Letter: A Plea for Civil Discourse

[Ed note: My Southborough accepts signed letters to the editor submitted by Southborough residents. Letters may be emailed to mysouthborough@gmail.com.]

To the Editor:

During the 16 years my family has lived in Southborough, my husband and our three children have been blessed to have local friends and neighbors who are deeply kind and caring, who have been there in times of celebration and of adversity. So many Southborough residents, we have found, have deeply-held beliefs about the importance of community which they often translate into action when they selflessly go out of their way to help one another.

This is why it came as an incredible disappointment this summer to find an anonymous letter delivered to my home in response to the sign we put in our front yard that reads in part, “We believe black lives matter, no human is illegal, love is love” and so on. You’ve likely seen these signs dotting lawns around town. The letter, which had no return address, was filled with half-truths, propaganda and an edge of threat as it admonished my family to visit a website — called “a prolific poster of misinformation and conspiracy theories” by the nonpartisan Annenberg Public Policy Center’s FactCheck.org — for more information about the Black Lives Matter movement, which the letter demonized.

After sharing the missive on Facebook, I learned that others in my neighborhood with the same sign in front of their homes, received an identical letter, in which the writer expressed hope that the recipients were not part of the “communist-Marxist-facist hatred” of Black Lives Matter. Since many of us live on quiet side streets, it’s highly likely the letters are from someone who lives nearby. From a neighbor.

Last month, I came across a Facebook post from another resident who said he has a Black Lives Matter sign in his yard and reported that someone regularly drives by early in the morning, honks his vehicle horn and shouts profanities. Once, the resident said, the profane shouting came as his 7-year-old was playing in the yard. In response to this post on a private Southborough parents’ Facebook page, several others reported that they’d had similar responses to their Black Lives Matter signs either in the form of shouting or anonymous letters.

How deeply, deeply disappointing it has been to hear that in our town — whose virtues and sense of community spirit I championed in a book about our middle school’s band director — has seething pockets of hatred, has members who see fit to sow seeds of doubt and division amongst us, who have us eyeing our neighbors with suspicion and dread.

Many of us have been holed up in our homes for many months now, kept away from our loved ones by a lethal, highly contagious pandemic that has killed over 210,000 in this country, killed one Southborough resident and sickened 64. As COVID-19 lingers in the air, American streets have echoed with the cries of those protesting the death of George Floyd and the continued racial injustice and fatal brutality imposed upon our citizens, something to which our local youth responded by organizing a candlelight vigil for peace and racial justice. Meanwhile, there’s less than a month left in the most divisive presidential campaign in recent memory. 

There is so much pain in the world right now, in our nation, our state, our town. People have lost their loved ones, their livelihoods, their homes, lost out on important milestones in their lives. People are longing to hug one another and to return to their pre-COVID lives. So why, amid all this misery, are people accosting their own neighbors with anonymous letters and drive-by taunts? In all this darkness, why aren’t we trying to find ways to lift one another up and cultivate a loving community in which we can all thrive? 

If you see a sign in front of a neighbor’s home that irks you, why not have a friendly chat with that person instead of dumping angry, anonymous mail in a mailbox? Engage in civil discourse. We can handle it. Many of us don’t necessarily agree with our own family members when it comes to politics, but in the end, we’re still family. The same goes for our neighbors. Once the presidential election is over and the candidate signs come down, we are still Southborough. How about, instead of sending one another unsigned letters, shouting into one another’s yards, or sending the explicit message to non-white families that they are not wanted in town, we work on building a supportive Southborough?

I recently came across this quote from a writer, Gladys Tabor, “Being a good neighbor is an art which makes life richer.” My fervent hope is that we strive to make everyone in town rich with kindness, compassion and vibrant community inclusiveness.

Meredith O’Brien

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Laurie bourdon
3 years ago

Thank you for writing this perfect letter and speaking out. I love my sign that stands for equality, inclusion and things that are good.

