LtE: The Targeting of Volunteers Must Stop

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On Friday night, Town Meeting Members in Reading and some others in our town were sent a disturbing, threatening email from a fellow community member. I am named in it, due to my role as a School Committee member. It is hard to put into words how distressed reading this email made me feel. You could almost laugh at the ridiculousness of it if the tone weren’t so dark. After thinking about it for some time, I decided I could not sit quietly. 

The email is exceptionally long, but the gist is that the author claims I am one of “15 subversive agents” involved in our town government who seek “complete control over” our town, and that we’ve managed to “brainwash” the majority of Reading. And his goal? “The complete and total eradication of all subversive elements in our community.” 

Eradicate = to do away with completely; the complete destruction of something. 

The message was sent from an anonymous email, but the author supplied enough personal details to make his identity obvious. It is worth repeating that he lives here in Reading, has a child in RPS (which he openly shared in his email), and has a child in his household the same age as one of my sons, who has eaten at the same lunch table as my son. I used to volunteer with his partner. Yet, he wants to see me and the people I care about eradicated. My heart is heavy, and my head is spinning.

Why is he claiming we need to be eradicated? 

– Because we are “radicals” who have “captured and destroyed” this once desirable town. (A town he claims did not used to be racist, and that any racist incidents that have occurred in recent years were perpetrated by us to create the appearance of racism…)

– Because we control all of the print and online media, and use it to “speak problems into existence” (see: racism above)

~Because we strive to indoctrinate children with our lies and make them “confused about their sexuality”

And other outrageous claims…

The real issue he has is with our liberal views. I have never hidden my values. I believe in the worth and rights of all humans, and in kindness, equity, respect, and collaboration, but I draw the line at hate. I believe that ignorance is best treated with education, but one has to be willing to learn. I believe in second chances, but actions speak loudly to who a person truly is. 

I have proudly served my community as a School Committee member for 4 years, and as a Town Meeting Member for longer. Every week, I spend hours away from my family and my job to help ensure that our schools offer high-quality education and safe places to learn for ALL students. That means I advocate for students who are underrepresented, such as our BIPOC and LQBTQ students, and I will continue to do so. 

The vast majority of our SC votes are 6-0. We represent a range on the political spectrum, a fact that I think benefits our community. I can only speak as an individual, but when I sit down at our meetings, I strive to put personal feelings aside, listen attentively, show respect to our teachers, administrators, and fellow SC members, and vote for what is in the best interest of students and will help move our schools forward. I have always shown a willingness to talk and listen to community members before or after a vote. 

And so I ask you: When did civility among elected officials stop being a basic expectation? When did it become tolerable to threaten our volunteers? Why do some feel it is okay to target volunteers, to threaten their reputations, jobs and families? When did our volunteers stop being viewed as our fellow neighbors? And yet, we wonder why it is so hard to fill our boards, committees, and commissions. I am dismayed to see that, as of this writing, the two candidates endorsed by the author of this threatening email have not denounced the hostile words shared. Lack of action speaks loudly too.

On Tuesday, March 5 our town has a choice. I will be choosing to maintain our high-functioning and respectful School Committee by voting for incumbents Shawn Brandt and Sarah McLaughlin. And, I will be choosing to attempt to restore civility on the Select Board by voting for Tara Gregory. 

Erin Gaffen
Hemlock Road
School Committee Member
Town Meeting Member 

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