Nonagenarians have an advantage over others of lesser years. Starting life in 1932 or earlier they have witnessed a large part of the 20th Century and a significant portion of this one, and all the stupendous changes in society and the world over in that period of time. They are experiencing a change now they never thought they would witness. That is the threat to our own democracy, now extant for close to 250 years, and to democracies all around the world. All three principals in this podcast are nonagenarians who have lived in or near Brookline, Massachusetts for most of their Iives. They are Justin “Jerry” Wyner, now 97, former Moderator of the Brookline Town Meeting, Marshall Smith, the founder of Paperback Booksmith, and the force behind the Paperback Revolution of the 1960’s, and my classmate at Brookline High School, Class of 1948, and myself. Marshall and I will turn 91 in 2022, God willing. All three of us have made a mark professionally, Jerry as the CEO of Shawmut Mills, his family’s highly successful business, and is known for his participation in Jewish affairs locally, nationally, and internationally. Marshall is a successful entrepreneur in whatever field he enters, especially in books, which he regards as indispensable to the populace of a democratic country. In my work as a lawyer, and now as an author, I have always loved American democracy and freedom, and have done what I could to protect it. Each of us is still fully engaged in life and work.
Let’s take Jerry and Town Meeting first. This is where democracy starts. As the French philosopher, Alexis de Tocqueville, author of “Democracy in America,” observed when he visited America almost two hundred years ago, “The town….exists in all nations….It is man who makes monarchies….but the township seems to come directly from the hand of God. Town meeting….bring(s) it within the people’s reach.” Indeed! Jerry Wyner invoked as a precedent to the first vote of any town meeting in the country, the vote of the Brookline Town Meeting to bring home the troops from Vietnam, the action of the very same Brookline Town Meeting in 1773 opining on the Boston Tea Party.
As you will hear from me on this podcast, and as you have read, local institutions everywhere have been attacked in the last few years. The divisiveness in the country has been seen lately for the first time ever in the Brookline Town Meeting. The constructs of democracy gifted to us by our founders are under threat of dissolution in all corners of the land.
Marshall Smith, a man who doesn’t say a lot but does a lot, recognized when he founded his first paperback bookstore in 1961 that “democracy is founded on the knowledge of its citizenry.” Thus he took as his mission to broaden the scope of paperbacks to cover a multiplicity of subjects. Not long after, under the impetus of Marshall and others, the number of paperback titles grew exponentially in number and subjects from 3,000 to 30,000, including titles in fiction, non-fiction, history, political science, science, and other subjects. That signal event has been dubbed, “The Paperback Revolution.”
Both of these gentlemen are personal friends. Their families and friends are more than interesting. My own interactions with each of them are informative, and sometimes humorous. I think you’ll enjoy all of that on this podcast, as well as the discussion of the present crisis.
I thought I should devote this note to the sections in the podcast of existential importance – the threat we face of losing our cherished democracy, the longest lasting
democracy in the world’s history.
People, Always People!