David Hemingway explained more than he perhaps intended when quoted as saying he wanted Swanton to be the “quiet sleepy New England Town” it’s always been, and that he just wants “peace.”
Mr. Hemingway was the person identified as the one who has been using his paint brush and bucket of white paint to cover up art supporting Black Lives Matter. As soon as the Black Lives Matter art appeared, Mr. Hemingway would cover it with his white paint and leave a peace sign.
“It wasn’t that I disagree. I have the right to put my peace sign on there. I was just doing what I do, I don’t put Black Lives Matter, I don’t put on anything else, just a peace sign…” Mr. Hemingway said.
Legally, there is nothing wrong with Mr. Hemingway’s actions. Swanton’s rules for the five art boards — which have been around since 2015 — are pretty lax. No words, just art.
But Mr. Hemingway knows better. A parent with two children would not allow the second to paint over what the first did as soon as it was finished. Mr. Hemingway could have waited a week and then taken his turn, along with anyone else. He didn’t. He wanted his message to stand and theirs to disappear. He knows that. We all do. No one is fooled. Call it what it is; racism, peace’s opposite.
The sad part of the story is that the Swanton Village Trustees Monday night ordered all five walls to be taken down. The walls had become political statements, and to the trustees and many of Swanton’s community members, they had become divisive. And, typical of today’s world, the nastiness broke out on social media channels; the keyboard warriors began taking hateful aim at one another.
The trustees had had enough. The walls came down and a hiatus was declared until the first of the year, when it may be revisited.
Village Manager Reggie Beliveau was right when pointed out that Swanton’s story is a good one; the community has made considerable progress in a number of uplifting endeavors and it’s regretful to see all the good washed over by the media’s coverage of an event with negative overtones.
But that needn’t be what eventually prevails. It’s important that Swanton find a way to put the walls back up, which will require improved communication between the sides, and that will necessitate examining Mr. Hemingway’s words.
Peace, for example, is not something forged out of silence. It’s not something that can be achieved when one side tries to prevail over the other. And it cannot be found by pretending inequities don’t exist.
When Mr. Hemingway talks about wanting Swanton to be the quiet little town he remembers [and he has company] that’s another way of looking in the past, fearful of addressing new thoughts and different realities. Peace, true peace, a peace that lasts, is something hard fought and it doesn’t come from a place of complacency.
The art boards are gone and the vitriol on social media will fade, but the need to address Black Lives Matter and general issues of discrimination and inequity remain in Swanton [and throughout Vermont], they’ve just been papered over. The peace comes when Black Lives Matter art is put up and no one objects. The peace comes when Mr. Hemingway puts up his peace sign in a respectful manner, and no one objects.
To get there, the art needs to return, but it needs to be prefaced with some face-to-face community meetings. Instead of treating this as an obstacle, let’s treat it as the opportunity that it is.
by Emerson Lynn