Rockland should be proud of diversity resolve
Rockland should be proud of its recent statement to the world. The City Council, with the support of hundreds of citizens, as well as Rockland community organizations, congregations and businesses, approved a statement of beliefs proclaiming Rockland to be a welcoming city that honors a diverse population. Rockland, like the United States, has always been a mixing pot of a city. Rockland should honor that heritage and continue to proudly be a home for all people.
In the discussions about this resolution, in two lengthy City Council meetings, the community heard testimony that all is not well in our world. We heard testimony that students in our schools, despite the wonderful work of the teachers and administrators, face abuse from their peers for real and perceived differences. We heard testimony that people who live and work in Rockland face abuse and threats. We heard testimony from our police department that they know people do not report a significant amount of these actions.
For anyone who watched or listened to the two nights in which people poured out their hearts about what has happened to them in this area, recounting incidents in the schools with swastikas, street harassment, KKK flyers locally, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and gender non-conforming students being targeted, and more, but still thinks it isn’t a problem because they themselves haven’t heard about it or experienced it, what is making you not able to hear these people, or respect their experiences as real?
Many who live and work in Rockland do not experience these attacks, do not live in a state of fear. Many do not realize how the national conversation may have changed what is acceptable in this city and the surrounding communities. So yes, we do need to affirm that we as a community stand up for those who need protecting. And those who support such measures should be commended for their actions.
But we also need to clear up some misunderstandings that have been bubbling since the council approved this resolution.
First, some people have claimed that the resolution is itself intolerant of the views of those who did not support it. On the contrary, we really do want Rockland to celebrate a diversity of opinion. However, we ask those who opposed this resolution to consider if and when they have felt truly threatened by hidden structures of power and oppression, and have they been targeted as an entire group? We think in this case there is a big difference between those who feel nervous because people disagree with their personal opinions, versus those who face institutional and interpersonal targeting because of the color of their skin, their accent, their socioeconomic status, their sexuality, their gender expression, etc. While it is true that in history, some groups have indeed been persecuted for their beliefs, we do not think that is happening in Rockland right now.
Second, this resolution was a community effort with many people working to draft the document. The supporters of the resolution were not opposed to new language being added by the mayor or councilors. In fact, they had expected it would be altered in the community workshop process. However, they were not ready to accept a totally different document, drafted by the mayor, who, out of step with City Council protocol, made it behind the scenes before the community even had the chance to speak at the workshop.
Perhaps the mayor was well-intentioned in drafting an alternative “diversity resolution,” but the situation was unclear because it was in fact the mayor who had specifically requested that the resolution come to a workshop rather than going directly to a vote, so that the variety of thoughts in the community could be aired. Unfortunately, rather than wait for the workshop to listen to the community, Mayor Clayton took the official resolution, and cut out most of it, removing terms such as “climate change,” “gender expression,” “neurodiversity," “gender inclusive bathroom access” and “immigration status.” These actions went against the democratic, open process the council is striving for, and should be engaging in.
Supporters of the resolution sat down in a public workshop with the council and other interested parties and discussed specifics and general issues for quite some time. The council and mayor were asked what, if any, issues they had with the resolution to look for compromise. At that time, the mayor did not respond with any of the concerns he has brought up after the fact.
While most of us were OK with getting rid of much of the original resolution if necessary to find more common ground, the primary things the mayor and the few people who spoke against it wanted to remove appeared to be those which made it a diversity resolution in the first place. To intentionally remove the groups who are the most vulnerable would have been to make the diversity resolution an instrument of discrimination.
Much has been said about the nature of this resolution, does it have consequences, does it have teeth? This resolution does not obligate the city to any action, but is a values statement. There are no ordinances, no fiscal obligation nor fiscal risks, as some have suggested. Rather it is a statement of welcome and support for all those who land in this harbor.
We look forward to continuing the conversation. We hope to work to make Rockland and the surrounding communities a better place to live, while preserving so many of the fantastic things about this place, including for the people who might have felt either not included in the resolution, or did not see the need for it, or who truly disagreed with many of the parts of the document. We feel that in the end the resolution has shown our community to be invested in protecting all of us, and to extending support and welcome especially to those right now who feel most afraid and unwelcome. We are proud of Rockland, and hope you are, too.
Chrisso Rheault is a resident of Cushing. Others who either collaborated in the writing of this column or who have signed onto it include Madison Kushner, Rockland; Hannah Faesy, works in Rockland; Becca Shaw Glaser, Rockland; Kendra Denny, Rockland;Susan Wind, Rockland; Riley Neugebauer, Lincolnville; Heather Ellsworth, Camden; Chelsea Kidd, Rockland; Lynne Manning, Rockland.