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Editorial Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, February 5, 2009

From the editor
To solve a problem, people have to know about it and understand it

Dear Marcy,

Art in a newspaper draws attention in a way that words can’t. If you close your eyes and picture Santa Claus, you’ll probably see a jolly, plump old man with a white beard, wearing a red suit trimmed in white with a big black belt. Santa was first drawn this way in 1863 by a newspaper artist named Thomas Nast. Before that, he was portrayed as a thin man, wearing bishop’s robes. The Nast image stuck.

Thomas Nast, though, did more than give us our Santa Claus.  President Abraham Lincoln called him “our best recruiting agent” because of the cartoons he drew during the Civil War. His drawings pushed for abolition of slavery and, after the war, he portrayed the violence of the Ku Klux Klan.

In the 1870s, Thomas Nast took on the dishonest Boss Tweed who led Tammany Hall, the corrupt Democratic machine that controlled the politics of New York City. Immigrants who could not yet read English could see Nast’s drawings of a fat, well-dressed man who had a sack of money for a head. The machine offered Nast a half-million dollars to stop his drawings; he declined. Tweed was arrested and convicted of fraud — stealing, in modern figures, billions of dollars from New York City taxpayers. When he tried to escape by fleeing the country, Spanish officials identified him from one of Nast’s cartoons.

We believe our cartoonist, Forest Byrd, is Nast-y only in the sense that his work informs people the way Thomas Nast’s did. Really, Mr. Byrd is a very kind man. He drew the picture of the church for our Jan. 22 front page to symbolize the state of the Catholic Church as the Albany diocese closed 33 churches. We featured St. Bernadette’s Church in our story because that is the church that is closing in the Hilltowns.

On the next page, our editorial stated the newspaper’s opinion. We showed how the Albany diocese is not alone. Attendance at Sunday Mass has plummeted in the last 20 years from about three-quarters to about a quarter of American Catholics. The number of priests and nuns has also fallen precipitously. Mr. Byrd’s illustration for the editorial showed a fallen steeple.  We mourned the loss of the beautiful old churches, and his drawing captured that emotion.

We also advocated building vibrant new communities of worship. And this is why we wanted all of our readers to know about St. Bernadette’s closing. In order to solve a problem, people have to know about it and understand it.

That’s what our paper, with the help of Mr. Byrd’s cartoons, does week in and week out.

We talked to parishioners of St. Bernadette’s who described the church as beautiful — and we ran a photograph that shows it is, indeed, beautiful. St. Bernadette’s is well cared for, not at all like the symbolic church on our front page, with a tilting steeple, strangled by vines.

The parishioners also told us of their hurt in having their church close and of their worries about having to go to another church.  Sister Mary Lou Liptak, the parish life director for both St. Bernadette’s in Berne and St. Lucy’s in Altamont, told us, “Instead of two communities, we become one.”

That’s why it is important for people in Altamont to know all about St. Bernadette’s closing so they can work to make one community now.

We don’t blame you for being angry, Marcy. You are right: It’s not fair. And that is worth 10 exclamation points. But, by reading the newspaper and caring enough about your church to pick up a pencil and write us, you have done something really important. At age 8, you have done something some grownups never do — you have made your views known. That’s what it takes to make a democracy like ours work.

Keep reading, Marcy, keep thinking, keep caring, and keep writing. We’ll keep answering.

— Melissa Hale-Spencer, editor

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