One of the aspects of Plainfield I have always felt good about is the diversity, tolerance and celebration of differences among residents. Compared to surrounding towns and most places actually, Plainfield gets high marks for cultural competence and diversity. Of course we are not perfect. We are humans and the human condition includes struggling to live alongside those who are different from us.
It saddens and disturbs me that a hateful flyer was recently distributed throughout city hall, a flyer that bashes gays, lesbians, bloggers, PMUA reform activists and certain council members. I have seen these nasty flyers before, around election times. Previously, I felt that these anonymous, cowardly statements should not be dignified by a response. This time it becomes clear to me that the nastiness is not going away. In fact, I see a growing chorus of hate and fear in response to changes in the economic and political winds of Plainfield and beyond.
We should be coming together to deal with real problems like gang violence, foreclosures and rising taxes but we are being urged to divide on class, racial and political lines. This flyer is a hate crime of the utmost distatefulness. But it doesn't come out of nowhere. The tone for hatefulness comes from a few supporters of the current recreation division as they shout, wave their fingers, point at people and pound the table at council meetings. Unfortunately children can tune in to public access television to watch this behavior. Hatefulness is promoted when the Mayor says that certain Council members are responsible for shutting down city run recreation entirely. This message was carried into the Plainfield school system. Some of the Mayors supporters are now spreading the lie that certain council members, myself included, voted against much needed health and social programs currently operated out of city hall.
We need leadership to unite Plainfielders, to fight against our real problems like some of our young people choosing gangs and drugs over education. I remember the time of unrest over the Rodney King incident when urban areas around the country erupted into violence and looting. Then Mayor Harold Mitchell brought local community leaders together and cooler heads prevailed. That's what we need now in Plainfield. I will be calling for this approach at Monday's Council meeting.
Hatefulness grows when people of good will don't speak against it. I am one of those who thought hate would not gain traction in Plainfield. I was wrong.
I do have faith that the vast majority of Plainfielders are people of good will and willing to live among people who look, behave and think differently from them. But we need to stand against hate and fear. If adults can do that, there is hope that we adults can teach young people to make better choices than gangs and drug dealing. We elected officials have to start with respecting each other over legitimate differences on how we fund and operate city services.