incident in which a Concord High School student brought a gun to school. From there, I linked guns and TV violence to the Reagan administration’s preference for armed violence on the international stage. The Monitor published it in the height of the Christmas shopping season.

Over time, Gerber’s advice affected my approach to organizing in addition to my writing. I began to find better ways to relate the local to the global and vice versa, for example tying the issue of overseas sweatshop labor to attacks on unions, the collapse of New Hampshire manufacturing jobs, and the impact of “free trade” agreements. I helped activists fighting a proposed water bottling plant make links with people in other countries who were also battling the commodification of life’s necessities. The campaign to establish a state holiday named for Martin Luther King Jr. provided endless ways to talk about the “triple evils” of racism, poverty, and militarism.

While I still think a local whippersnapper might have something interesting and timely to say about goings on far from New Hampshire, Tom Gerber’s advice was sound. And for that I’m grateful.

(Arnie Alpert served as the co-director of the American Friends Service Committee’s New Hampshire Program until his retirement last year. He lives in Canterbury.)


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