Tumultuous Meeting for Human Rights Commission

The Revere Human Rights Commission (HRC) held its regular monthly meeting last Thursday, December 2, in the City Council Chambers.

Chairperson Janine Grillo Marra called the meeting to order and took the roll call of commissioners. Her fellow commissioners on hand for the meeting were Rev. Timothy Bogertman, Fire Chief Chris Bright,  Dr. Lourenco Garcia, Chai Hossaini, and Kourou Pich.

The highlights — and lowlights — of the meeting included a discussion about establishing a city-wide observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day and, during the public forum part of the meeting, repeated outbursts from audience members that led to Marra gaveling the meeting to a recess until order could be restored.

Following are the commission’s agenda items and the discussions pertaining to each item:

Arrive & Settle – Brief Silence:

The meeting began with the commission’s usual Arrive and Settle in which Marra leads the group in a meditative exercise. The commission does not recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

“We will get started the way that we usually do,” said Marra, who owns a yoga and wellness studio. “We get started by arriving and settling so that we can be as fully present as possible in our bodies, hearts, and minds and connect with each other, the community, and really, all beings.

“So find a comfortable way to sit or, if you like, stand. You can either close your eyes or keep your eyes open without focusing them,” she continued.

“Just feel the simplicity of being in a body…the effect of gravity…the way you’re contacting the chair, the ground….just sense into so many others in bodies confronted with health, or sickness, or injury….each unique, yet very similar on a fundamental level….just feel the breath flow in and the breath flow out….breathing might be shallow or deep, smooth or jagged, if you can just make space for what’s here….if it feels comfortable, you might take some slower, deeper breaths…..just sense into how as long as we’re alive, we’re here breathing together…now just notice your state of being…you might feel agitated or calm…joyful, sorrowful…how I’m disconnected…so many states of being may pass through us…just notice how they change…sense into how others have similar experiences…in your own way, connect to each other…to those in the community, those across the country, and really, all beings.

“And now for those of us who are here in person…join me in reciting our Mission Statement together,” said Marra.

The commissioners in unison then recited the HRC’s Mission Statement, which is as follows:

“The Mission of the Revere Human Rights Commission is to promote human and civil rights and empower all people of Revere by ensuring that everyone, especially the most vulnerable and marginalized, have equitable opportunities, equal access, and are treated with dignity, respect, fairness, and justice.”

Topics for Discussion:

a. Martin Luther King, Jr., Day (January 17, 2022)

Marra began the discussion with the observation that the city does not have a formal observance or significant recognition of Martin Luther King (MLK) Day. She offered the suggestion that students might re-enact one of Dr. King’s speeches or other excerpts that they might want to share either at an HRC meeting or in another city building.

“I think it’s a very good idea to get the youth involved,” said Chief Bright. “I’m sure (School Supt.) Diane Kelly would be very pleased to work with us to come up with something good.”

“This is a wonderful idea and we should pursue it, especially if we haven’t done anything in the past,” added Rev. Bogertman.

“I don’t know about the feasibility of doing this between now and the holiday,” said Dr. Garcia, who is the Assistant Supt. of Inclusion and Equity in the Revere public schools. “The idea of engaging the youth is a great idea. I’ll start looking into it. The idea of bringing someone to talk on that date would be excellent as well.”

“There are so many things we can do to have the city do an acknowledgement of Dr. King’s Day,” said Pich, who referenced what is done in Chelsea, which has had a formal MLK Day observance for many years that is a collaborative effort among the city, the schools, and civic organizations.

b. HRC Group Norms – Shared Intentions – Agreements

Marra presented a list of Shared Intentions and Group Norms to her fellow commissioners for their consideration.

“I pulled samples from different sources of group norms, just a starting point as to how we want to include these in our meeting,” said Marra.

The information displayed by Marra was as follows:

Shared Intentions:

— Take space, make space

— What is said here, stays here (Marra pointed out that this norm is not applicable to a public meeting.)

— What is learned here, leaves here

— Brave space

— One mic, one speaker

— Offer what you can, ask for what you need

— Listen with compassion and curiosity.

— Take pauses

— Be willing to rest with discomfort

Group norms:

— Be open-minded

— Treat each other with courtesy and respect

— Create trust and a sense of belonging

— Avoid hidden agendas and gossip

— Take ownership for mistakes

— Act for the overall good of the team and the community

— Share information

— Come to meetings fully prepared

— When you commit to doing something, do it or seek help if you can not

— Celebrate accomplishments

— No technology use during meetings other than what is relevant to the meeting.

