Sentinel Marks 10th Year: Little Has Changed

“Either you repeat the same conventional doctrines everybody is saying, or else you say something true, and it will sound like it’s from Neptune.”

—Noam Chomsky in the September, 1999 issue of The Progressive

       This MONTH marks the tenth anniversary of this non-profit newspaper. A report or summary of this past decade is in order. If there is a central theme here, it is there has been little change in The Sentinel, or in its rationale for existence.

       This publication exists solely due to the financial support of members of Baltimore News Network, Inc. (BNN), our nonprofit organization. We could greatly benefit from increased support from the community, but unfortunately only a small segment of our readership financially supports this effort.

       We are grateful for the loyal support we do receive, and strive to be worthy of it. We are all indebted to them for their commitment and generosity to the broader community.

       The Sentinel’s reason for being is published on the first page of every issue. Simply put, we believe the mainstream media marginalize or simply ignore peace and social justice issues. The Sentinel thus gives voice to the voiceless, providing the public with an outlet and sounding board for information and ideas.

       Our primary sources for major articles likewise remain unchanged. Through our nonprofit status we are able to obtain permissions to reprint articles that otherwise would not be widely available to our readership. We depend primarily on reprints from such publications as In These Times, Dollars and Sense, The Defense Monitor and a few others. For most readers, these articles represent new information, as neither the Sun nor the various other local newspapers cover these topics so thoroughly--if they cover them at all. Our readers sometimes express surprise that we are able to “scoop” other local media--sometimes by months or even years. It’s not that we’re wonderful--it’s that our other media appear to be more interested in stimulating consumerism and maintaining the status quo than they are in investigative journalism.

       In addition to reprints, as readers know, we publish original writing by local people.

       The Sentinel has published four columnists on a revolving basis. John Brain’s philosophical and sociological observations make readers look at things in fresh ways. Max Obuszewski has an encyclopedic knowledge of behind-the-scenes issues, and doesn’t just talk about things, he actually wades into the fray and organizes and demonstrates in behalf of social justice and human rights. Ellen Barfield has devoted her life to these causes, and her thoughtful observations and clear thinking help others understand her involvement. A. Robert Kaufman has been a prolific and lively contributor, sharing his frustrations with the powers-that-be as well as his ideas. Two others have been columnists during the past decade--Loyola professor Andy Ciafalo and actor/writer/attorney Bill Hughes. We thank all of them for their loyal support.

       Our “Spotlight On” feature has likewise appeared regularly since 1989. In it, Max Obuszewski highlights the work of Baltimore’s peace and social justice groups. Often Max’s “Spotlights” have been personalized--more often than not he has been involved in the groups he writes about. These might include a report about an “action” at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Howard County; or telling about picketing an “arms bazaar” in Washington. Or else he’ll provide an update on a political prisoner (such as Phil Berrigan or Mordechai Vanunu of Israel), or tell about a day in court (sometimes his own trial for civil disobedience). He makes readers feel his social conscience as though it were their own. (I most often feel this connection to Max when he writes an open letter to a judge or to Governor Glendening.)

       Over the years we have been blessed with hardworking, dedicated volunteers. Most especially, we recognize with deep gratitude the depth and quality of the mentorship offered by Ted Klitzke, retired Dean of Faculty of the Maryland Institute, College of Art, who for many years served as president of BNN, and whose wise counsel and encouragement have been invaluable. And we honor the vision and commitment of the late Helen Hollingsworth, who understood perhaps better than anyone how important it is that the public be well-informed and have avenues in which to work constructively toward peace. Through her tireless efforts to bring people together and help build connections and find common ground, she was an incredible catalyst for what is highest and best in all people, if they will only seek it.

       We have not been able to do as many original investigative stories as we had hoped. To do that, we would need to be able to support and indemnify talented journalists on a long-term basis, and that has not been possible on our limited budget.

       Our “Vision and Action” speaker series has brought different ideas and perspectives to the community. Some events have attracted large audiences--especially the one discussing the future of live theater in Baltimore. BNN has been credited with inspiring the formation of Baltimore Theater Alliance as an outgrowth of that evening. Often the audiences have been small, but they have always been lively and interested.

       BNN opened a used book store on West 25th Street to help raise funds for its projects, including The Sentinel. To our loyal customers, it became a bit of an “institution,” where neat books could be bought at low prices. All books were donated, and our shop was always filled to overflowing thanks to our generous donors. BNN Books had to vacate its location because its building was to be demolished to make room for a CVS pharmacy. We remain in the book business, however, by selling at special events, such as the Baltimore Book Fair, or by holding special book sales at the homes of our volunteers.

       Over the years, we have learned many lessons. One of them is that Baltimore is not the city that reads. While our shop had many loyal customers, we were amazed and disappointed that so few local people seem to have the time or inclination to explore used bookshops--one of life’s great simple entertainments. Especially notable in their rarity were college students. They just do not haunt bookshops in Baltimore as they do, say, around Harvard Square near Boston. Other local independent bookshops would no doubt agree that not enough local people support them.

       Though The Sentinel has not changed a great deal in the past decade, I find that I have. My views about our society and our world have expanded greatly, and this is due in no small part to having had the wonderful opportunity of being The Sentinel’s editor. As much as I bitch and complain about corporate greed and government corruption, including its insensitivity to the real needs of the population, I do not feel hopeless. Instead, I think I have an explanation of how social, political and economic change will occur.

       My conclusion is not original. The solution was expressed by President Eisenhower when he said, “If the people will lead, the government will follow.” We have to remember that there are more “people” than there are “leaders,” so if only the people would claim their own power, we could change the political and economic structure so that it benefits “us,” the vast majority of people.

       And as we’ve been saying in The Sentinel for the past ten years, the first step towards change is information. That’s what The Sentinel is all about: bringing to the public information from a progressive, humanitarian point of view, showing what needs to be changed in order to benefit people. Change for “us”: not for the mega-corporations, not for the power-entrenched, not for the military, and not for those the late sculptor Reuben Kramer so aptly called the “fat cats.” We have to realize it is “us” that counts--us and our future generations. We must pull together to usher in an age of peace and political and economic justice.

       The Sentinel can be an agent of change only through its readers’ support. We hope Baltimore News Network will be among the worthy causes that will merit your support.

       What changes would I want to see for The Sentinel? Each month BNN could easily fill several more pages of worthwhile news and information that is not being published elsewhere in Baltimore. There’s plenty to report about the peace and social justice community, let alone environmental and labor concerns and issues. It saddens me that so much of this goes under-reported or unreported locally.

       It would also be wonderful to have the space to publish locally-produced essays, biographies of noteworthy local people, poetry or creative photography.

       One can hope. In that vein I am reminded of a Jewish expression: “Next year in Jerusalem.” For BNN and its newspaper, our cry would be, “Next year, another page or two!”

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This story was published on October 6, 1999.