Thursday, July 15, 2004

Welcome to River Vices

Portsmouth, 1903. Floodwall Murals

I have started this blog (or online journal) to add my voice electronically to those that are protesting the political corruption in Portsmouth and Scioto County. In the weeks, months and hopefully years ahead, I will share some of my observations on and analyses of Portsmouth's "river vices."

I am an English professor at Shawnee State University (SSU), in Portsmouth, Ohio, a city of about 24,000 located in south central Ohio, on the Ohio River, where I have lived for the past fifteen years. I hold a B.A. and M.A. in English from Wesleyan University, in Connecticut, and hold a Ph.D. in American Studies from Yale. I have been very active in the Shawnee Education Association (SEA), the faculty union, which I served as president for four terms. I have also served as president of the Concerned Citizens Group and I have written for the Shawnee Sentinel, an alternative newspaper that was created by students at SSU, and which was instrumental in the recall of the mayor of Portsmouth from office on June 22, 2004, by a 2 to 1 margin. Until a few months ago,  I did not follow city politics closely. I had no opinion on the recall effort and knew very little about Portsmouth politics, but when I began making a documentary video  The Recall of Mayor Bauer (which is available at the Clark Memorial Library at Shawnee State and at the Portsmouth Public Library), I came to understand that the politics of Portsmouth were much like those at Shawnee State. The privileged class of the Portsmouth area tried to control the city the way the Board of Trustees (with a few notable exceptions) controls SSU: mainly for the benefit of the privileged classes. The mayor of Portsmouth and the city council, like the president of the university and the board of trustees, is expected to serve the interest of the privileged class of the area. Mayor Bauer and his chief assistant, a former student of mine, might have dissuaded me from forming this negative opinion, but they declined to be interviewed for the video.

I might not have begun this blog and definitely would not have named it River Vices if it were not for River Voices, the documentary created by my colleague Professor John Lorenz and his son Nathan. After watching River Voices, I felt strongly that in addition to hearing the voices of Portsmouth,  the people of Portsmouth needed to read also about the vices of Portsmouth, which are biblical in character. In beginning River Vices, I had in mind the magazine column "The Prophet," which Theodore Dreiser, author of An American Tragedy,  had written very early in his career, when he adopted the voice of the prophets of the Old Testament, denouncing the corruption of the privileged classes and the neglect of the slum dwellers in cities like Chicago, Pittsburgh, and New York. Later in his career, however, Dreiser tried to repress his identification  with the poor and with failures,  and identify instead with the rich and powerful, with the unscrupulous and the  successful in the person of the Robber Baron Charles Tyson Yerkes. I dealt with Dreiser's conflicting values in my Yale dissertation, "The Flesh and the Spirit" (1971). Though not a believer myself, I have adopted the prophetic voice in River Vices

                                                                                                                   Robert Forrey