Greenfield Community College

GCC speaker talks of area’s invaluable sense of community

GREENFIELD — A local civil liberties lawyer, author and radio show host told an audience at Greenfield Community College Wednesday that the towns along the Connecticut River Valley share an invaluable sense of community.

That sense, William C. Newman told those attending, manifests itself in spontaneous acts of generosity, in debates over issues in which those participating “are rarely demonized,” and in a “genuine interest in collective experience.”

Newman was the 12th annual Henry Steele Commager Lecture speaker at GCC. The Commager Lecture Series commemorates Henry Steele Commager, one of the country’s pre-eminent historians and a long-time professor at Amherst College, and focuses on themes of democracy, civil liberties and civil rights. Commager was a strong supporter of community colleges and donated many of his books to GCC.

“Our hope is that we contribute to building community,” Newman said of his daily radio show — which airs on WHMP radio, as well as at — “and not to the Balkanization of news.” Newman used Fox News on TV as an example of the tendency in today’s media to appeal to those who want to hear their own views confirmed, but who are not interested in contrary opinions.

Newman is active in the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts and has practiced law since the mid 1970s, focusing on protecting the rights of workers and union members, the injured, the criminally accused, and those whose civil rights and civil liberties have been abridged or denied.

He has served as the director of the Western Regional Law Office of the American Civil Liberties Union since 1987.

He co-hosts the “Bill Newman Show” with Chris “Monte” Belmonte, a longtime local radio personality.

Newman commented on the difference between national and local news media, saying that the latter offers opportunities not possible for national sources.

“It’s not parochialism,” he insisted, criticizing large media that covers “a long list of issues that is more impressive in its length than in its depth of coverage.”

Newman said that he and other commentators are “moochers.”

“We mooch off the reporters; we’re dependent on those who do the hunting and gathering of news and their ranks are shrinking,” he said. “A new economic model is needed to help support this sort of basic newsgathering.”

He cited a recent study that found that less than half the amount of money is spent today on reporting than was spent 25 years ago.

Shifting back to his original subject, Newman asked the audience, “Why is ‘community’ such as we have here so rare? Why is it so hard? What can we do?”

He answered his own question with a quote from Robert Kennedy:

“Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”

Editor’s Note: Earlier versions of this story contained an erroneous spelling of Chris Belmonte’s last name.

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