It was Martin Luther King, Jr. who counseled us about the voices that matter in our times of need. “In the end,” he said, “we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends.” Sometimes, it is an incessant whisper that reminds us of our obligation to speak out. At other times, that obligation hits us between the eyes like a truncheon. We find ourselves in such a time today, here in Westfield.
During the recent local campaign, a candidate for Town Council who had a history of expressing polarizing, xenophobic and offensive messages and memes to his Facebook page caused many of our friends and neighbors to feel personally targeted by those toxic posts. For several months, numerous people asked whether the other candidates who were running for Town Council in the same party disagreed with the extremist views of their chosen political ally. It was not only a fair question, it presented those candidates with an opportunity to speak out against prejudice and hate.
Instead, those who asked for accountability were publicly targeted with derisive comments and, ultimately, the threat of defamation litigation. Calling private citizens out by name in the public sphere and threatening defamation lawsuits against them is a tried and true method of intimidation. Moreover, it did not escape our attention that these efforts aimed to single out and silence women and minorities.
While the election is over, the harm that was done by the racist, anti-Semitic rhetoric and the attempts to demean and belittle those who spoke up did not magically disappear last Tuesday evening.
Westfield is obviously not immune to the influences of extremism and hate. It is our response to those influences, however, that defines us. We can, and we must stand up and speak out against them. We cannot, and we must not remain silent in the face of attempts to suppress the voices of women and minorities in our community. These are matters of conscience and they demand our voices.
Christine Viricillo Bresson