Sherlynn Reid and the Politics of the “ Domestic Sphere ”
On March 10, Democrats in the United States House of Representatives passed the $ 1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill that will put $ 1,400 in the pockets of many Americans and provide billions of dollars in relief for state and local governments, hospitals, schools, colleges and others. entities.
That same day, the Wednesday Journal reported that Sherlynn Reid, the local pioneer who had helped integrate Oak Park, had passed away. Reid’s death symbolizes the passing of an era, to the detriment of us who still live, and future generations. The only hope I have for human life on this planet is written in the history of Sherlynn Reid and women like her.
Last week, the Washington Post called this year’s $ 1.9 trillion US bailout “one of the biggest economic bailouts in history.” The move comes a year after former President Donald Trump signed the $ 2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, which the New York Times called “unprecedented in its scope and size ”. Federal lawmakers passed another $ 900 billion stimulus package in December.
Each of these bailouts was more than former President Barack Obama’s “landmark” $ 800 billion US Takeover and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which was passed and signed less than a year after the Former President George W. Bush signed the “historic” $ 700 billion. 2008 Stabilization Act (better known as Financial Rescue).
In less than two decades, this country has gone through two depressions, which have resulted in more than $ 5 trillion in federal stimulus. Obama’s Recovery Act alone was at least 50% higher in constant dollars than FDR’s New Deal, according to journalist Michael Grunwald.
Grunwald, who wrote a comprehensive book in 2012 on Obama’s takeover, called The New New Deal, praise the deed to heaven for its massiveness in dollars and cents. But even he had to admit that, in the American imagination, the New Deal (which was a series of legislative initiatives passed over several years) is “a journey, an era, an aura”, while the Recovery Act “n was just a bill on Capitol Hill. ”
Grunwald’s observation tells us a lot about our own time. The main problem with the Obama stimulus and every “historic” stimulus package that followed in its wake is that these were projects not in nation building, but in managing national decline.
Rather than reflecting individual and collective political action, in particular the agency is played out at the community level; the successors of the New Deal reflect the relative absence of popular power in our local and national politics.
Born in 1935, Sherlynn Reid came of age before “the nation crumbled into a constellation of private acts,” as Princeton historian Daniel T. Rogers put it in his 2011 book, Age of fracture.
Last week, I quoted the sociologist Richard Sennett while discussing the specter of uselessness that haunts the lives of all who joined the workforce after or around 1990, that fear of our social selves breaking down, breaking down, falling apart when the market serves us more.
Despite rising unemployment and underemployment, heavy and unfair debt and criminal income inequality, “people are passively suffering,” Sennett observed in 2014.
The challenge is “to get them to think that the answer to being a disposable person is, in the first place, to think in the plural, to think collectively. And through unions, other institutions of civil society, churches, community organizations. But it’s the first step people need to take. That the answer to availability is not autonomy, it is something social and collective.
When Sherilynn Reid and her husband, Henry, moved to Oak Park in 1968, they were the first black couple to “buy a house from a real estate agent using a conventional loan,” my colleague Ken Trainor said in 2019. [See Ken Trainor’s column, p. 72].
“The first thing Sherlynn did when they moved into this big house on Ridgeland Avenue was call Police Chief Fremont Nester and tell him he could pick up the team car in front of his house. , which was assigned as protection against angry people. problems and poor impulse control, ”Trainor recalled.
“The next thing [Reid] it was to get involved, to integrate quickly into the community fabric, ”he added.
Reid joined the Beye PTA Board of Directors and the First Congregational (now First United) Church Christian Education Board. She was active in the Girl Scouts and the 19th century club and CAST in Julian. She retired as head of the Oak Park community relations department in 1999, Trainor said. And this is just a sample of his local activity.
Reid practiced what black labor leader Addie Wyatt called the “holistic gospel.” This gospel, writes historian Jeffrey Helgeson, was “a faith founded on a concern for individual, family and community well-being, and which required involvement” in these institutions “- churches, PTOs, unions, women’s voters’ leagues, etc. – ‘who can make it happen.’ ”
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Helgeson adds that Wyatt fought for opportunity and power in what historian Earl Lewis calls “the domestic sphere,” which included his community, his neighborhood, his home, his place of work – all were estates. possible, all contexts which constituted its basis of political struggle.
“The question is not whether community or workplace organization was ‘more important’, but how concerns for the quality of life in her community shaped her engagement in the broader political battles over race, class, gender and economic opportunity, ”Helgeson explains.
There was a time when this local civic energy seeped steadily up to the federal level, resulting in policies like the New Deal, the Wagner Act (which guaranteed the right of workers to organize), social security, Medicaid. , Voting Rights Law and Regulatory Bodies. like the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
And when these laws were passed, people like Sherlynn and Addie ensured that they were enforced in the domestic sphere, closing the loop of political action. These black women did not consider themselves alien to the government or to its passive subjects; rather, they worked to improve it, to make it work on their behalf.
The aura of the New Deal era (despite all its obvious flaws, racist and sexist restrictions among them) lies in public works of art and shared physical and civic infrastructure, a sense of unity and solidarity, a feeling that the nation was at least struggling. with self-invention. The stimulus packages of Bush and Obama and Trump and Biden, on the other hand, “are just bills” sloppily legislated in a nation gripped by self-delusion.
Now, with the domestic sphere in tatters, we consider it an accomplishment when half of our two-party system can barely pass a one-time payment of $ 1,400 in cash that is supported by three-quarters of the country. The law on voting rights has been destroyed. Social security is always ready to be privatized. The planet is burning from too much carbon dioxide and the US government is setting up a bonfire TikTokking. I could go on …
“The real work of saving the planet will be small, humble and humiliating. […] The big obstacle may not be greed but the modern desire for glamor. A lot of our smartest, concerned people want a big solution to a big problem. I don’t think saving the planet, if we take it seriously, can provide employment for many of these people, ”writes poet and farmer Wendell Berry.
The work of saving the planet requires “that one person willing to descend into the disheartening, humiliating and almost desperate local presence of the problem – to face the big problem one little life at a time.”
Sherlynn Reid’s greatness was in her depth, in her commitment to this relatively small piece of Earth that is Oak Park. There are so many women like her – Ella Baker, Fannie Lou Hamer, Pauli Murray, Dorothy Day, Addie Wyatt, Jane Addams – who have fought in their home sphere and in doing so have made the country and the world better. .
We will follow their example and try, collectively, one by one, to humble ourselves and rebuild our own original spheres, or we will perish with glory.