Cape Elizabeth welcomes all, but not without dissent over language

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CAPE ELIZABETH — A divided Town Council on June 12 approved a resolution welcoming all people into the community, regardless of beliefs or background. 

But reaching the resolution was not as smooth a process as anyone hoped it would be, and Councilors Katharine Ray and Jessica Sullivan ended up on the minority side of a 5-2 vote.

The resolution calls on Cape Elizabeth to “support respectful listening and dialogue across social, religious and political groups and reject actions that stifle the views and ideas of others.”

Separate drafts of the resolution were submitted by Councilor Penelope Jordan, resident Victoria Volent, and the Cape Diversity Coalition, a group of residents whose mission is to welcome, support, and protect the rights of all citizens.

The CDC submitted its draft for consideration at an April 10 council meeting. It was later discussed by the council at May 1 and June 5 workshops. 

The June 5 consensus was that Jordan’s draft would be considered, but after a 15-minute discussion with members of the public, Jordan moved to vote on the CDC’s draft. 

According to CDC member Paul Seidman, the major difference between Jordan’s draft and the CDC’s was its specificity.

Section 2 of the CDC’s states that Cape Elizabeth “condemns actions of hate, violence, or discrimination directed against any citizen or group, including but not limited to immigrants, refugees, asylum seekers, and any persons unjustly or unfairly treated due to their religion, ethnicity, race, class, nationality, country of origin, age, ability, sexuality, or gender.”

When asked during Monday’s discussion why she had changed her mind, Jordan said she hadn’t; she had always supported the resolution.

“My whole premise is about inclusion. … I do not work in a way that classifies people, but if there are people who need to have specific labels or words in order to define the statement, then I can go there … (CDC) achieved my goal (of inclusion),” she said. 

CDC member Mohammed Nasir Shir said the resolution’s specificity was needed because it provides a sense of hope and democracy for people who are most often targeted.

“I am a proud Muslim (and) a proud immigrant,” Shir, who has lived in Cape Elizabeth for more than 20 years, said. “That is something that no one can take away from me.” 

While each councilors was supportive of the intent behind a resolution, not all were on board with either of the two up for consideration. Sullivan and Rayhad concerns about the CDC’s resolution, including its specificity. 

“If we are making a list of who we are accepting of, are we not already leaving people out?” Ray asked.

Similarly, Sullivan said she was in favor of Jordan’s resolution, rather than the CDC’s, because “(Jordan) made an attempt to avoid classification.”  

Both worried that the CDC’s resolution was a result of the presidential election and stressed that the council should remain nonpartisan and separate from national politics.

“As councilors, we are in a very interesting position,” Sullivan said. “I do not feel that getting involved in national politics is the purview of local government.”

“(The resolution) is not a political statement, (it) is a societal statement. I don’t care who is sitting in Washington,” Jordan said. “I think what has occurred is that issues have bubbled to the top, but these (issues) have always been there.”

According to Seidman, the decision to draft a resolution was not a result of the presidential election, but a response to incidents of prejudice and discrimination in the community, including remarks made to Shir’s children.

Shir said that shortly after the presidential election last November his son, who was born in the U.S., was told by another student to “go back to where he came from.”

“Anyone can draw conclusions from the timing (of these incidents), but the fact of the matter is that they happened,” Seidman said, stressing that he and CDC members are responding to acts of discrimination, regardless of their proximity to the election.

Jocelyn Van Saun can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 183 or Follow her on Twitter @JocelynVanSaun.