By Mayor Brian Arrigo
“The last hopes of mankind, therefore, rest with us; and if it should be proclaimed, that our example had become an argument against the experiment, the knell of popular liberty would be sounded throughout the earth.” -U.S. Senator Daniel Webster at the dedication of the Bunker Hill Monument, June 17, 1825
It seems our great American experiment of self-governing democracy is being tested once again. Generation after generation we have seen sanity prevail as great turmoil led our people to turn toward unity and away from division to solve big, history-making issues such as world wars, previous pandemics, and natural disasters. I think of instances locally – in 2014 when the tornado touched down ripping apart our city – while before my time as Mayor, I remember our community coming together to support each other, rebuild together and generally step up to help in any way their fellow neighbors in need. I’ve seen this during the early days of the pandemic when people needed supplies and food and our city needed volunteers – a network of neighbors gave generously of their time, skills and resources to help. When fires erupt causing great tragedy and displacement, people stand together to help those most in need. This is the spirit of our community – this is the Revere I know and this is the Revere that time and time again supports each other. Like any family our city has each other’s back in time of need – we might argue among ourselves daily but when outside influences and uncertain times arise at our doorstep our spirit and resolve to protect one another from harm rises above all else.
However, recently it seems we have lost our way – will it really take a tragic or near-catastrophic event to awaken us from a tunnel vision of the ‘you vs. me’ or the ‘us vs. them’ mentality that feeds on itself in extremist groups divided by perceived differences.
In many instances, it’s taken these tragic or near-catastrophic events to awaken us from a tunnel vision of the ‘you vs. me’ or the ‘us vs. them’ mentality that feeds on itself in extremist groups divided by perceived differences. Today, our generation and our city face new challenges; the introduction of social and digital media platforms has fed into this pack mentality – creating echo chambers that fuel the polarizing perspectives of the far-right and left sides of the political aisle. These tactics glorify destructive and violent behavior. They are intentional and they won’t stop until it is no longer fashionable to be extreme, or when the number of hits on an Instagram page isn’t rewarded by big money interests.
What tragedy must occur to bring us back together? What war must we fight to right our collective spirit of oneness? What heinous act will we have to witness? What storm will we need to weather together to bring us back together?
Or, perhaps, we can self-correct and choose to be more tolerant instead of having to suffer hardship to get there. That journey starts by all of us choosing to be more thoughtful with our words and actions.
This runs contrary to everything happening at the national level, which at one time we could simply ignore and focus on issues close to the hearts of Reverians. At one time, the issues and mindsets on the national political stage had little in common with what was happening on Broadway and what people were thinking in our city.
Those times are over now, as the bombardment of social media, and media in general, has woven national political tactics into the discourse of our local and municipal discussions. No longer can we shake our heads and ignore the spew of Washington, D.C., as a problem only “down there.”
It is here in our city. It is on the doorsteps of our community.
This might be new to us, but history shows that such venom is not new to the United States – and not even to Massachusetts.
In 1851, our own U.S. Senator, Charles Sumner, was violently beaten on the floor of the U.S. Senate by South Carolina Senator Preston Brooks – in what became known nationwide as the “caning” of Sumner. The beating, the result of deep divisions among ideology leading to the Civil War.
It is the distant past, but it feels like history could repeat itself any day now – like on January 6th in our Nation’s Capital – and even now, perhaps even in Revere City Hall? Neighbors, citizen volunteers and fellow residents were harassed and intentionally made to fear their participation in open forums meant to bring us closer together. Let me be very clear, the Human Rights Commission is not going anywhere, and their work is valued more now than ever as exhibited by a vocal few in attendance at their last meeting.
We only need to look at the Civil War memorial next door to Revere City Hall to remember those from Revere (then North Chelsea) who were dragged from their comfortable homes to fight in a bloody war because so many like Brooks and Sumner could not find civility and didn’t carefully consider their words and actions.
It is time to stop demonizing each other – professing that everyone who disagrees with one’s viewpoint is wrong, or worse, ‘evil.’ The inciteful tactics, ranting and name-calling at City Hall with those that have different opinions will not result in better democracy or a better City of Revere.
We have a duty to uphold the civility of the public square and to respect our neighbors around us, and at this moment there seems to be a real threat to that at our grassroots level of municipal government.
Our city is changing – that is true – but our values and our shared interest in a better life for our children and next generation is not. Just how and what we do to get there is up for debate – but I assure you all this – the debate will be civil, and the behavior exhibited at the last HRC meeting will not be tolerated.
Brian Arrigo is the Mayor of the City of Revere.