Don't Blame Us

Don't Blame Us: Suburban Liberals and the Transformation of the Democratic Party

Lily Geismer
Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 392
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  • Book Info
    Don't Blame Us
    Book Description:

    Don't Blame Ustraces the reorientation of modern liberalism and the Democratic Party away from their roots in labor union halls of northern cities to white-collar professionals in postindustrial high-tech suburbs, and casts new light on the importance of suburban liberalism in modern American political culture. Focusing on the suburbs along the high-tech corridor of Route 128 around Boston, Lily Geismer challenges conventional scholarly assessments of Massachusetts exceptionalism, the decline of liberalism, and suburban politics in the wake of the rise of the New Right and the Reagan Revolution in the 1970s and 1980s. Although only a small portion of the population, knowledge professionals in Massachusetts and elsewhere have come to wield tremendous political leverage and power. By probing the possibilities and limitations of these suburban liberals, this rich and nuanced account shows that-far from being an exception to national trends-the suburbs of Massachusetts offer a model for understanding national political realignment and suburban politics in the second half of the twentieth century.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-5242-0
    Subjects: Political Science, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Illustrations and Maps
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)

    In 1972, Democratic candidate George McGovern captured only Massachusetts in the presidential election. This crushing defeat cemented the reputation of the state as the unrivaled bastion of American liberalism. The out-break of the infamous busing crisis just a few years later, however, gave the state’s capital, Boston, the dubious and contradictory status as the “Little Rock of the North” and “most racist city in America.”¹ Massachusetts earned national notoriety once again in 1988 with the resounding defeat of Democratic presidential candidate and Bay State governor Michael Dukakis, which seemed to confirm the view that “Massachusetts liberals” were out of touch...

  7. Part I Suburban Activism
    • 1 No Ordinary Suburbs
      (pp. 19-42)

      Political scientist Robert C. Wood began his influential 1959 critique of suburban political ideology,Suburbia: Its People and Their Politics, with a disclaimer. The MIT professor and Lincoln resident deflected accusations that it might be hypocritical that he chose “to live in a place I criticize so strongly.” Wood contended that the town where he lived was by no means the typical suburb that his book criticized. “Lincoln is undoubtedly an anachronism and it is probably obstructive to the larger purposes of the Boston region,” conceded the leading expert in urban affairs and later undersecretary for the US Department of...

    • 2 Good Neighbors
      (pp. 43-70)

      During the same week as the March on Washington, on August 31, 1963, thirty protesters stormed on to the Lexington Battle Green, the site of the famous “shot heard round the world” and mythical birthplace of the American Revolution. Singing “ We Shall Overcome,” the group, predominantly made up of well-dressed white women, marched beneath the iconic statue of John Parker, the leader of the Minutemen and a symbol of the suburb’s prominent past. Walking the picket line, they carried homemade signs with messages emblazoned such as “Birthplace of American Liberty??” “Jim Crow Must Go,” and “Lexington Live Up to...

    • 3 A Multiracial World
      (pp. 71-96)

      On a Saturday afternoon in the spring of 1969, the Neileys hosted the family of one of their daughters’ classmates at their Lincoln home, set on a backdrop of two acres of woods with a tennis court and horse-filled barn. Seven-year-old Rhonda Williams played Monopoly with the three Neiley daughters, while their parents chatted over sherry in the glass-enclosed living room of the large modernist home.¹ The Williams family lived in the Roxbury section of Boston, not Lincoln, and Rhonda was one of fifty African American students who took the bus each day from Boston to Lincoln as part of...

    • 4 Grappling with Growth
      (pp. 97-122)

      On October 19, 1972, local resident Claire Ellis penned an impassioned plea to theConcord Journalin response to plans to expand a section of the Route 2 highway in the town. Ellis believed that widening the roadway threatened the measures Concord had taken throughout the postwar period to preserve its “country town atmosphere” and image as the incubator of American environmentalism. She asserted that if local residents had “wanted super highways or a main street emblazoned with lights until the wee hours we would have lived elsewhere.” Ellis called on community members to use a bit of the “Yankee...

