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 forbid.
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.
Peter Funt is a writer and speaker who authored “Cautiously Optimistic.”