Due to recent occurrences in the news regarding hate and discrimination, the Walpole Town Meeting body agreed to condemn any kind of hate, violence and bigotry linked to hate groups within the town. After discussion from both sides, the body voted on Oct. 18 to adopt Article 28 in order to isolate Walpole from such discrimination.
Specifically, the article states that the members of the Town Meeting “strongly denounce and oppose the totalitarian impulses, violence, xenophobic biases, and bigoted ideologies that are promoted by white nationalists and neo-Nazis and all other hate groups, and call upon the people of Walpole to embrace [their] efforts to join together in denouncing and opposing such totalitarian impulses, violence, xenophobic biases, and bigoted ideologies.”
This article is a joint resolution brought forth by members of Walpole’s Peace and Justice Group and the Action Together Western Norfolk County group. Although there is a long history of discrimination within the country, the recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia were an important factor in proposing Article 28. Audrey Grace, Town Meeting Representative for Precinct 6, presented Article 28 at the Town Meeting on Oct. 18.
“I think Charlottesville was kind of the culmination of a large number of Recent increase in violent events such as Charlottesville, VA inspire Walpole to incite change Town Committee condemns hate groups in Walpole instances of racial oppression, ethnic oppression and religious bigotry that’s been going on in the world lately,” Grace said. “Racism has always been a problem in this country, ethnic oppression has always been a problem in this country, religious bigotry has always been a problem in this country, and it’s always good for leaders in town to speak out when they see that happening, so I think that it’s good for us to call out racism and hate to prevent future problems.”
This past August, the Massachusetts House and Senate released a resolution with nearly identical ideas. President Trump also signed off on a similar resolution condemning white supremacy and bigotry in September; however, the Town Meeting body wanted to explicitly declare Walpole’s stance on such issues.
Some opposed to this proposal, stating that it infringed upon citizens’ first amendment right of free speech; however, the article is not a law but a resolution and does not abridge these groups but condemns them.
“This does not prevent or minimize someone’s ability to do something at all. It’s a resolution as a statement from the town that we do not condone and actively denounce this behavior, but it’s not saying that someone can’t get a permit and have a vigil in the center of Walpole Commons if they wanted to,” Grace said.
Some also mentioned that the topic was not appropriate for Town Meetings, but Grace explained that it is Walpole’s duty to express our disapproval for racial and religious discrimination and hate groups.
“I get that these are difficult conversations, but it’s incumbent upon all of us to speak out against bigotry and hate, and look at other towns who have done this: Salem, Reading, Lexington, Velma, Arlington. If other towns have done this, I think it definitely belongs in town meetings. If the State House can do it, why not us?” Grace said. “Right, left or center, we can all agree that Nazis and white nationalist organizations and hate groups are not good for Walpole, so this is not meant to be some political action.”
Although there was some controversy regarding the decision, there were also positive reactions, and some people’s opinions were changed as a result of the multiple conversations on the article.
“I think the reactions were differing; we had some people who were supportive and some who were weary about it and had some concerns regarding the impact it could have,” Katia Santiago-Taylor, Action Together member, said. “What I actually found was after the Finance Committee meeting, some people had a further understanding of what the resolution could do, and we were able to change some people’s understanding of the goal of the resolution.”
Members of the Town Meeting body are hopeful that this change will implement positive changes and serve as a step in the right direction for targeting issues such as discrimination and injustice.
“I think it’s important to set a good example for everyone in the community, and this is a great first step. If the adults in the room can’t set a good example for the younger people, then we’re doing something wrong,” Grace said. “I think our schools they teach us a lot of great things about tolerance and acceptance, but also about the history of racism and the history of our country and the history of our religious oppression, and we can’t act like Walpole is immune to all of that.”