In Amer­ica’s sub­urbs, who’s ac­tu­ally wel­come?

The Oneida Daily Dispatch (Oneida, NY) - - History - Peter Funt Colum­nist

We are stuck at po­lit­i­cal ex­tremes, un­will­ing to even con­sider op­pos­ing points of view.

HART­FORD, CONN. » Driv­ing out of town on Al­bany Av­enue I was struck by the speed with which neigh­bor­hoods shifted be­fore my eyes, from the hand­somely re­built down­town to some of the sad­dest poverty in ur­ban Amer­ica. And then, just as quickly, I turned onto Bloom­field Av­enue and was star­ing at lush fair­ways lin­ing the Hart­ford Coun­try Club.

It was so tightly sit­u­ated; the con­trast so great. Yet, there were no signs warn­ing “Keep Out,” nor any say­ing “All Are Wel­come.”

It seems for all our progress so­cially and po­lit­i­cally, we are in many ways more di­vided than ever. We have a shrink­ing mid­dle class, and our neigh­bor­hoods re­flect that. We are stuck at po­lit­i­cal ex­tremes, un­will­ing to even con­sider op­pos­ing points of view. And we are fright­ened, mak­ing us sus­pi­cious of those who ap­pear to be dif­fer­ent. As I drove on I was re­minded of a re­cent col­umn by my col­league Clarence Fanto, writ­ing in the Berk­shire Ea­gle. It was about a small town of about 11,000 peo­ple in north cen­tral Mas­sachusetts called Gro­ton. Seems that over the sum­mer, the town in­stalled large stone mark­ers along eight roads lead­ing into Gro­ton. Each was en­graved with the words: ALL ARE WEL­COME The brouhaha that re­sulted would be flat out funny if it were not so fright­en­ingly re­flec­tive of our times. At a town meet­ing in Oc­to­ber a mo­tion was in­tro­duced to re­move the mark­ers, or at least change the word­ing on the stones. Some of the 400 res­i­dents who showed up for the meet­ing in­sisted that the word­ing should be “Wel­come to Gro­ton,” or sim­ply “Wel­come.” The crux of con­cern was the word “all.” One res­i­dent com­plained that “all” con­veyed a pro-im­mi­gra­tion viewpoint, not shared by ev­ery­one in town. Oth­ers went so far as to sug­gest that by us­ing the word “all,” Gro­ton was iden­ti­fy­ing it­self as a “sanc­tu­ary town.” Heaven for-bid Ac­cord­ing to the Bos­ton Globe, Face­book posts - some of which might have been from peo­ple liv­ing out­side Gro­ton - said “All Wel­come” signs would at­tract “a crim­i­nal el­e­ment,” “pe­dophiles” and “ter­ror­ists.” Adding heat to the de­bate was that one sign, on Route 119, hap­pens to be next to the site of a Hindu tem­ple, due to open Nov. 19. Was that it? Were res­i­dents skit­tish about ap­pear­ing to wel­come Hin­dus?

Gro­ton sits on land that once be­longed to the Nip­muc and Nash­away In­di­ans, who even­tu­ally were forced to ac­cept that they were not wel­come ei­ther.

To­day, the town has an al­most equal num­ber of Repub­li­cans and Democrats, with the ma­jor­ity of res­i­dents hav­ing reg­is­tered as “un­af­fil­i­ated,” for what that’s worth.

For­tu­nately, the mo­tion to change the road signs in Gro­ton was de­feated. The mes­sage, All Are Wel­come, re­mains.

Re­gret­tably, al­though many Amer­i­cans are con­cep­tu­ally in fa­vor of such a mes­sage, in prac­tice, the con­cept nowa­days is hardly set in stone.

We are stuck at po­lit­i­cal ex­tremes, un­will­ing to even con­sider op­pos­ing points of view.

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