The Winchester Multicultural Network invited people to gather on Sunday afternoon, November 20, to identify and discuss constructive steps we all can take to promote social justice and protect civil rights. The large meeting room in the Public Library was packed with people concerned about the potential short and long term impacts of the newly-elected administration. Aba Taylor, Executive Director of the Network, co-led the discussion with former Selectman Tom Howley. She recognized the importance of coming together to share heightened concerns, and noted that “this election forced us to look at ourselves in the collective mirror…if we want to see change we’re going to have to start with ourselves – look within ourselves for our own biases and blind spots and learn to do a better job of reaching out and connecting with people who are different than us. We’re going to have to find a way to break down walls and find common ground.”
Winchester’s Human Rights Statement
Thus the discussion was not about particular political leaders, but about the need to build bridges between members of different voting blocs as well as different advocacy groups, to create alliances that will increase our effectiveness in reaching our goal of a community that lives consistent with the Human Rights Statement, first adopted by the Board of Selectman in 2009, then revised in 2012. Mr. Howley read it to the audience: “Winchester is a community that is grounded in respect for every individual, and therefore protects all residents, employees, business owners, students and visitors in the enjoyment and exercise of human and civil rights. It is Town policy to ensure equal treatment and opportunity to all individuals regardless of race, gender, gender identity, ethnicity, religion, ideology, socio-economic status, health, sexual orientation, age, military status, or disability.” Mr. Howley emphasized that the Human Rights Statement spells out all the different people it protects, to highlight that all people need to be considered to create a caring, inclusive community.
Four Roles of Change Agents
To support the goal of being action-oriented, Ms. Taylor shared her adaptation of a model of civic engagement proposed by Bill Moyer, who developed the Movement Action Plan and co-authored the book Doing Democracy. Moyer identified four roles people can play: Helper/Citizen, who promotes positive values and principles, affirms dignity and respect for all people, and supports efforts to make a difference in society, rather than maintain the status quo; the Reformer/Advocate, who works within mainstream institutions like city hall, the courts, and legislatures to adopt values and goals, through lobbying, lawsuits, influential networks and coalitions; the Rebel, who takes risks, protests, and employs non-violent actions to spotlight problems; and the Organizer/Change Agent, who works through grassroots organizations and networks of activists to educate others and promote strategies for long term change.
Of note, in attendance were several elected officials and town leaders: State Senator Jason Lewis; State Representative Michael Day; Winchester Selectmen Michael Bettencourt and Lance Grenzeback; Richard Howard, Town Manager; Peter MacDonnell, Chief of Police; and Heather Janules, Minister of the Winchester Unitarian Society. Mr. Lewis noted that “we are seeing an alarming increase in acts of racial and ethnic harassment….There is no room for hate, bigotry, or intolerance of any kind in our communities.” In addition to these community leaders, Ms. Taylor noted that by attending this gathering, people were taking a leadership step.
Concerns and Goals
Residents shared a wide range of concerns and goals, including: supporting women and people of color to run for local political office; supporting non-Christian Americans, who are reporting heightened concern; raising awareness of the need to address our assumptions about people who look different than us; working with the schools to create consistent practices addressing intolerance among school children of all ages; supporting refugees; engaging youth in community-wide social justice efforts; and, examining our own accountability in creating or sustaining the current political and cultural climate. A high school student expressed his concern about how friendships could be compromised by differing political affiliations. One woman reported that after the election her young son asked her “Am I an American citizen, since I’m not Christian?” Another woman noted overhearing, before the election, children as young as kindergarten age talking disparagingly about blacks and Asians, during a walk to their neighborhood school.
Shared Goal of Raising Awareness of the Human Rights Statement
There was also an extended discussion in support of raising awareness throughout the town of the Human Rights Statement. Mr. Howley noted, “I think this is an opportunity to communicate the Human Rights Statement, both in its entirety and in bite-size pieces, in all the different places and ways that people receive information, so that as a community we build fluency, developing a vocabulary emphasizing basic dignity and simple values that can be commonly held…like love, friendship, solidarity, and neighborliness, and a shared community vision that insists on dignity and respect for all, leaving no one behind.”