An introspective look at the battle to give immigrants a sanctuary for peace in Salem, Mass.
By: Nicole Lashomb*/TRT Editor-in-Chief—
After a long and contentious battle for passage of the Sanctuary for Peace Ordinance, the Salem, Mass. City Council ultimately approved the measure on March 29 in a 7-4 vote. As any ordinance in the city, there has to be a second passage with a majority vote in order for it to become local law. Councilors will be casting their second vote on April 13 at Salem City Hall at 7 p.m.
This preliminary victory allowed many to sleep better that night — albeit only a few hours since the meeting went until the wee hours of the morning—knowing that the majority of the councilors did the right thing to protect our immigrant community. It was invigorating to see that of 90 Salem residents that lined the walls of Bentley School’s cafetorium to address the council on the Ordinance, 88 percent spoke in favor of its passage. Perhaps the biggest and most welcomed surprise of the night came from Councilor Steve Dibble, a once vocal opponent of the ordinance, who changed his vote in support of it mid-session. Something magical happened that night—something that made many of us proud.
After dedicating our collective selves to the advocacy and activism surrounding this issue for several weeks and months, it was clearly a win for thousands of city residents that value social justice. However, taking part of the 4-hour public hearing/special meeting and listening to the councilors debate the issue, especially those that echoed the exact points and myths that have been debunked repeatedly by experts, left me disturbingly unsettled and looking ahead to the coming weeks and months.
The results, events and conversations that have ensued throughout the process of the Sanctuary for Peace Ordinance’s passage, serves as a clear indication of what is to come. Progressive residents are not willing to stand by the status quo any longer. We are not willing to accept anything less than equality for all residents. We will not stand by while atrocities are committed against any member of any marginalized group. We do not accept discrimination of any kind and we will certainly organize, mobilize and rise up to counter these injustices at any time and place, regardless of sleet and snow as we saw at the Sanctuary for Peace rally or at a packed cafetorium at Bentley School. When any of our residents are under attack locally, or otherwise, we will be there—and we expect our “elected” officials to do the same.
However, what we also learned that night is that not all of our councilors represent the overall values of the city. We learned that the historic mentality of the past has no place in the present. Despite how grand this victory, the fact is that four councilors still adamantly voted against the ordinance. Without an iota of compassion and understanding detectable, one by one uttered the words “no” without hesitation, shattering the hopes of the majority in attendance. To these councilors, nothing made a difference. The personal testimonies heard from children and local students, immigrants, community leaders, the faith community, non-profit organizations, for-profit businesses and 88 percent of the room didn’t matter to them and, if it did, they didn’t budge. An overall progressive city must have progressive leaders if we are to continue to make strides ahead socially, economically and educationally. If we are to be competitive, we must be inclusive. It is the right thing to do morally and fiscally, contrary to what the conservative movement may tell you. Repeated studies have shown that immigrants boost the U.S. economy’s vitality, just in case the moral issue doesn’t resonate.
Last year, The Nation reported that “according to the state and local tax data analysis—published by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP)—undocumented immigrants contribute about $11.6 billion to the economy annually, including nearly $7 billion in sales and excise taxes and $3.6 billion in property taxes,” the publication read. “They are, in economic terms, productive citizens, and pay a higher effective tax rate than the top 1 percent income bracket.”
It is critically important, now more than ever, to get involved in the upcoming November 2017 municipal election. In a city like Salem, widely known throughout the region to be a progressive haven, it is unacceptable to have 4 councilors—3 of whom are “at-large” and represent our entire diverse city—take a firm stand against protecting all of our residents, without apparent reason. Moreover, it is more astounding to have an all-white city council, which decisively is not representative of Salem’s ever-evolving population. If members of the Salem City Council have not gone through the experiences that other marginalized groups face, how can they possibly understand the pleas and plights of the disenfranchised? We listened to that lack of empathy the night of the vote when we heard words like “these people,” “illegals,” “aliens” “them” and more that outwardly expressed degradation to our fellow human immigrants—just like most people in that room—that merely want to be protected by the city they love and contribute to each day.
On April 13 Salem City Hall will fill once again with residents, proponents, and surely a few opponents too, to witness the action taken by the councilors on the final vote for the Sanctuary for Peace Ordinance. My hope is that those who voted in opposition to it on March 29 will have had an opportunity to reflect on their initial vote, investigate the facts further and become emboldened to take a page from their colleague, Councilor Steve Dibble, and ultimately do what is in the best interest of the city—all of it.
In the last municipal election, only 12 percent of residents showed up to vote and look at the results. Issues like the Sanctuary for Peace Ordinance should be a no-brainer and yet we found ourselves in the middle of a school, in the middle of the night, in the middle of a battle that should not have had to be fought to begin with if we consider and value all of our residents. Progressives will ensure that is not the case again. This is what democracy looks like. We will continue to demonstrate that the will of the people is more powerful than the arrogance of strongly held beliefs originating from ignorance and bias. (#salemsanctuarynow #november2017 #mapoli)
Editor’s Note: Councilors who voted in support of the Ordinance, in no particular order, are: Councilor David Eppley, Councilor At-Large Thomas Furey, Councilor Beth Gerard, Councilor Josh Turiel, Councilor Heather Famico, Councilor Bob McCarthy and Councilor Steve Dibble. Councilors that voted in opposition are: Councilor At-Large and President Elaine Milo, Councilor At-Large Arthur Sargent, Councilor At-Large Jerry Ryan and Councilor Stephen Lovely.
*Nicole Lashomb is the Editor-in-Chief and Co-Founder of The Rainbow Times. Nicole holds a Bachelor’s Degree from the Crane School of Music, SUNY Potsdam and an MBA from Marylhurst University. Nicole can be contacted at: [email protected].