WESTPORT — The Representative Town Meeting unanimously approved a sense of the meeting resolution denouncing racism on Tuesday, classifying racism as “a crisis.”
The statement came as an amendment to a resolution proposed by RTM members Amy Kaplan, Harris Falk and Sal Liccione to declare racism a public health crisis.
Although all RTM members agreed they opposed racism, the four-hour debate largely surrounded how broad or narrow the statement should be, its sincerity, and the limits of the RTM. Members instead went with a broader “crisis” classification and essentially changed the entire original resolution, except for denouncing racism.
“I thought in this moment of time as divisions and inequalities are racking the country that this is the right time to make this statement,” Kaplan said. “I perhaps naively thought that this would not be controversial.”
The original proposal asserted people of color experienced poor health outcomes as a consequence of inequities in economic stability, education, food and access to health care.
Kaplan said the resolution was brought before the RTM because it was a non-partisan body.
“I don’t believe this is about politics it’s about humanity,” she said.
It was introduced largely due to the national conversation on racism, but Kaplan said there were also some local instances including a black Starbucks worker claiming he was harassed at work this past summer.
The RTM typically focuses on local matters, but similar sense of the meeting resolutions have been passed in the past. Some examples include a demand of immediate withdrawal from Vietnam in 1972 and supporting a nuclear arms freeze in 1982, according to RTM moderator Velma Heller.
“While such resolutions represent a statement of agreement or accord among members they are non-binding and do not require any specific action by the town,” Heller said.
The focus on solely racism raised concern for some RTM members due to its exclusion of other acts of discrimination. Other members also pointed out the lengthy proposal may have questionable sources.
RTM member Kristan Hamlin proposed an amendment to stand against all acts of discrimination citing the hardships faced by women like single motherhood, as well as challenges other ethnic and religious groups face.
“It’s very important that we be inclusive and we actually talk about the real causes of poverty,” she said. “If we’re going to do something here then lets get it right.”
But several members of the public raised concern of changing the resolution’s intent.
“The original resolution was proposed now and written in this way because of the moment we are in as a country — and Westport is part of that moment,” Michael Kaplan, a Westport resident, said. “This isn’t about politics and it isn’t about sexism, it is about racism that is real and more present than we like to admit.”Read Full Article
TEAM Westport Chairman Harold Bailey Jr. shared similar sentiments.
“The subject for consideration this evening is race,” he said. “This discussion should be addressed fully head on and not diluted by an expansion of scope to discrimination in general.”
The final amendment was then fine-tuned to pinpoint the message the RTM was trying to get across.
“The Westport RTM condemns racism in all its forms and hereby commits to actively working toward combating racism and valuing all people as deserving of equitable treatment,” the statement reads. “We see the world around us and recognize racism as a crisis, having negative effects on the public health, welfare and lives of Black, Indigenous, and other people of color.”
“Racism diminishes us all,” it continues. “Therefore, we ask the town of Westport to commit to continue work already begun, and we ask the town of Westport to develop means to evaluate our community’s progress in the areas of racial equity and justice.”
While the resolution is non-binding it symbolizes the RTM’s stance.
Heller said she was proud of the healthy dialogue and the effort to make something positive happen.
“This is a very complicated issue to deal with,” she said. “To be able to deal with it on the floor of the RTM is challenging and I think that you all really rose to the occasion.”