I took a year’s leave (unpaid) from Western during the academic year of ’76-’77 so that I could go to The University of Georgia (Athens) to do my Ph.D. coursework. That meant that Bonnie and Kate moved with me into a rather small (but we made it work) two-bedroom apartment in University Village. It wasn’t a bad year, although I suspect it was easier for me (what with classes and my Assistantship running the Fine Arts Auditorium) than it was for Bonnie stuck in a small apartment with a three-year old. In due course, the classes were done, I was admitted to Candidacy, we moved back to Faculty Apartments on the hill above what was then Camp Lab School, and I got back to work (much to Doc Loeffler’s surprise, I suspect) while trying to find time to do dissertation work. Bonnie and Kate got back to a more normal life in Sylva/Cullowhee.
Not too long after that, WLOS, the Asheville-based ABC TV network station, announced they were going to be discontinuing their rebroadcasts of Sesame Street because the folks at NC Public Broadcasting had decided that “… everyone in the state now had access to UNC-TV.” We didn’t know why WLOS (a commercial station) had been allowed to carry Sesame Street in the first place, and we didn’t really care. We just knew that Kate liked it and WE couldn’t get ANY of UNC-TV’s programming on our TV set because we couldn’t get their “line-of-sight” signal through the mountains. (Yes, this was a long time ago when people actually had to use antennas for TV viewing.
Well, this simply was NOT acceptable! The loss of Sesame Street would be serious enough (as I remember it the WLOS rebroadcast was late afternoon when Bonnie could turn it on to entertain Kate while she started supper), but to lose it because UNC-TV had decided that it wasn’t needed because “… everyone in the state now had access to UNC-TV” was infuriating, since it was untrue! Bonnie stewed about this for a few days, then decided to do something. So, she wrote a letter to the General Manager of WLOS, then started talking about this with her friends (mostly, of course, other preschool mothers). I don’t remember any actual sign-carrying picketing occurring, but it was something of a hot topic at least in Cullowhee for a while.
Now, in those days, there was an organization of (mostly) new Faculty wives known as the “Newcomer’s Club” which was organized to help such folks get accustomed to “rather rural” Jackson County. Bonnie was quite active in it, eventually becoming President, so she did have LOT of contacts, many of whom had small children. Western was (and had been) expanding quite a lot over the previous ten years, so there were quite a few new faculty families, many of whom included small children. During the spring luncheon that year, she circulated a petition about this issue.
I, of course, was busy with classes and shows, so I really wasn’t very aware of what was going on, although I was annoyed by the fact that Kate was going to lose access to Sesame Street and that UNC-TV had gotten it so wrong. I confess that I had accepted the lack of PBS, but I had gotten used to the idea that it simply wasn’t available and I didn’t watch much TV at that point in any event.
Anyway, after a fairly short time (a few weeks?), the General Manager of WLOS came on the air to do one of his occasional editorials (which was also how the loss of Sesame Street had been announced) and began with something like: “Never stand in the way of a mother whose child is being denied access to Sesame Street.” He got that far, and we knew that Bonnie had accomplished her mission. She had won!
Now, the reality is, of course, that it’s quite likely that she was only one of a number of folks (probably mostly mothers) who had become involved with this cause, so it’s probably incorrect to suggest that Bonnie had accomplished this all by herself. Still, it’s fun to think of it that way. And, I do know that I have encountered the idea that one unsolicited letter (that is, one which was not part of an organized campaign) to a company or someone holding political office meant that there were probably at least several hundred people who felt the same way. (And, I think the actual number was in the thousands).
Now, I remember first encountering this idea a good many years ago, before “social media,” so “sending a letter” meant tracking down who to write to, actually writing (or typing) something out, putting it in an envelope, putting a stamp on it and mailing it. That’s a good bit more complicated than simply sending off a “tweet” or an email, which explains my belief that they are probably less effective. Still, WLOS was allowed to (and did) continue to carry Sesame Street for another year, or two, and by the time it was removed, the situation had changed a good deal and UNC-TV actually was being received more widely, at least in the Sylva/Cullowhee area of the mountains.
How much difference did Bonnie actually make? We’ll never know. Did her “rabble-rousing” get others involved? Hard to tell. But, change did occur! It pleases me to have been able to see young people get involved on all sides of the “school shooting issue,” even if I disagree with some of them. At least they are using their voices in a peaceful manner in an attempt to accomplish something worthwhile. We should all learn from them that…
This is what democracy looks like! One person CAN be heard. We just all need to quit yelling and listen while waiting our turn to speak our piece!
Gee, that sounds a lot like a lesson from Sesame Street, or Mr. Rogers, but that’s another matter….