Commentary: A love letter to Barre
The Times Argus | July 05, 2018
On Saturday, June 30, when hundreds of thousands marched in major cities to protest the
administration’s policy of separating children from their families crossing the border, a unique and
heart-warming gathering took place in Barre.
It was a celebration of the immigrants from many countries who had built Barre and, more to the
point, a celebration of how immigrant children were welcomed into the homes of Barre families
when the immigrant parents of those children dared to strike for living wages against the textile
mills in Lawrence, Massachusetts. Fearing for the safety of their children as violence was sparked
by the strike, those immigrant parents in Lawrence in 1912, like the parents now seeking asylum
at our southern border, cared deeply about the welfare of their children. They trusted their
children’s safety to the generosity of strangers, sending them away to foster families until the
strike was settled. Barre was one of the cities that welcomed them.
This event has been re-created by famed children’s author Katherine Paterson, who lived in Barre
for many years, in her book “Bread and Roses, Too.” She was there Saturday on Main Street,
having changed her vacation plans so she could read from her book at the gathering. “I love this
town,” she told the crowd. The feeling seemed mutual. After her reading, we walked to Depot
Square, trying to imagine what the children must have felt, arriving at this very train station. Soon
they would be welcomed with a hearty meal at the Labor Hall, and go to their temporary homes
with their foster families.
Someone asked if this was a protest. It was a protest in the form of a love letter to Barre and from
Barre to the world. It was a protest not with slogans but with deeds. There were many larger
marches June 30 but none more meaningful. I am so grateful to the women who organized this
gathering and to Katherine Paterson.
I carried a small sign I’d been given at another gathering that said “Love” on one side. I’d asked
the sign-maker to write “kindness” on the other side. A woman walking beside me in Barre pointed
out that love is the feeling but kindness is the action.
Glenda Bissex lives in Plainfield.