At the meeting of the Winthrop Town Council on Oct. 6, a dominant theme that emerged was the presence of political demonstrators at Town Hall the past several Thursdays. The gatherings have been the subject of Letters to the Editor in recent weeks.
An assembly of individuals, including some Winthrop residents, has set up camp at Town Hall professing to be a pro-Trump group. Organizer Dianna Ploss has been hosting demonstrations in towns throughout Eastern Massachusetts.
Opposing her group in Winthrop has been a cluster of residents who claim that Ploss’s posse has used vulgarity, threats of violence and hateful rhetoric against minorities.
Council President Phil Boncore said that, while everyone is entitled to their First Amendment right to freedom of assembly and speech, Winthrop “condemns hatred, violence and vile language.”
“There are young children that hear this and they shouldn’t be exposed to [it],” he said. “We want to see peace, unity and people working together, making Winthrop a more inclusive, less hateful community.”
Councilor Tracey Honan read from a prepared statement:
“Winthrop has always been a community of immigrants. Our pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness should never be impeded by bigotry or xenophobia. We must not sit idly by while voices of hate and intolerance rise unchallenged. We must work together toward an anti-racist, anti-xenophobic Winthrop.”
The councilwoman called on her fellow councilors to make a public declaration denouncing hate and supporting diversity and the movement for Black lives. Her colleagues supported the idea.
“As a council, we should be speaking out against anything that would make someone feel unwelcome in their own community,” Councilor Peter Christopher said. “It’s not acceptable.”
“We should scream from the rooftops that hate has no home here,” said Councilor Rob DeMarco. “What’s going on at Town Hall has nothing to do with a political party. It has to do with hatred.”
“This isn’t a political issue. It’s a moral issue about who we are as a town,” Councilor Stephen Ruggiero said. “Hatred is unacceptable and should not be tolerated.”
During the public comment portion of the meeting, multiple residents called in to thank Councilor Honan for broaching the subject.
“There’s a way to have opposition and then there’s real violence,” said caller Wendy Millar-Page. “We need to show our young people how to do politics.”
“I urge [the Council] to issue a statement condemning hate speech, bigotry and racism in our community,” said resident Julia Wallerce. “This is not a political issue; it’s moral.”
But caller Mitch Gayns, who identifies as Black, urged concrete action rather than words.
“You say that ‘hate has no home here,’ but it most certainly does,” he told Council. “It’s clear hate has a home here when we make space for people with bigoted, racist points of view.”
Gayns also referenced the “I Support Our Local Police” signs that have been “popping up” around town in response to the Black Lives Matter movement.
Caller Alyson Dewar agreed with Gayns.
“You don’t want to welcome everyone,” she said. “If you invite wolves and sheep to the same table, only the wolves will come. You have to be specific about not building a place where you only get wolves.”
The newly established Winthrop Commission on Diversity, Inclusion, and Community Relations (CDICR) met on Sept. 30 to address the ongoing drama. It came up with a list of recommendations, including collaborating with the town manager to draft a message decrying hate speech, and asking schoolchildren to brainstorm anti-hate slogans.
Town Manager Austin Faison reminded Council that the CDICR recommendations were nonbinding and that only the council has the authority to take action.
Council President Boncore delivered a reminder to those who continue to demonstrate at Town Hall that masks are currently mandatory due to COVID-19 and that police will be enforcing the mask ordinance.