By Madison Monroe
America’s very existence as a country begs the question “What gives birth to reformation?” What fuels it? What is the beginning of an actual movement that grows, and what is just the political discord of current circumstances that will dissipate with time? Can we predict which is which? I am sure England perceived the Boston Tea Party as an annoying incident that would soon be forgotten. We know differently.
Our country began with dissension that led to a movement and culminated in a revolution. Oh, to have the perspective of history! For history alone will decide if present protests are the beginning of a transforming movement or small backlash demonstrations of the disgruntled. As with any genesis, one can only wonder and watch where it leads.
Any campaign for change requires fuel. It can start with just one person whose soul ignites with a call to action by a driving emotion such as perceived injustice, oppression, indignation, or love of Country. As the vision spreads, like-minded are unified. A shared symbol is adopted. In this case the symbol is the most universal of them all — a flag.
On January 2nd, Cheryl Roberts placed a phone call to Arkansas Flag and Banner requesting a custom made flag. For her, this tale begins with an interview that laid bare the lack of hope in a veteran’s heart and a curious Christmas gift from her sister. This story is a tapestry of humanity that weaves together, across oceans and decades, a 1930’s English Poet, a 1920’s Bronx born WWII hero, and a present day mother from Spencertown, New York.
In November, Tobby Cassuto, a friend of Cheryl’s, asked if she could arrange to have someone film her dying husband, Ike. His WWII air mission memories were flooding back and she wanted to document his stories before his passing. To ensure the footage was shot in the most professional way, Cheryl hired a videographer. They all met at Tobby and Ike’s house. When the camera began to record, Ike started his narrative.
Isadore ‘Ike’ Cassuto was born in the Bronx in New York City in 1924. He enlisted in the Air Force in 1943 and was deployed to the European theater. He was the navigator on the B-17 bomber, the Shady Lady.
On his fourth mission, the plane was shot down. Surviving the crash, Ike and the crew flew a total of 35 missions. He now recalled for the camera the day he was shot down and other missions as if it were yesterday. In 1945, he returned stateside and married his wife of 61 years, Tobby. They had two sons. He became an attorney and practiced tax, trust and estate law. He was appointed trustee of the Sidney and Beatrice Albert Foundation and through that work became an activist for civil rights, environmentalism and the arts. Knowing his passion for politics Cheryl inquired to his feelings about the year’s Presidential campaign and election. He said sadly, “This is not the America I fought for.” She asked if he could give her a word of hope and he said, “I have none.”
Cheryl could see that Ike was getting tired and his breath was becoming more labored. She said her goodbyes, promising Tobby she would have the video soon and would return for a visit when it was ready. Three weeks later, Ike passed away.
On Christmas Day, Cheryl opened a gift from her sister. It was a purple scarf. Included in the box was a neatly folded piece of paper. With curiosity piqued, Cheryl picked up the paper, unfolded it and read the poem “Warning” by Jenny Joseph. It began, “When I am an old woman, I shall wear purple….”
She smiled as she finished reading and put the scarf around her neck. The poem spoke to her. She felt as if the author was extending a tender call to contemplate her course. She quietly questioned, “What matters most?” Her decisive answer: “My country, my children and their future.”
She looked again at the scarf and thought about the black and purple colors Hillary Clinton had worn during her concession speech. On that November day, purple had seemed to be a color of mourning. The poem she had just read celebrated purple as a color of hope. She wondered how she could honor Ike and extend hope to her daughters for the future. She decided to reverse the purple and black image, instead pairing purple with white, for hope. From there, she enlisted her two close friends Linda Mussmann and Claudia Bruce, founders of an art space called Time and Space Limited, to help create a pop-up city wide art installation using purple and white flags as a message to Keep Hope Alive.
With additional help from the business coalition of Hudson, New York, Alana Hauptman, a local restaurateur, businessman Christopher Draghi, and a young activist named Charlie Ferrusi, the first Keep Hope Alive pop-up flag event occurred on January 20th, 2017. The streets of Hudson were lined with 100 purple and white flags and dozens more storefronts displayed purple and white placards with the word HOPE in the center. Since then the flag has spread to New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, North Carolina, and Rhode Island. As we witness the spread of purple, one can only wonder if this is the beginning of a movement? Only history will tell.
To learn more visit the keephopealiveinternational.org website.