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PETER MOST: Unwelcome to Hancock

Although the world has a dreadful history of rejecting others, their ideas, and customs, it is nonetheless disappointing that our slice of Eden is not immune from such distrust.

Just on the inside cover of the recently issued Annual Report of the Town of Hancock, the town officers had a xenophobic note for newly arrived residents and perhaps more broadly for other non-native born (post-1620) Berkshire-ites. It read as follows:

You Came Here From There
Because You Didn’t Like
It There, And Now You Want
To Change Here To Be Like There.
You Are Welcome Here,
Only Don’t Try To Make Here Like
There. If you Want to Make
Here Like There You Shouldn’t
Have Left There In The First Place.

Can we agree that Hancock’s Annual Report is less in the vein of “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” and leans more toward “Irish need not apply”? Are we to applaud Hancock for not just saying the quiet parts aloud but unabashedly publishing its divisive sentiments as part of the Official Record, or should we shudder at the thought that town officers were unaware how naked ethnocentrism might be received?

Distrust of newcomers is not new. Fear of innovative ideas is not new. Romanticizing the past and blaming current ills on the newly arrived is not new. Although the world has a dreadful history of rejecting others, their ideas, and customs, it is nonetheless disappointing that our slice of Eden is not immune from such distrust.

Fair to wonder whether Hancock distrusts newcomers or their ideas. In a passage from his 1860 Cooper Union speech, Abraham Lincoln posited the question, “What is conservatism? Is it not adherence to the old and tired, against the new and untried?” As framed by Lincoln, then, is it official Hancock policy that every new and untried idea should be distrusted in favor of old and tired? Or is it not the ideas but the folks with new ideas that Hancock distrusts?

Oregon Governor Tom McCall famously said, “Come visit us again and again. This is a state of excitement. But for heaven’s sake, don’t come live here.” Immediately following his pronouncement, T-shirts and bumper stickers proliferated with a message meant chiefly for Californians: “Welcome to Oregon. Now go Home!” Governor McCall did not fear ideas; he feared a flood of Californians. Nothing suggests Hancock’s 757 residents need to fear throngs moving to town. But it isn’t the multitudes that Hancock prefers to stay away; it is their suggestions they want left at the border.

There is a town in Oklahoma that outlawed dancing due to concerns it leads to consumption of the devil’s brew. A stereotypical gripe is that newcomers bring crime and conflict, but Hancock’s police blotters are not suddenly bloated. To the contrary, the concern is not that folks are taking from Hancock; the fear is that folks may bring something new—so, this is not about 911 and all about 411.

Hancock, tell us, who and what do you fear? Have you considered whether your fears are rational? And if, perhaps, you should speak with someone about it?

No one has suggested a traffic circle for Hancock, so it cannot be that. Hancock should have no reasonable fear that a restaurant will consider serving anything as exotic as sushi, cappuccino, or ramen, so it is unlikely that. Hancock has undoubtedly evolved since its founding in the 1700s, no doubt in part by adopting some newcomers’ customs and lifestyles and rejecting others. After 250 years, why did Hancock suddenly decide that enough is enough?

Well, all was revealed at Hancock’s recent Town Meeting. Apparently, Hancock’s town officers did not speak for all Hancock residents, who debated the message in earnest.

It has been reported that Select Board Chair Sherman L. Derby Sr. defended the message in the Annual Report because, one, the School Committee asked the town to refer to its Christmas celebration as a holiday celebration and, two, because the town was asked to identify the October holiday not as Columbus Day but Indigenous Peoples Day. Now we know where Mr. Derby draws the line.

Select Board member Donald Rancatti reportedly said he approved the Official Report message because residents want the town to spend money on “bike trails, hiking trails, school projects, sidewalks, full-time police departments, public sewer and water systems, trash collection, and the list goes on.” Mr. Rancatti also reportedly said that folks move to Hancock for the rural setting, and they should keep it that way. Mr. Rancatti’s point was that low rural taxes and cosmopolitan ideas are mutually exclusive.

Assuredly, then, it must have been heartwarming when all Hancock residents gathered to overwhelmingly reject the anti-newcomers’ ideas and demand the Select Board remove the divisive message from the Town Report. Well, once the votes were counted, it was clear the message was embraced by more than a few.

A landslide it was not. With 115 residents coming to Town Meeting, 98 voted on the measure, and the vote to remove the passage squeaked by in a tally of 50 to 48. Well, at least keeping ideas out of Hancock carried the day, if only slightly. Fair to wonder what became of the 17 voters that abstained.

Survey Monkey Questions

Here is a link to the following Survey Monkey poll: Do you share concerns that newcomers may seek to bring fresh perspectives and innovative thinking to the area?

Survey Monkey Results

A recent column asked the following two survey questions:

  1. Should the town prioritize housing development over a neighbor’s wish to preserve landscape views?
  2. Would you have attended Town Meeting this year if it had been held on Saturday morning rather than on Monday night?

As of publication, 62.07 percent said “yes,” the town should prioritize housing development over views, and 73.33 percent said “yes,” they would have attended the Great Barrington Town Meeting if it had been held on a Saturday morning rather than a Monday night.


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