I first became aware of The Town Hall, I have to admit, through the Christopher Guest mockumentary A Mighty Wind. In the movie, three aging folk groups are brought together for a concert in Town Hall to honor the memory of one of their early promoters. When I began to walk past Town Hall on my way to work, I grew curious about its history. This curiosity was piqued by the scriptural quotation engraved on the façade: “Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” New York City is an architect’s smorgasbord and I am often intrigued by the little gems I spy here and there. I discovered that The Town Hall was originally a political venue built by The League for Political Education, an organization sorely needed now. Built because of the need for a public space to discuss the Nineteenth Amendment (which the League supported), Town Hall was originally a venue to keep the public informed.
The Nineteenth Amendment—which the Tea Party seems to have overlooked, along with much of what we recognize as democracy—was drafted by Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. It took congress only four decades to ratify it. Women were finally given the right to vote. Stanton was noted for her suffrage activities, including the production of The Woman’s Bible. The idea that an entire half of the human race should share the rights of the other half seems to have required a building erected to educate the public. Of course, there were moments when even The Town Hall couldn’t bear the words spoken on stage, as when Margaret Sanger was arrested for speaking about contraception there in 1921. I suspect there were Tea Partiers in the audience.
The same stage also provided a venue for Edna St. Vincent Millay to have her poetry reading breakthrough. Richard Strauss and Sergei Rachmaninoff performed there, as did any number of other greats. Truth may take many forms. Certainly human equality is as basic a truth as can be found. Art and poetry are equally as parsimonious, in the formal sense of the word. These things that we value are the very aspects of culture that the Tea Party would like to curtail. Thankfully there have been believers in the truth in the past who have been willing to construct monuments to sanity. And I can’t help but think that there would be even more of them if we still had a League for Political Education to help promote the truth. Without it, as it says in stone, we can never be truly free.