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The 2013 Tony Awards

By Tony Palmeri

The 12th (!) annual Tony Awards column for excellence in local media is dedicated to the late Anita Simm. Anita passed away in June at the age of 91. She and her late sister Marcile lived for many years on Parkway Ave. in Oshkosh; we were neighbors and great friends. Part of the friendship was a mutual interest in being well informed about local, state, national, and international issues. If “news junkie” ever enters the dictionary, Anita’s picture should accompany it to illustrate what such a person looks like.

Some years ago I asked Anita what she thought of the quality of mainstream, corporate news media. “Why is it so awful?” she asked with a quizzical look. Then as now, I wish I had a good answer.
So in honor of Anita, here are the 2013 Tonys. Drum roll please:

Best Feature News Story:

“Finding a Dentist When on Medicaid Like Pulling Teeth,” in the May 2013 Oshkosh SCENE. A great news feature should give voice to an issue too long neglected, marginalized, or misunderstood. Kudos to story writer Cheryl Hentz and Oshkosh SCENE editor Justin Mitchell for helping readers understand the shameful state of dental care for Wisconsin’s poor. As stated in Mitchell’s Editor’s Note: “I hope you can see with me, or at least question – what kind of system reduces its people to requiring overnight ‘camping’ . . . to stand in line for many hours in hopes of receiving one visit from a dentist? Stated differently: How dysfunctional is our state dental care system that so many Wisconsinites have no access to dental care, except to hope for care from a volunteer dentist or to join a growing number of Wisconsinites who make up an estimated 32,000 hospital emergency room visits for dental related issues.”

Best Use Of Social Media:

Lorenzo Annis’ “Take Back Your City Oshkosh” Facebook page. Concerned with what many perceive as a disturbing increase in drug activity and crime in Oshkosh, Mr. Annis created the Facebook page as a forum to air out the issues. In a short period of time, the page generated over 2,000 likes, which is no small accomplishment for social media with political overtones. Some people (myself included) heard the name “Take Back Your City Oshkosh” and immediately had visions of racist wingnuts urging Oshkosh police to institute “stop and frisk” policies or some other repressive madness. But Mr. Annis has been clear that neither the Facebook page nor he personally will be used as a vehicle for hatred or intolerance. His vision of a strong Oshkosh includes healthy, welcoming neighborhoods that celebrate diversity and inclusion. That sentiment deserves thousands more “likes.”

Best Social Consciousness Raising:

Ellis Paul Consulting’s “Diversity Movie and Discussion” nights. Ellis Paul Consulting is two activists: Janine Wright and Tracey Robertson. They believe that “one of the obstacles to diversity is the lack of experience in discussing racial/class/gender ideas in mixed social groups. Our plan is to have regular movie-discussion nights in order to foster deeper and more meaningful relationships and communication in the Oshkosh community.” Creating such relationships might lead to more open communication in our neighborhoods, less bullying by adults and children, a more equitable distribution of community resources, and increased diversity in government agencies. Movie and discussion nights are held at houses of faith across Oshkosh. For a complete schedule, go to www.blackvoicesofoshkosh.com

Best Blues Revival:

Cave Productions and the Oshkosh Native Son Blues Society (ONSBS). Speaking of Janine Wright, she and her husband Artemas are passionate about Blues music. Cave Productions and the Oshkosh Native Son Blues Society are two vehicles they’ve created to bring this historic art form to Oshkosh. In 2012 ONSBS received a grant to help support bringing Blues education into the local schools. In 2013 Cave Productions and ONSBS brought some spectacular acts to the Electric Lounge in Oshkosh including Maurice John Vaughn, Michael Murphy, Mike Wheeler, Nellie Travis, Reverend Raven and the Chain Smokin’ Altar Boys and others. These concerts helped support the three very worthwhile goals of the ONSBS: (1) support local blues musicians and venues hosting blues events; (2) educate the community on the diverse Blues genre; (3) enhance Oshkosh culture in order to attract more Blues entertainers.

Best Letter to the Editor:

Robin Lutz on the “Sequester Surcharge.” Tea Party endorsed politicians like Senator Ron Johnson tell us repeatedly that government spending is reckless and out of control. Johnson says he does not like forced spending cuts, i.e. the sequester, but that “some mechanism needs to be in place to force action.” So you’d think that Johnson would have applauded the Federal Aviation Administration’s decision, in light of sequester cuts, to charge the Experimental Aircraft Association over $400,000 for air traffic control services during AirVenture, right? Nope. Turns out that we only need sequestration to make cuts in programs Johnson doesn’t like.

In a letter to the Oshkosh Northwestern, citizen Robin Lutz had the best take on the FAA’s decision to charge EAA for services. She said the fee should be called the “sequester surcharge,” a direct result of policy decisions made by so-called fiscal conservatives like Senator Johnson. I sincerely hope that “Sequester Surcharge” becomes a permanent part of American political discourse.
Congratulations to all 2013 Tony Award winners!

Tony Palmeri (tony@tonypalmeri.com) is a professor of communication studies at UW Oshkosh.

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