When you can’t defend your symbol, you attack the messenger

To the Editor:

Last Thursday, the town of Rensselaerville made a public statement, not directly condemning the Confederate flag, but condemning racism. Supervisor [John] Dolce wanted, I think, to satisfy all parties involved.

He wanted to be representative of those celebrating the Confederate flag in the parking lot with loud trucks and Trump banners, and in MAGA [Make America Great Again] hats and construction boots in Town Hall, while also hearing those of us who tried, repeatedly and apparently without success, to explain why we are so horrified by the display.

So he said the board condemns racism without condemning the literal symbol of racism.

I understand that this board was placed in a difficult position. Perhaps an impossible one. If given the choice, I would not have created this situation, now, amidst everything else that is happening.

But I didn’t get to choose. I didn’t hang the flag.

And while residents eagerly lined up to have their say, a constant theme emerged: We are all one Rensselaerville. All Hilltowners.

But the thing is, those words ring hollow to a lot of us. When I asked for this action, Hilltowners readily responded on Facebook, not attacking racism, not by discussing how unwelcoming it might be to visitors to see the flag of white supremacy hanging in our village, but by attacking me.

And this isn’t unusual, here in our hills. Women who speak up, defy convention, make a ruckus, are “controlling”; we’re bullies. I need to be taught a lesson, multiple men threatened on Facebook.

It seems a strange juxtaposition to me, for neighbors to be so offended by my request that a Confederate flag be condemned as a symbol of hate — people have the right to freedom of expression, they say — by those who are celebrating my decision to take down our discussion group, Sustainable Hilltowns, on Facebook.

We can only be more free, they suggest, when we shut down those who dissent. But the reality is that, when you can’t defend your symbol, you attack the messenger.

Tina Stannard, in what may be the most fascinating comment of the evening, said her son would have taken the flag down by now but, because a photo ran across the front of The Enterprise, he is forced to keep it up [“Town board not keen on request to denounce Confederate flag,” The Altamont Enterprise, Sept. 29, 2020].

I find it incredibly unfortunate that we can’t seem to find a way to gently explain to our sons and daughters that sometimes, in life, you are wrong — we are all wrong, sometimes — and that’s OK. But that the best course of action is to right those wrongs, to gracefully acknowledge, in this case, that hanging the flag was inappropriate, and take it down.

This young man has my word that no one in my household would smirk self-righteously, should he take the courageous step of removing the flag. We would all breathe a collective sigh of relief. And hope that we are inching towards making Medusa a more welcoming place to live.

Lastly, contrary to the words of Jim Bushnell, Berne building inspector, who inexplicably spoke at the [Oct. 8] Rensselaerville board meeting — shall those of us in Rensselaerville start attending the Berne board meetings, speak out against their abuse of power? — there is no cohesion.

Pretending that there is a sense of broad camaraderie in the Hilltowns does not make it so, just as repeating vicious lies about me, my family and denigrating the contributions we have made to our community doesn't make those lies more true. It just makes the people who repeat them liars.

So how do we all win? That is perhaps a better question than how do we convince people that they shouldn’t celebrate racist symbols as redneck pride.

Why not, as I suggested [at the Oct. 8 meeting], and as many have suggested in the past, find ways to listen to each other? Why can’t our boards, of all the Hilltown communities, commit to regular listening sessions, with facilitators, and help us navigate through this?

I understand that it is tricky, in the time of COVID-19, but why not plan for gatherings, in the spring, when we can continue to meet outside safely? And I wholeheartedly agree with Supervisor Dolce on this: We should indeed make a vow to keep this off of social media.

It is imperative that we not waste this opportunity. A conversation has begun. It wasn’t finished last Thursday, by any means. And we shouldn’t squander it by closing the book and pretending that everything is fine.

April Roggio


Editor’s note: See related story and editorial.

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