Note: This Web
site evolved from the former site of Citizens (with a capital C)
for a Fort Monroe National Park -- a self-appointed,
no-public-membership grassroots committee of about a dozen that I
co-founded in 2006, my second year in the struggle to save Fort Monroe.
With wonderful, hands-on technical leadership -- pro bono for
six years now -- from the IT engineer David Gurganus, I also created,
managed and controlled CFMNP’s Web site. (CFMNP now uses
FortMonroeCitizens.org.) For various reasons -- and even though this
public issue concerns a national treasure rather than the flawed but
well-intentioned humans who are dedicated, in various ways, to defining
its future -- the time has come to report publicly at least some of how
and why things changed with CFMNP.
At CFMNP, we were always
disappointed in the one thing that thwarted our efforts to gain national
attention to Fort Monroe’s endangerment: bizarre dereliction by the
National Trust for Historic Preservation. For years, NTHP consistently
refused to confer on Fort Monroe the starkly obviously needed “most
endangered” status. Instead, NTHP not only countenanced but outright
advocated a high level of control of this national treasure by Hampton
-- despite the inevitably messy and shortsighted local politics that any
city naturally has.
In the “Think Outside the Moat”
PDF that’s linked from the home page, the illustration with the caption
“Is this the best way to frame the fortress?” illustrates Hampton’s 2006
plan for Fort Monroe. It shows a blanket of tall residences swarming the
area marked in red on the home page’s Fort Monroe map. That’s the area
that needs to be added to the national monument to transform it from
fake to real.
Late in 2006, as an official
member of an official committee, NTHP’s Robert Nieweg voted formally to
affirm that plan. My friend and fellow CFMNP co-founder Sam Martin
confronted him about that vote. Mr. Nieweg asked for patience so that he
could work behind the scenes. Five years later, we got the fake,
bifurcated national monument.
And we got a national press that
has been hoodwinked into genuinely believing that all of Fort Monroe is
some sort of national park. (Locally, the Daily Press well understands
the situation, but often deliberately misreports it anyway, despite my
regular protests that they could not defend their practices before a
Journalism 101 class.)
I wish now that I had been more
confrontational over the years about Fort Monroe’s National Trust for
Historic Preservation problem, the way Sam Martin was that time in 2006.
I wish I had done more to challenge the NTHP’s years of high-handed
condescension. I wish I had not trusted those pros from D.C. to get Fort
And I wish my friends at CFMNP had
not gradually shifted into a strategy of meek ingratiation with the
powerful, as can be seen in their March 2012 prescription for future
Fort Monroe. They’re calling for protection of the area in red on the
map, with a vague hope that someday that area might see national
ownership. That’s a mistake. Every year during which Fort Monroe’s
actual owners -- American citizens -- accept anything less than a real
national monument or park is another year during which the wrong
disposition for that red area gets further cemented.
I saw my CFMNP friends’ gradual
shift toward their strategy of meek ingratiation as akin to the
Stockholm Syndrome. And I said so. In particular I urged them not to
squander the many thousands of petition signatures that we had worked so
hard to accumulate during 2008 to 2010 under the initiative and
referendum provisions of the Hampton city charter. Politicians
understand political power, and that’s what those signatures
represented. It’s a long story, but the point is that my friends
squandered them, eventually making the petitions into a merely feckless
symbolic offering to the back-room powers that have continued to
mishandle Fort Monroe.
In late 2010, my divergence
continued from the strategic outlook of the five or six people who
actually constitute CFMNP’s working core. (The other half-dozen are only
partly active.) In early 2011, under ruthless pressure from NTHP, my
friends devised in secret a parliamentary maneuver to oust me from the
group. It was the culmination of five years during which we had all seen
the back-room powers do various things to silence their Fort Monroe
challengers and critics -- though CFMNP had never before chosen to
operate in such a way itself.
It’s important to stipulate that
wonderfully dedicated citizen volunteers make up CFMNP. In particular,
it’s important to recognize that CFMNP president Mark Perreault has done
more than anybody on the planet for future Fort Monroe. That’s why I
called publicly for him to be invited to the White House when the
president declared parts of Fort Monroe a national monument. (It turned
out that his invitation had already been extended. Good!)
If anybody from CFMNP, or anybody
who has been involved in the Fort Monroe politics described here, wishes
to comment about anything I have written, she or he should please e-mail
me and I will post whatever I receive, with a hyperlink from this page.
(Maybe I’ll post a reply comment, and maybe there’ll be a dialogue,
though I suspect it’s wiser to concentrate directly on Fort Monroe.)
Moreover, I apologize to the users
of this Web site for what may be an excessive dwelling in this note on
what’s (partly) merely personal. But here’s why all of this matters
beyond the people involved: CFMNP does not have a monopoly on
representing public sentiment for Fort Monroe. Anyone who doesn’t
believe that should ask public officials about the e-mail messages they
received in July 2011 when the public was invited to comment on Fort
Monroe’s future. I know, just from those who happened to cc or bcc me,
that at least a hundred people answered my public call to insist on a
real national park instead of the fake one.
Though I work with and for a large
number of such friends of Fort Monroe, I alone am responsible for
FortMonroeNationalPark.org. You can think of it as the Web site of
citizens (with a small c) for a Fort Monroe National Park.
That’s a completely unofficial and absolutely unorganized group of
people who understand that when public officials whose status is
intertwined with the real estate industry carve out land for private
purposes from a national treasure, something’s wrong, and someone needs
forthrightly to stand up and say so.
Save Fort Monroe.
Steven T. Corneliussen
March 25, 2012