Re-openings and Advancing Greater Social Justice
By Gregory T. Federspiel
There is simply no denying it – we are living through very challenging times. While the pandemic is still very much with us, we are making good progress locally and throughout the state as infection and hospitalization rates drop. We seem to be getting use to wearing our face coverings. Businesses are slowly beginning to re-open. Beach and park use starts being less restrictive starting June 11. Soon the public will be able to make appointments at Town Hall followed by a return to regular public hours. Continued vigilance is needed but the loosening of some restrictions feels good.
The start of the state’s second phase allows restaurants to serve patrons but only outside. On a temporary basis (through Nov 1 at the latest) the state is allowing localities to grant permission for outdoor dining following a streamlined approval process. The Selectmen approved such a process at their meeting on June 8th. Restaurants will be allowed to utilize sidewalk space and up to 2 on-street parking spaces, if properly barricaded, for outdoor dining. Pedestrians must be fully accommodated, tables/chairs must be six feet apart and additional state protocols must be followed. We will be working with our local restaurant owners who want to move forward with outdoor dining this season.
To help make up for lost parking spaces the Selectmen approved re-establishing the non-resident parking at Masconomo Park with a new 3 hour limit (verses all day) and encouraging businesses to have their employees park in other areas – behind Town Hall; at the Norwood Avenue lot and at the high school.
This initiative is a work in progress and, depending on how the use goes, fine-tuning of individual layouts may be needed. But the Board feels that our local shops and restaurants deserve help in coming back from an extremely difficult time and trying some new approaches, temporarily, are worthwhile.
The pandemic has exposed vulnerabilities that often remain hidden from many of us in more normal times. The disparities in who has been hit the hardest by the virus depending on one’s socio-economic position has been pretty dramatic. On top of this we have the recent high-profile injustices that have happened to our fellow citizens in various parts of the country. These cases have sparked an outflowing of frustration, anger and sadness across the country.
The tragedy of Mr. Floyd’s death and others, despite the pain, present another opportunity to have constructive, honest conversations about institutional racism and other forms of oppression in our society. Here in Manchester we might feel removed from such conflict, but these are societal issues in which every community and individual play a role, whether consciously or not. Indeed, this seems to be a teachable moment for people world-wide.
Part of the solution is raising awareness of racism and injustice in their many forms. Recent gatherings in town have begun this process. Gatherings at Masconomo Park have attracted residents in a sharing of concern and to express the need for changes. Another gathering and walk is planned for this Friday from 4 -6PM at Masco and walking up to Central Street. On Sunday, a gathering is planned for noontime at Masconomo Park.
A word about signs – placing signs to raise awareness on private property is perfectly fine. Such signs are not allowed per town bylaw within the right of way of public streets and sidewalks. Occasionally for an unusual event or need, such signs can be placed on public parks but only with permission. Requests can be made to my office. Town staff will monitor and be responsible for managing signs on public ways and lands – members of the public should respect all signs that are up.
We can come together as a community to stand against unjust and brutal treatment regardless of who the perpetrator or victim are. We can come together to honor the sanctity of every individual. We can come together to advocate for the reforms we need to make sure that our institutions hold bad actors accountable, while honoring the vast majority of decent, hard working people who serve us well.
Such civic discourse is hallmark of a healthy democracy. It is encouraging to see many young people embrace this tradition. It is incumbent on all of us to listen intently, to recognize the need for change and to work together to help advance the high quality of life we want for ourselves and our fellow humans.