Each of the commissioners spoke briefly to give their reaction to the presentation, with all expressing their  support for the general themes presented in the norms.

“Do we want to have these be under one umbrella and then decide what we want to call that?” queried Marra.

Garcia suggested, “The norms and Mission Statement should be read in at least three different languages, Portuguese, Spanish, Arabic, to ensure that everyone feels included in our meetings.”

Bogertman felt that reading all of the information in so many languages before each meeting might be time-consuming, but that perhaps only one or two norms be read at each meeting.

Other Business:

There was no other business.

Public Forum (community members have opportunity to address the HRC).

Diana Ploss, who said she is an Independent candidate for governor, stepped to the microphone.

“The first thing I want to do is recite the Pledge of Allegiance because it is customary for me when I attend meetings in other cities and towns,” Ploss said. “I hope that members of the commission will stand and recite it.”

Ploss then put her hand over her heart and recited the Pledge of Allegiance.

“I have two questions,” she said. “What is your model for this Human Rights Commission?”

Marra then asked Ploss to provide her second question.

“Where does the U.S. Constitution come into place?” said Ploss. “My understanding of the Constitution is that it does protect the civil rights of everybody, regardless of race, color, or creed. So why is there a need for a Human Rights Commission if we already have the Constitution?”

Garcia took up Ploss’s latter query.

“The reason for the Human Rights Commission is to define and protect the voices of everyone,” said Garcia. “Yes, we do have the Constitution with everybody’s rights protected — in theory.

“But when you look at the history of this country, people were not treated equally,” said Garcia. “There were issues of racism and other discrimination and many other facets of social issues that affect a lot of people in this country. It is clear that it is the experience of many people in this country that there is still oppression and oppressive practices. Inequality in this country is huge.

“Yes, the U.S. Constitution is a great document, a lot of safeguards there, but the fact of the matter is that immigrants, African-Americans, and other people of color continue to be perceived as less capable than others, and that it why we need this commission, to support the dignity and voices of those who historically have been overshadowed,” Garcia continued. “I’ve gone through this myself as an immigrant.”

“Revere has become a melting pot,” he added. “We need a body like this, that is very representative, to have people from different facets and different cultures to be there and defend those whose voices and access to opportunity have been overshadowed for many years.”

Ploss said she wanted to respond to Garcia’s comments, but was rebuffed by Marra, who pointed out that other members of the commission might want to speak.

“My rights are feeling very violated,” said Ploss. “Does anyone else have a comment?”

Pich then joined the discussion.

“It is important to have an HRC,” Pich said. “Within this city, who sits at the table? Look at the City Council or the School Committee. Who holds the power? It is important that there is a body such as this. Black people are being killed every day. My question to you is, ‘Why does the Constitution not protect these people?’ That is my question to you, who is someone who is running for governor.”

“I grew up in Roxbury,” replied Ploss. “I’m 58. I was around during busing. Black and white people got along fine. But the U.S. Constitution is the law of the land. Trying to place another body above that is actually treason. This is treason.”

Meanwhile, another audience member, who presumably accompanied Ploss, held up two handwritten signs that said. “Abolish human rights commission,” and, “Respect all human rights.”

Ploss and commissioners Garcia and Hossaini engaged in more back-and-forth — Ploss was not speaking into her microphone so her statements were not picked up on the video of the meeting — but the meeting then degenerated into a shouting match that also involved a male who came towards the front of the room, talking loudly and gesticulating toward the commissioners.

Despite repeated attempts by Marra to restore order by banging her gavel, she was unable to do so and the meeting was suspended.

When the meeting resumed after an eight-minute recess, Marra addressed the meeting.

“As much as we would like to engage in dialogue, that was not dialogue,” said Marra. “We were being monopolized.  We ask that members of the public speak with us in a respectful way.”

Meg Simmons, a resident who attended the meeting via Zoom, was recognized by Marra.

“That was well-handled,” said Simmons. “Nobody could have expected that.”

“We look forward to meeting with members of the community,” added Marra. “We just ask that you come here to have a conversation, not with an agenda. We don’t mind having difficult conversations, but we want to move towards having better understanding, not further division and not having fingers being pointed at us.”

The commission concluded the meeting by approving the minutes from its previous meeting. The commission then adjourned and set the date of Thursday, January 6, 2022, for its next meeting.

At some point after the meeting, Ploss posted the following message on her Linked-In page, “Heads exploded when #DiannaPloss called out the Commies tonight at the Revere Massachusetts Human rights Commission!!!!”

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