Divisive messages have no place in Maine

2018-02-01T17:51:54+00:00 February 1st, 2018|Op-ed|

By Alan Caron Sun Journal

Congratulations to the people of Jackman and the Board of Selectmen for doing the right thing and firing the town’s racist town manager. He has embarrassed the town and the state as a whole. His language and prejudices are exactly the wrong things for Maine and America.

Maine is a small state with an aging population and a declining rural economy. Because of those challenges, we desperately need new people to come to Maine, with new energy and talent to help grow tomorrow’s economy. More immediately, Maine relies on millions of tourists from the rest of New England and New York.

The harm that is done by people like former town manager, Tom Kawczynski, and too many like-minded political leaders in Maine and Washington can hardly be calculated, but it is real and lasting. Over time, that language of hate and division is doing lasting damage to Maine’s national reputation and the Maine brand of wholesomeness, natural beauty, safe communities and dependable products.

This is the kind of hatred toward others that people have long fought to overcome in Maine. It is the kind of hatred that fueled massive KKK rallies across the state in the 1920s. It was the language that was used against my grandfather, when he came through Jackman from Beauceville to settle in Waterville. It was used against him when he had to change his last name to get a better job at the mill. It was used against my uncles and aunts in those mills to keep them from making their way to a better life.

 They were all attacked because they were different from the previous waves of immigrants who had settled here. Their problem wasn’t the color of their skin. It was that they weren’t the “right” kind of Europeans. It wasn’t their religion, but that they weren’t the “right” kind of Christians. That is the slippery slope that hatred and bigotry push people onto.

No doubt, there are descendants of those Franco-American pioneers in the town of Jackman right now and, no doubt, they understand that Kawczynski’s speech is the same kind of language that was once used against their families. Good for them for standing up and demanding that this latest example of prejudice has no place in their community.

Maine people are better than that. Our traditions include town meetings and town commons in which we worked together, rather than divided ourselves, for the greater good. Maine sent more people, per capita, to fight in the Civil War than any state in the North. Mainers are also immensely tolerant, as one of the first states to pass gay marriage laws by popular vote.

We are all immigrants here in Maine, but for a small number of native Americans. We have struggled mightily through the past hundred years, to see ourselves as one Maine. We have struggled to learn to work together. To listen to each other and to build friendships across any differences.

Now, we are working to supplant hate with love and prejudice with understanding; to move from closed minds and borders to welcoming others, even when they don’t look or speak exactly as we do. Mainers are not perfect, nor will we ever be, but we have made great and continuing progress over time. Now, we can never afford to become complacent. To do that will be to slide backward into a deep abyss.

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