BIG News 10-07-14

Ethel Weiss, Larry Lessig, Kathy Bisbee and the Road Ahead

BIG, the Brookline Interactive Group, formerly Brookline Access TV (BATV), is currently blessed with at least two major productions of special note — the first, on Ethel Weiss and Irving’s Toy Store, not only for its presentation of one of Brookline’s true town heroines and institutions, but also for the unique behind-the-scenes story it holds, its well-conceived and exemplary video production values, and the key role that BIG/BATV staff played in its development.

The second video is Larry Lessig’s recent League of Women Voters-sponsored “MayDay: The Fight to Save American Democracy” presentation, Lawrence Lessig, reknown Harvard Law School Faculty member specializing in — Telecommunications — radical activist and founder of the superpac to end superpacs and champion of real campaign finance reform. It’s Larry Lessig, because, as he points out from the packed and overflowing Selectmen’s hearing/meeting room on the sixth floor of Town Hall, that’s where his home is, a mile away. It’s a major town event.

Together these videos — along with a host of other fine productions — play key roles on the Brookline Public Access cable channel, Comcast channel 23, RCN channel 15, the 24/7 ongoing, online multi-media re-presentation of Brookline’s public face.

The BIG post-Labor Day Ethel Weiss 100th Birthday Celebration

Ethel Weiss, who celebrated her 100th birthday in August “… has become a town celebrity. It’s an amazing story,” says Ruthann Dobek, director of the Brookline Council on Aging. The event was covered most appropriately by the Brookline Tab, with a front page story and good-size photos — and continued on the front page of Section B in the same robust fashion. You can find the full article and four photos online at

It’s been an ongoing celebration for more than a year. Ethel’s 99th was celebrated on Boston news stations (e.g., WCVB). This year’s celebration continued well past Labor Day; there’s a featured interview in the September issue of The Journal (p.11), the residents’ produced publication at 100 Centre St. just a block away.

“Every weekday for the past 75 years, Weiss has sold candy and books and games at Irving’s Toy and Card Shop, not a block away from the Devotion School.” A one-story store, nestled between four story apartments on Harvard Street like a cartoon fixture, it’s around the corner, too, from JFK’s birthplace on Beals St. — where the future President is rumored to have sneaked off to and stolen some candy as a youthful prank, albeit before Ethel’s time.

On Tuesday, May 15, 2012 the Coolidge Corner Theatre hosted the premiere screening of Irving’s Toy Store, a Documentary of the Life of Ethel Weiss. The story of the 18-minute video reinforces and illustrates another dimension of fairy-tale heroism, featuring 12 year-old Hannah Cole, who wanted to celebrate and share Ethel’s life-long accomplishments by bringing her story to life on the big screen, having discovered her as a character in the Beacon Street series of books for young girls. Hannah is not only a featured player in the documentary, she’s given credit as producer and director.

It is safe to say that it was her pitch to BATV that was pivotal to the video’s realization and that the production was a collaborative one, highlighting the involvement of a wide range of BATV staff, given producer, director, and additional credits, five of six of whom are working there today: Krissie Jankowski (Fraser), Andrea Kaslow, Andy McBain, Ben Brown, Erica Casale, and Tessa Amoroso.

The documentary currently airs at 10:00 am Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday, and 6:00 pm Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday. It’s also available as video on demand on the BIG web site or on YouTube.

Larry Lessig’s Amazing MayDay Fight to Save American Democracy

Walking into the Selectmen’s crowded hearing room just before 7:00 pm on September 22, you’re offered a half sheet of 8½x11 paper headed with “Brookline League of Women Voters” and the LWV logo, the MayDay speech title, a photo of Professor Lawrence Lessig by Yanai Yechiel, and information that the Brookline Interactive Group (BIG) will be airing the speech for at least two weeks: Mondays, Thursdays, Sundays: 10:00 am; Tuesdays and Thursdays: 6:00 pm; Wednesdays and Saturdays: 2:00 am. If you’ve got Tivo or television reception with a recording option, anyone of those times will do. And if you’ve Internet access, it’s available as video on demand at, named and linked as League of Women Voters 9/22/14.

