Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Racism comes full circle in Springfield,MA

Poor Mayor Ryan.

I doubt he had any idea that today, when he announced the city was ready to begin diversity training of its employees, that eight of those employees would be announcing a racial discrimination lawsuit at nearly the same time!

Irony of ironies, the fellow he announced would be doing the training, Tom Belton, was one of the eight (plus attorney Devin Moriarty) standing on the steps of City Hall as they talked about decades of being passed over for promotions, not receiving raises, and being subjected to insensitive remarks by white co-workers.

Mayor Ryan is still trying to handle the fallout from the February resignation of his Chief of Staff Michelle Webber. Webber resigned after Rep. Cheryl Rivera went public with accusations of racism against Webber, accusations that Webber denied at the same time she apologized to anyone she might have offended.

Of course discrimination at City Hall didn't start with Mayor Ryan, and it looks like it won't end with him, either.

I remember a former city councilor of color telling me I just had no idea what it was really like for people of color during the Albano administration, and why that councilor was choosing to support former state representative Paul Caron for mayor instead.

And lest we forget, this is Ryan's second go-around as mayor of Springfield. In his first term, Ryan called in the National Guard to make mass arrests at a peaceful demonstration of African-Americans at Court Square. They were there to protest the arrests of African-Americans who had been clubbing at the Octagon Lounge. One of those arrested is our current State Rep Ben Swan.

Ryan also ushered in the "Strong Mayor, All At-Large City Council and School Committee" election system which has resulted in only six people of color being elected to city council in forty-five years.

In another irony, Rep. Rivera's accusations against Michelle Webber in Ryan's second time in office were part of the trial affidavits we submitted in our federal lawsuit against the City of Springfield to challenge Springfield's all at-large voting system-- Arise for Social Justice, Oiste, the NE Chapter of the NAACP and a number of individual plaintiffs.

A binding question to change to an "8 ward,5 at-large" system will finally be on the ballot this November.

Thus we come almost full circle.

I know that as a group, we white people don't understand how much our well-being is bound to the well-being of people of color. Social injustice skews our reality like a funhouse mirror. But we can change. I see it all the time.

Right now we need to support the eight courageous people who today said: Enough is enough.


Mark T. Alamed said...

"Social injustice skews our reality like a funhouse mirror."

Great line.

Anonymous said...

Michelann and others -- has there been an announcement about who the man was who fell down the stairs at Byers St. and died?

I cannot find anything in the paper or WWLP online, and am concerned about this person. Do we know who it was?