    • 5 Political Action for Peace
      (pp. 123-146)

      On October 15, 1969, forty thousand people joined a candlelight procession from the Washington Monument to the Capitol, twenty thousand businessmen attended an event on Wall Street, and more than a hundred thousand Massachusetts citizens converged on the Boston Common, all to participate in the Vietnam Moratorium.¹ Residents in over a hundred Boston suburbs joined cities and towns from North Newton, Kansas; Duluth, Iowa; Golden, Colorado; Cheyenne, Wyoming; and Thousand Oaks, California, staging events on their town greens and in other public spaces.² It was the vast majority of participants’ first experience taking part in a public protest. President Richard...

  8. Part II Massachusetts Liberals
    • 6 A New Center
      (pp. 149-172)

      Just days before the Massachusetts presidential primary in April 1972, the Association of Technical Professionals (ATP) invited Democratic candidate George McGovern to speak at Bentley College in Waltham, adjacent to the Route 128 highway. During the early 1970s, the end of the Vietnam War produced significant shutdowns and layoffs in Route 128 industry and offered an early foreshadowing of the nation’s economic woes. The ATP had emerged to provide emotional support and political clout to unemployed scientists and engineers. McGovern spoke directly to the professional anxieties and political concerns of his audience. “Each one of you has an extra specialty...

    • 7 Open Suburbs vs. Open Space
      (pp. 173-198)

      “I have always thought of my community to be the bastion of suburban liberalism,” lamented a Newton resident in 1970. “However the recent controversy over the Newton Community Development Foundation have shown my assumptions to be mistaken.”¹ The commentator, Frederick Andelman, referred to the vicious battle that engulfed his suburb after the Newton Community Development Foundation (NCDF), a local interfaith organization, attempted to build five hundred mixed-income and government-subsidized units scattered across ten sites around the suburb. During the 1960s, Newton had garnered a national reputation for its progressiveness.Newsweekdeemed the suburb a “seedbed for liberal causes, from vigorous...

    • 8 Tightening the Belt
      (pp. 199-226)

      In September 1974, federal judge W. Arthur Garrity received a poignant handwritten request from an African American girl sent to South Boston High under his court order for the mandatory desegregation of the Boston Public Schools. The girl explained that she and her nine siblings were so scared, they had only gone to school twice. She instead asked the judge for a specific seat reassignment for herself, her siblings, and their friends. “I know a girl who goes with Medco to suburb and she is gonna go to college cause they teach you a lot and no one is a...

    • 9 No One Home to Answer the Phone
      (pp. 227-250)

      In April 1975, as the struggle over mandatory desegregation continued to embroil the city of Boston, a coalition of women from the antibusing group ROAR and antiabortion organization Massachusetts Citizens for Life (MCFL) disrupted a rally in support of the state Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) at Boston’s historic Faneuil Hall. The several area feminist groups that organized the event anticipated it would be a relatively staid affair comprised only of people who supported attaching an amendment to the state constitution articulating the broad notion of equal rights for women. The protesters upended these expectations. Carrying signs declaring “Feminists Do Not...

    • 10 From Taxachusetts to the Massachusetts Miracle
      (pp. 251-280)

      In late November 1982, newly reelected governor Michael Dukakis addressed the Massachusetts High Technology Council (MHTC) at its annual meeting at a Newton hotel abutting the Route 128 highway. The presidents of the major high-tech firms in the Route 128 area had formed the MHTC in 1977 to fight the policies that had earned the state the reputation of “Taxachusetts.” In 1980, the organization had served as one of the driving forces in passing the ballot initiative Proposition 2½ , which had placed Massachusetts beside California as a front-runner in the nation’s tax revolt. Howard Foley, president of the MHTC,...

  9. Epilogue
    (pp. 281-288)

    The 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston confirmed the inextricable ties between the state of Massachusetts, Boston, and the Democratic Party. The event marked Massachusetts’ effort to confront its image as out of touch with the rest of the country, the city’s attempt to overcome its reputation for racism, and the national Democratic Party’s endeavor to surmount the rumors of its decline. The array of events, tours, and speeches combined the area’s fusion of history and modernity by showcasing Boston’s booming high-tech economy, role in cutting-edge medical research, American Revolution landmarks, and multiculturalism fostered by the immigration of new generations...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 289-356)
  11. Index
    (pp. 357-368)