I cried when Barack Obama was elected president and I cried when Donald Trump was elected president – for very different reasons. Those of you who know me know where I am on the political spectrum. Like many, I struggle in the current political climate. But relationships and respect matter – and so I continue to try and understand where half of this country is coming from. You can attack me for that but look where it’s gotten us so far. We’ve got plenty of legitimate fights ahead of us – which is why it infuriates me when we miss the forest for the trees.
The proverbial elephant in North Smithfield’s room is the Nike incident. I stated publicly at the time my abhorrence with all that it stood for and against. And its ripple effects on the town continue to this day. It led to the formation of town groups, which is a good thing. But it was more of a circus show than a lever for change. Kids wore Nike. It was our town’s lamentable 15 minutes of fame but in reality, the single greatest impact it had was that it led to more intolerance – on both sides of the aisle.
I know John Beauregard. John is no politician. He is a retired state police officer who ran because he wanted to serve his community. He did confer with a handful of residents about the Nike motion prior to the vote- and he heard no dissent – so admittedly he didn’t ask enough people. He thought he was supporting his profession and didn’t look at the big picture. I was instantly mortified. But that is my context, not his. For John it was about the socks- the socks with pictures of pigs dressed like police officers. Was his action misguided? Absolutely. Does he know that? Yes, and he would tell you if you’d listen. John knows that black lives matter and would tell you so- just as he has told me. But the minute he opens his mouth, you say it’s insincere and that he is a hypocrite. He is neither of those things. He’s a human being, with faults and frailties just like the rest of us. He makes mistakes and he learns from them.
Is there racism in this town? I believe that there is. In isolated communities like ours, we may not be aware that our words and deeds impact those outside of the North Smithfield bubble. So let’s address that. Let’s have the hard discussions that we swept under the rug by going into our proverbial corners and vilifying everyone that does not agree with us on every issue.
I was no fan of Antonin Scalia- yet he and RBG were the best of friends. Surely, there is room for respectful disagreement and discussion. As importantly, we are the adults. Let’s teach our kids, by example, that one mistake does not define any one of us. John has done much for this town. I am going to give him another chance because I believe at his core, he is a collaborator and a committed public servant.
Margaret (Peg) Votta is a resident of North Smithfield and the current secretary of the North Smithfield School Committee.