Gretchen Hartnett
3 years ago

We thank you for writing and sharing this amazing letter. We couldn’t have said it better ourselves, and we appreciate that you took the time to put into words how so many of us feel. It’s heartbreaking to continue to hear about so many expressions of hatred in this town and beyond, and we simply have to come together to demand kindness, love, acceptance and respect. As one of my favorite neighborhood signs says, “Hate has no home here.” How horrifying that such a beautiful and simple statement isn’t necessarily true, it seems lately.

Politics aside, (while I have so much to say about that as well), it is critical that we all look to our children and the world we want to leave them at this time, especially in the coming weeks. We have an obligation to lead by example as parents, neighbors and community members. Our children are all watching and listening very carefully, looking to us to do the right thing, to reverse the tide of hatred. This is the moment, right here and now. We have an opportunity and an obligation to make sure children and families of all colors, religions, cultures and backgrounds know that they are loved, valued, supported, understood and respected. Open your ears and eyes to the stories that are being shared, to your own biases and behaviors, and be grateful to those who are willing to talk about their experiences. Ask questions, realize that we can all do better and we can all do more. Take risks right now, step our of your comfort zone to stand up for what’s right, to stand up for all. And don’t stop. Ever. Thank you Meredith. With Love and Gratitude, Gretchen and Mike Hartnett

bliss is ignorance
3 years ago

It’s almost funny to read this plea so soon after the uncivil “presidential behavior” shown in the recent debate. Unfortunately, that and countless previous examples over the last four years seem to have set a new low in standards for an entire nation.

I too got all pumped up initially over all the publicity for the BLM movement – then, after hearing about some issues with their core principles, I did some investigating.

Readers of this column would be well advised to visit the following websites and read for themselves who the people are and what is behind this movement – and what they are fundamentally after. You may be surprised.




For an idea of life in a Socialist regime, Southborough homeowners should consider the plight of the Gromyko family (Doctor Zhivago) homes both in Moscow (Southborough) and in Yuriyatin near the Ural mountains (your summer homes on Cape Cod) during and after the Revolution (as espoused by BLM leadership). Is that the kind of future you’d want? Your lives would barely matter! Your property would be gone.

I would hesitate to erect signs in my own yard for the very reasons the M. O’Brien has outlined. Making such a public declaration invites a response. Your yard signs shout your position. Is that civil discourse? Some of the responses received have not pleased M. O’Brien or her neighbors – anonymous letters and drive by shouting. Is understanding enhanced in either direction?

It may be preferable to share one’s views on sensitive topics more discreetly and among closer friends.

3 years ago

It should not be a “sensitive topic” to say that there needs to be more awareness about the way that Black people and other minorities are portrayed and are treated in this country. I can at least acknowledge that my life and concerns would be different if my skin happened to be black. I am also able to acknowledge that as a human being without being a Socialist.

3 years ago

One can believe black lives matter, and even house a sign, without being on the same page as some of the organization’s beliefs. I believe we can make America great again, but I certainly don’t believe a single thing our current President says and am 100% NOT part of “MAGA”.

Be kind, have a heart, help others who need it. That’s it. It’s truly not difficult.

Ben Goode
3 years ago

Marxism isn’t that crazy of an idea when you look into it. Marx was critiquing capitalism, and his critiques were very well-founded. Being a marxist doesn’t necessarily mean supporting the atrocities committed by tyrants like Stalin, it just means agreeing with Marx’s critiques of capitalism.

Regardless though, even if marxism was an inherently evil ideology, that doesn’t mean you need to abandon black lives matter. It’s still a positive movement and has been for years.

3 years ago

Open the link below to find President Kennedy speak to the inequality in our nation. This speech was made in 1963 and I was 5 years old. I remember listening to it along with my parents. It had a huge impact on me and shaped my perspective toward people who happen to look different than me. I have recently shared this speech with many friends who are younger than me and never had the opportunity to view it. I’m sharing it here now for those who have never seen it so we can be remind of what we should all be working towards.

