The words that our elected officials speak are both symbolic and capable of powerfully influencing others, whether it be for good or for evil.
And that is why I was so disappointed last Tuesday evening when the Kennett Square Borough Council declined to use its words in a positive way by denouncing the evil of hate speech.
At issue was whether or not to consider a resolution presented by two former Council members, Jessie Cocks and Wayne Braffman, condemning President Trump's recent racially-divisive and harmful comments about people of color, immigrants and asylum seekers.
In removing this item from its agenda, Council ignored its constitutional responsibility to protect the health, safety and welfare of community residents and failed to recognize the dignity of all of the Borough's residents.
Some members of Council argued that the President's hateful words are a national issue and not their concern.
Tell that to the sons and daughters of immigrants who attend our schools and are enduring the same "go home" chants that I faced when my family first moved to this country 39 years ago.
The audience for this resolution is not our elected officials in Washington. It is those kids who are afraid to go to school. It's their parents who need to know that our leaders have their backs. It's the kids who are doing the bullying. It's their parents who need to know that they need to do a better job. It's our police officers and employees. It's every resident in the Borough.
Others argued that this was, in fact, a politically-driven resolution meant to hurt the President's chances of re-election next year.
The language of the resolution specifically condemned the President's language and not the President himself. If one of my children uttered any of those comments, I would not hesitate to call them out for their unacceptable language. Why can we not do the same when it is the President of the United States whose words are unacceptable?
Listening to the words of Council and audience members, I heard a consensus emerge that the President's words were not indicative of our community's values of inclusion and respect for others.
And so I have revised the resolution to condemn any speech that attacks people solely based upon their perceived nationality, race or immigration/refugee status.
I am hopeful that Kennett Square Borough Council and other municipal governing bodies in our region will seize this opportunity to do the right thing...for all of us.
At my request, Jessie Cocks and Wayne Braffman have submitted the new version to Council and have asked them to consider it at their September 16 meeting.
Here is the new wording:
"Whereas hate speech from any source directly threatens the physical and emotional well-being of a large number of residents of the Borough of Kennett Square;
Whereas the members of Kennett Square Borough Council took an oath of office pledging to uphold the Constitution of the United States of America and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and to protect the safety and welfare of all the residents of the Borough of Kennett Square;
Whereas the vast majority (if not all) residents of the Borough of Kennett Square are united in their shared value that hate speech is unacceptable and wrong;
Now, therefore, be it Resolved, That the Kennett Square Borough Council:
(1) believes that immigrants and their descendants have made the Borough of Kennett Square stronger, and that those who take the oath of citizenship are every bit as American as those whose families have lived in the United States for many generations;
(2) is committed to keeping the Borough of Kennett Square open to those lawfully seeking refuge and asylum from violence and oppression, and those who are willing to work hard to live the American Dream, no matter their race, ethnicity, faith, or country of origin; and
(3) strongly condemns hate speech--no matter who the speaker--and declares that 'Hate Speech Has No Home in the Borough of Kennett Square.' "
I hope the members of Borough Council will fulfill their obligation as community leaders by approving this resolution repudiating hate speech.
Yes, this is resolution is just words, but it reminds all of us that words have the power to help and heal as well as to hurt and humiliate. Let's use our words wisely.