The Network convened Winchester residents for a third civic gathering on Thursday, May 18, at the Sanborn House, with the goal of “Building Momentum” from two prior civic gatherings. The first had been held in November at the Winchester Public Library, post-election, at the request of residents. It led to a second gathering in February at the Jenks, “A Caring and Connected Community.” After sharing examples of positive civic engagement, participants chose a table topic and sat down together to explore actions to pursue. Each gathering had over 100 residents in attendance.

At the May session, Aba Taylor, Executive Director; Tom Howley, Network community advisor; Michael Bettencourt, Vice-President of the Board of Selectmen; Susan Verdicchio, Chair of the School Committee; and Hillary Turkewitz, Board member and chair of the Network’s Response Committee guided the evening’s presentations and discussion. Over a dozen resident-led activist groups had representatives ready to report on their activities to an overflow audience.

In introductory remarks, Tom reviewed the history of the earlier community gatherings, and the definite movement from political divisions, fears and concerns into Winchester’s strengths, its common ground and its shared values. At this Civic Gathering #3, the warmth of the spring evening was more than matched by the warmth of communication and collaboration by Winchester’s connecting and affirmation of our better selves. The evening itself was rich with the diverse perspectives in the room.

Hillary invited point persons for active groups to report back on meetings, initiatives in process, and future goals. A small sampling of impressive actions already underway by the various groups includes

  • talking with the Chamber of Commerce about how business people can react if shoppers are signaled out and made to feel uncomfortable,
  • an excellent “citizenship kit” available to foster civic education,
  • introduction of mindfulness practices,
  • raising awareness of our Human Rights Statement at a Town Day booth,
  • research on levels of sanctuary for immigrants,
  • approaches for hiring a more diverse faculty,
  • a list of value-based actions for coaches and young athletes to discuss and agree to,
  • the distribution of over 350 “Hate Has No Home Here” lawn signs,
  • the possibility of extending voting privileges to non-citizens in local elections,
  • incorporation of Southern Poverty Law Center’s “Teaching Tolerance” into professional development for faculty,
  • family-friendly activities to promote social justice with 75 families already joining in to prepare meals for homeless people, to fill student backpacks with food for weekends,
  • supporting persons of color and women to run for local office with a success rate of 15 out of 20 candidates elected so far,
  • intergenerational conversations on civic issues.

A handout, made available to participants, listed the groups formed in February—point persons, emails, mission, and actions. Additionally, Aba encouraged everyone attending to make sure an email address was available for further inclusion. One immediate identified need was the creation of a communication tool or resource through which group leaders and others can share information, questions and planning.

Tom’s introduction of “The Town Common” concept as a loose, non-intrusive organizing theme gained enthusiastic acceptance. The concept would feature the Common’s iconic ancient red oak tree as an easily recognizable symbol, and build from resident Casey Bauer’s idea of a virtual civic center that creates connected civic and mission-driven groups. The grass-roots community engagement passion, energy, and independence, found in individual groups, would persist within the shade and cover of the giant oak tree on the Common.

Each person left with take-home assignments: a) share what our visions for Winchester are, b) find one goal for your group to accomplish now, c) figure out how your group might collaborate with another, and, as emphasized by Michael, d) bring new people to the next meeting.

An early autumn civic gathering will reunite working groups, their friends, as well as new interest groups that may evolve. The Network will continue to sustain this civic work through its mission of working toward a connected, equitable, and inclusive community in which those who live and work here will feel secure, respected, and able to have their voices heard.