The headline for this post is the title of a popular American folk song from the 1950’s that has been recorded in many languages by a long list of performers around the world–from Peter, Paul & Mary; The Kingston Trio; and Johnny Rivers; to Pete Seeger, who wrote the first three verses. The opening lines ask: “Where have all the flowers gone? Long time passing…where have all the flowers gone?…Girls have picked them, every one.” Additional verses of the song lament losing all the young girls (“taken husbands, every one”) and young men (“gone for soldiers, every one”).
This is clearly a metaphor about the passing of special things, like youth and flowers. On a literal level, we see a succession of blooming flowers in our coastal environment, from March through October. The perennial flowering plants start with crocuses peeking through the snow, followed by daffodils and tulips, forsythias, lilies of the valley, lilacs, day lilies, peonies, hydrangeas, seaside roses, hybrid roses, and Rose of Sharon, with a succession of annuals like marigolds, geraniums, petunias, zinnias, and impatiens taking over the garden in the hotter months, until September rolls around and the ever-popular chrysanthemums begin to predominate. Plus all along the highways of New York (and other states), numerous varieties of colorful flowering weeds and wildflowers bloom, from spring through fall.
The wildflowers along America’s highways are the legacy of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s wife, Lady Bird, known as “The Environmental First Lady,” who made this her signature contribution in the mid-1960’s. The Highway Beautification Act of 1965 regulated the billboards and junkyards that had become a fast-growing blight on the scenery of the United States, and it was Mrs. Johnson’s idea to fill the spaces with flowers instead.
Of course, it took Rockaway a while to catch up to the national trends. If 9/11 had not occurred, we might still have an ugly, used car junkyard in the spot now graced by Tribute Park. We still haven’t figured out how to get rid of the unsightly billboards that detract from our scenic views of the bay. Local artist Patrick Clark, who designed and fabricated the unique curved, faceted, Dalle de Verre dome, mosaic sundial, and other artistic elements at Rockaway’s three 9/11 tribute parks, tried to advocate a vision similar to Mrs. Johnson’s here in Rockaway. He didn’t have the power of the White House or wide backing from the community, so the corporate junkyard dogs squelched his efforts. Rockaway Park’s memorial now shares its bay front location with a pharmacy parking lot, a huge billboard, and an automobile service station. At least Duane Reade fixed the grammatical error on the billboard eventually…
Some other special things have passed out of our presence this summer. Tracking the words of Seeger’s song, one could ask: “Where Have All the Leaders Gone? Lost Their Power, Every One…” On September 13, residents of portions of the peninsula, Brooklyn, and mainland Queens will be headed to an important special election, to replace our U.S. Congressman and N.Y. State Assemblymember. How often does that happen? Since Audrey Pheffer was in office for over two decades and Anthony Weiner served for 12, the answer is–not that often!
It’s been a pretty dismal couple of years for local elected officials–not just Weiner and Pheffer, but Greg Meeks, James Sanders, and Malcolm Smith are all on the ropes in one way or another. Our very powerful U.S. Senator, Charles Schumer, a career politician for 38 straight years, would stop traffic if he ever showed up here on the peninsula. I’ve never seen him even ONCE in the 17 years I’ve lived here. Some of the old timers speak of how he used to come here when he was just a Congressman, in the mid 1990’s. This out-of-touch, “double Ivy” (Harvard-Harvard), insider of the Beltway, darling of the Wall Street crowd, no doubt played a powerful role in determining Weiner’s fate, and blessing the Democratic Party’s candidates of the moment served up to Rockaway voters.
In my view, this is the time for all of us to get involved in some serious reform efforts. I received an interesting item in my email over the weekend, the proposed “Congressional Reform Act of 2011″ supposedly generated by a retired judge in Arizona. I am passing it along to my readers, as a positive proposal that might have a chance of improving our democracy. However, I am of the opinion that the annual pay raise suggested in point 5 may be overly-generous in guaranteeing a minimum of 3% or CPI, whichever is lower. Why not do what the private sector does, and tie pay to performance? Pass a prudent budget with fair tax rates that’s not loaded with pork, and you get your annual increase. Otherwise, you get zero, or we cut your pay rate by 1% for each month of delay. Now that would get results!
If you agree that this proposal is interesting, please share it with your contacts. Click to see the page here. Congressional Reform Act 2011
Maybe a ground-swell of local interest in this proposal will at least get Schumer to show up when we name a Rockaway ball field after him.
Text copyright 2011 Vivian R. Carter, photos copyright 2009 Vivian R. Carter