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The Indy Issue from Friday March 12, 2021



Visions of the Development of Salem

By Kevin Zorn

An oil on canvas mural is displayed in the post office in Salem, West Virginia. It was painted by an artist named Berni Glasgow and its production was funded
through the Treasury Department’s Section of Painting and Sculpture. It is titled “Visions of the Development of Salem” and depicts a group of people
receiving mail, in the background is a village and cattle.


Berni Glasgow was one of more than 800 artists commissioned to paint 1371 murals, the majority of which are featured in post offices.
Often mistaken as a Works Progress Administration (WPA) initiative, these Treasury funded murals were created with the intent of fostering i
nspiration in the American people who were still feeling the devastating economic and social effects of the Great Depression.


It is a testament to the shift in the ideological landscape today that I cannot believe the US Government, in tandem with local governments,
was capable of doing what the WPA accomplished. Yet, here are just some of the facts: from 1935 to 1943 8.5 million unemployed men and
women were hired by the government to build over 10,000 bridges, 620,000 miles of streets and roads, 40,000 new and 85,000 renovated
buildings including thousands of schools, gymnasiums, auditoriums, playgrounds, parks, libraries, college dormitories, tennis courts, and skating rinks.


The WPA employed artists, writers, historians, and musicians whose work directly affected the lives of millions of Americans during some of the
country’s most painful years. Musicians hired under the Federal Music Project taught free lessons to 132,000 children and adults every week.
Those hired in the Federal Writers’ Project, in addition to their popular state tourism guidebooks, recorded over 2,300 slave narratives -
an invaluable collection for scholars and historians. Under the Federal Theatre Project 1,000 plays were performed across the country every month.
Incalculable is the number of children and adults inspired by this work.


Through the colossal endeavors of the WPA in both its pre-war effort and its public projects America achieved full employment by 1942,
the same year “Visions” was painted in Salem.


It is clear that the America many of us grew up in, the structures that supported our lives, the parks we enjoyed, the schools we attended,
the infrastructure we relied upon for travel, even the art classes that inspired the next generation of creators was largely built under the
auspices of the WPA and the New Deal.


This is a salient reminder that capital “H” History is not simply a collection of memorized facts and figures, dates and obscure names.
No, History is alive in the communities in which we live. It not only teaches us, it haunts us as well. It haunts us with what was
possible before and what is possible tomorrow.


Perhaps that is the greatest battle waged in the spectacle of media and politics today - the question of what is possible.
Our expectations are managed lower and lower. We learn that the climate crisis is inevitable, that homelesness is natural,
that workers are essential until they ask for a living wage. All to say that change is impossible. Visions of better futures recede from view.

But history haunts us with an alternative. By the time Berni Glasgow painted the mural in the Salem post office, the American
government had provided millions of meaningful jobs improving, with concrete and paintbrushes, nearly every community across the nation.


Nick Taylor, the author of “American Made: The Enduring Legacy of the WPA”, writes this: 


“These ordinary men and women proved to be extraordinary beyond all expectation.
They were golden threads woven in the national fabric. In this, they shamed the political philosophy
that discounted their value and rewarded the one that placed its faith in them,
thus fulfilling the founding vision of a government by and for its people. All its people.” 


This weeks front page:



The Internet is free. By American, and even world standards, it’s an incredibly level playing field where agile small businesses can supplant large established companies. On the Internet, the value of a business is not judged by how many lawyers it has protecting it or how much capital it has to start with, the value of a business is based on its merit. That’s how a company like Facebook beat out MySpace, and how MySpace beat out Friendster. If a product is attractive, useful, and works, it has a genuine chance at popularity. The large websites we see today like YouTube, Netflix, and Amazon were all borne of this completely free and level playing field. Currently this freedom is protected by a 1996 piece of legislation called Net Neutrality which essentially decrees that all data must be treated equally. Right now the Federal Communications Commission wants to change this.

                            net neutrality logo

Under the weight of cable companies like Comcast, the FCC has proposed a two-tiered system in which users will need to pay more for fast service or be stuck with a slow internet connection. What’s more, cable companies have begun charging content providers in order to continue streaming videos to users. In 2013 when Comcast was in negotiations with Netflix about the cost of streaming videos, the cable provider purposefully diminished the speed of video streaming to a crawl in a successful attempt to coax Netflix into accepting the new costs. This practice, reminiscent of a mob-shakedown, isn’t only toxic for established companies, it’s dangerous for start-ups as well. Potentially, cable providers could quash new companies by “negotiating” higher rates, rates a start-up may not be able to afford. The FCC is the government arm tasked with protecting the free internet, so why is it caving to the demands of cable providers? One needs to look no further than the FCC Chairman, Tom Wheeler. Prior to his appointment to Chairman by President Obama in November 2013, Mr. Wheeler was a lobbyist for the cable and wireless industry. As John Oliver so eloquently put it on his show, Last Week Tonight, that’s like needing a babysitter for your young child and hiring a dingo. A man whose former job was spent lobbying the FCC for the harmful changes desired by cable providers, is now the Chairman of the FCC.


It’s not just internet savvy twenty-somethings like myself who recognize the hazardous path we’re on, large companies fear the changes as well. In May of 2014 over 100 companies including Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Ebay, and Facebook, signed a letter addressed to the FCC that expressed their strong opposition to the proposed changes to the free Internet. As of May 15th, the proposed “fast-lane bill” passed voting 3/2 and is now open for public discussion until July. If you care about a free Internet, not just for yourself but for future generations, I strongly urge you to comment on the open platform provided on the FCC website at Better yet, contact the offices of Senators Rockefeller, Manchin, and Representative McKinley. For years the Internet has been an incredible source of free news, entertainment, and information. It’s in our best interest to keep it that way.