Even if you weren’t one of the more than 50,000 people to contribute almost $7,000,000 making the MayDay Pac effort,, the largest crowd-funded online campaign to change Congress ever, even if you’ve just heard about it, you’d want to very much know what’s behind this, can it be real, can it really go anywhere? And if you’ve heard about or know anything about Lessig himself, you’d want to very much know: what’s gotten into such a person?

And Lessig doesn’t disappoint at all. Beginning with his exposition of “Tweedism” — the 19th century newspaper graphic of Boss Tweed with his famous quote: “I don’t care who does the electing, so long as I get to do the nominating,” appearing a several points, each time with a deepening in its meaning and significance — he skillfully ties together all the key elitist similarities in elections across the globe, running from those involving Hong Kong’s nominating committee to Iran’s guardian council to the Russian Politiburo to U.S. Congressional nominating processes.

It’s a fascinating combination of humor and irony and deadly serious straight-forwardness. There are many key moments of revelation — the ending on hopefulness in the face of resignation might have come earlier. Especially significant is Lessig’s repeated recognition that of course there are many issues, this is not the only one — but especially if you care about any political issue that’s tied to a broader democratic agenda, campaign finance reform is an important piece.

While there’s much to be said about the content and presentation of this hour-and-a-half video — how, for instance, especially with its explicit and self-conscious call to patriotism and our role as citizens, it echoes Leonard Cohen’s Democracy, “it’s neither left not right” — here’s just a couple of its meta-features of note. First, as dramatic video, making good use of multi-media mixing and pacing, it already provides an exemplary integrative combination of Lessig’s live in-person delivery and his multi-media power-point slide show, all before an attentive, overflowing audience. It lacks only a little editing and titling to be a finished product fully worthy of its actuality and potential and much more readily positioned to be recognized as such.

Second, the audience itself is no small matter here. Lessig’s presentation is well under an hour — and zips by as integrative multi-media entertainment —and the rest is Q&A, audience give and take, a picture of a good subset of Brookline’s involved citizenry and political activists, present in all of its concern and wanting to learn and wanting to hear itself kind of ways. It’s worth some focus on questioners and commentators, perhaps even with some identifications, if not following the spilling out into the hall, a glance at the featured array of amenities and some of the many secondary gathering spots.

Kathy Bisbee and the Road Ahead

The two videos together thus form, at this point in time, key presentations on that 24/7 channel, available on every cable television in town, presentations available at the click of a button by anyone with Internet access. Yet even with accessible, informative, searchable channel and video-on-demand guides, it’s not likely that many in town fully appreciate the channel and the extensive collection of shows available at one’s fingertips. That kind of recognition is a slow and developing process.

As the transformation from BATV to BIG, from Brookline Access Television to the Brookline Interactive Group suggests, we are moving from a traditional Public-Educational-Governmental / PEG access operation to one involving a much broader and more fluid set of community media center programs, projects, tools, and resources, a transformation in which it is hard to keep a focus on the virtues of the original system, a transformation difficult under the best of circumstances, one that we have been undertaking with an interim management that has been holding the line since last spring, awaiting the results of a national search for a new Executive Director.

The results of that search will bear fruit on December 1, when the newly-appointed Executive Director Kathy Bisbee will officially arrive. Kathy’s appointment was announced only just recently. She’s the remarkable result of an extensive national search, a unanimous selection by the board (see her résumé), chosen for, among other qualifications, her exceptional media, technology, management and community development abilities, having recently served as E.D. in Santa Cruz county, California for two Community Media / PEG access centers simultaneously, one of which covers a 19-municipality area region.

As noted at the end of the official announcement, Kathy will be in town for a day on Tuesday, October 14, and we are holding a reception for her at Town Hall, from 4:30-6:30. RSVP and join us if you can — and bear witness along with us that a new era in community media and technology in Brookline is underway.


Peter Miller is a member of the BIG Board of Directors.


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