Do We Really Want to Relive the Lessons of the Past?


2016-12-09 – I got a call today from a reporter wanting to interview me about my past work with the Committee to End Pay Toilets in America (CEPTIA). I’ve written about that experience here a few times (Committee to End Pay Toilets In America—A Lens on the 60s? is one). Every so often, someone gets wind of what we did and gives us a call. It’s always a nice nostalgic moment. And often it raises a new issue to think about—even after all these years.

The thing that got me thinking today was the fact that the reporter had no clue about how pay toilets actually operated. It was no fault of his own. He was born after our successful campaign. So he had never encountered a locked stall. I explained how the locks were mounted in the stall doors. So you could enter the restroom but not use the toilet if you didn’t have a dime. I also explained that, since the locks were on stall doors, urinals remained free. The result was that pay toilets had a disproportionate impact on women.

As my wife Kit says, we did good for women when we got the pay walls banned from restrooms in America.

Not long after I got off the interview, I ran across a story talking about Donald Trump’s pick to head the EPA. The story complains that Americans forget the smoggy air and polluted waters that existed before the EPA began to clean them up.

It’s true. People do forget the lessons of the past.

Take anti-vaxxers, for example. We hear a lot about vaccines causing autism. This has been debunked, but that never stopped people from continuing to spread the story. My angle on anti-vaxxers has been a little different, however. My angle is that anti-vaxxers don’t remember what it was like before vaccines. The thinks we vaccinate our kids for were once truly horrible. But we don’t remember that so vaccines seem like an ambiguous gamble. They are not.

I remember smoggy cities. I remember polio scare. I remember being really, really sick from chicken pox.

There’s a lot we don’t remember. There are two ways to be reminded of the horrors of the past. We can read about them in history books. Or we can relive them.

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