3 years ago

Some of my favorite people happen to be black. In fact my mentor was black along with several good friends I’ve made in my life. Growing up in a diverse city – it was hard to move to Southborough – a town with mostly white, wealthy families. I am white, however, I am not from a wealthy background – in fact – probably less than middle class. I am continually shocked at the comments of some of the people who have these black lives matter signs on their lawns. Not all but a few of these families spew hatred toward those who support a different political party. What happened to decency in supporting a difference of opinion. I have no problem with the black matters signs, however, if you place one on your lawn – please don’t spew hatred toward someone who may support a different political party. Live by your words. Not all black people are bad, not all white people are bad, not all cops are bad, etc etc. You don’t know who may be offended by your own views. That is why, in my generation, we didn’t discuss our political views at work or on a public sign in our yard. Being nice includes being nice to all human beings – not to just the ones who share your beliefs and view points. That’s what America is all about.

3 years ago
Reply to  Concerned

I am also white, middle class and far from wealthy, and grew up in a diverse community in the city. My family has lived here for several years. In general, the people I have met in Southborough have been very kind. There are many others in Southborough who are not wealthy, and wealthy people here who are very caring. And I have not experienced anybody with my similar political viewpoints spewing hatred at others. Although maybe it can feel that way when people feel passionately about things. Putting a Black Lives Matter sign or a Hate Has No Home Here sign at a home is speaking out that marginalized people deserve the same rights and respect as we do. It does not mean that your life or that my life does not matter. There needs to be police reform in our country as a whole, but there are many good policeman

3 years ago

Thank you, Meredith.

Stop the speeding on Woodland & Parkerville
3 years ago

Clearly there can be civil discourse. But in the current political environment, all discussions seem to lead back to hatred of the ‘evil orange man’. Regarding the St Marks employee who was the ‘victim’ of a honking horn and swearing because of his yard sign, did he call the Southborough PD? If so, how ironic (& hypocritical). Calling the police because someone swore and honked about what many perceive as his “I hate cops” sign. Whatever the noble intent of the yard sign, that’s the message of the cause…a cause that has killed/murdered 25+ victims in 2020.

Beth Melo
3 years ago

I can’t find any legitimate news source that verifies that the BLM cause killed/murdered 25+ victims. Perhaps you could share your source?

Stop speeding
3 years ago
Reply to  Beth Melo

Better yet Beth, do you want me to list the names? I will gladly. Are you doubting that BLM is not a violent organization?

Beth Melo
3 years ago
Reply to  Stop speeding

A list of names would not be better, unless it came with a credible source verifying that those people were killed by BLM.

3 years ago

Is this the BLM organization you question?


Frank Crowell
3 years ago

If someone is yelling obscenities as they drive by your house, get license plate number and call the police. They have not yet been defunded – use them while we still have them. If you can’t catch a license plate, put a Ring doorbell on your mail box. It’s amazing the things you will video and you may pick up what your neighbors are saying about you (since I’m a “Deplorable” nothing but the best about me from my neighbors).

Some interesting articles below from news sources not many read in MA. For those who do not know Bill Ayers, he is a former (allegedly) domestic terrorist that would have killed more but he was incompetent at making bombs.




Kelly Roney
3 years ago
Reply to  Frank Crowell

Yes, Frank’s maundering on about someone who was a militia member back fifty years ago when there actually were leftwing militias.

See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_Ayers if you want more actual information, but it’s really not relevant to today.

Kelly Roney
3 years ago
Reply to  Frank Crowell

One more thing: It’s probably a crime (possibly a felony, based on the maximum allotted punishment) under Massachusetts eavesdropping law to put a Ring on your mailbox. See https://malegislature.gov/Laws/GeneralLaws/PartIV/TitleI/Chapter272/Section99.

FYI, there is no Frank Crowell listed in the latest Southborough town census. That doesn’t mean his neighbors aren’t saying harsh things about him. That doesn’t even mean he doesn’t live here.

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