The Sandwich Board of Selectmen voted unanimously to adopt a statement that celebrates diversity of all kinds while strongly condemning discrimination, a statement that a group of town residents encouraged the board to sign.
The group, Sandwich for All, approached Town Manager George H. (Bud) Dunham and Assistant Town Manager Heather B. Harper earlier this year to ask them to consider drafting a statement to support diversity, equity and inclusion in the town. A precedent has already been set in Massachusetts for such statements to be made in towns such as Duxbury and Pembroke.
Ms. Harper presented the statement to the board at its meeting last Thursday, September 30.
It states that the town is committed to being a safe and welcoming community for all and unequivocally condemns all forms of discrimination.
“We will work to ensure that Sandwich is a community where all individuals can live happily, free of fear, with equal access to opportunities regardless of race, ethnicity, national origin, gender, gender identity, sex, sexual orientation, religion, class, abilities, age, political affiliation, and military status,” it says.
The statement also includes a promise from the board to educate themselves, the staff in town, and residents on issues pertaining to social and racial justice and to foster an environment of respect and acceptance.
“An equitable, respectful Sandwich is a stronger, better Sandwich,” it says.
The statement was met with unanimous approval from the members of the board.
Vice chairman Robert George applauded the members of Sandwich for All for getting involved in the town and he said that he hopes more residents get involved in the future.
Board member Charles Holden said that he enthusiastically endorsed the proposed statement, calling it constitutional.
“We’re all about the citizens and community in town,” he said.
Fellow member David Sampson said the statement represents the truth and he made a motion to adopt the statement as presented. Mr. Holden seconded the motion.
Sandwich for All is a non-partisan collective of about 36 residents. Margot Critchfield, one of the group's organizers, said that its membership comprises people with a variety of political leanings, faiths, races, ethnicities, sexual and gender identities, classes, abilities, ages, and military and veteran statuses.
She said that the group is excited and proud when it comes to the selectmen’s adoption of the statement.
“It’s a strong, powerful statement,” she said.
Sandwich for All member Jonathan Finn said that having the statement approved by the board was an incredible moment.
“We could tell that they were all proud of their vote and that it was common sense and decency,” he said. “My hope is that this statement empowers everyone in the town to live these values and speak out when an injustice occurs.”
The adoption of the statement is timely, given some of the recent incidents in town that have come from a place of hatred and discrimination. Specifically, in recent months police reports have been made when someone vandalized a Sandwich home with images of swastikas, as well as a report of a DoorDash driver defacing a gay couple’s sandwich with homophobic language.
Another recent incident involved a young Black girl riding her bike near the Sandwich Boardwalk, only to have racial slurs hurled at her by a group of white teenage boys in the area.
Ms. Critchfield said that the statement makes it clear that the board is dedicated to making sure the town is a safe and diverse place.
“If incidents like this happen in the future, which they undoubtedly will, it’s something we can hold ourselves accountable to,” she said.
She said that it is also easy to ignore discrimination when it happens if a person is not directly impacted themselves.
“It’s only when we’re proactive in making this town a welcoming and safe space that that’s going to change,” she said.
Sandwich for All began meeting in February, holding virtual meetings due to the pandemic. Ms. Critchfield said that the group strives to be a positive for change.
Mr. Finn said that he was quick to join the group when discussions about starting it began. He said that he fell in love with the town when he moved here in 2016, but was struck by the lack of racial diversity—a feeling that was shared when he was visited by friends who have Mexican and Filipino backgrounds who noted that the town is beautiful, but they could not see anyone here who look like them.
“That observation really got my attention,” he said.
He added that it was around the same time that some of the parking spaces at Sandwich High School that had been decorated by members of the senior class were defaced with images of swastikas.
“I was beyond shocked how many people wrote it off as a harmless prank,” he said.
While recent census data indicates that Sandwich is not at all varied in terms of racial makeup with a Caucasian population of 95 percent, diversity is about more than race.
“Our group is much more diverse than our town,” Ms. Critchfield said.
The diversity of the group allows them to have difficult, but necessary conversations about how to make the town a more welcoming place for everyone. Ms. Critchfield said that she hopes to see the group continue to grow and become more diverse.
She invites anyone interested in getting involved to reach out to her directly at email@example.com.