- Diane Lederman: Springfield Republican/MassLive
Leverett hoping to bridge political divide in dialogue over dinner, dancing with Kentucky visitors
LEVERETT - There was a lot of despair in this town of about 2,000 following the election of GOP President Donald Trump in November of 2016. About 79 percent of the town's voters cast ballots for Democrat Hilary Clinton.
In Letcher County, Kentucky, there was a lot of celebration in the county of about 23,000 as 79.8 percent voted for Trump.
This weekend, about a dozen from the county are coming to the town where they will stay with people in the community, talk with members of the alliance and meet people from the community at large.
County resident and Connecticut native Ben Fink wrote "around 3 a.m. on election night, I woke up in a panic as three celebratory gunshots from next door shook my house."
But rather than wallow, residents here created the Leverett Alliance with the goal of identifying "ways in which our community could help the country move forward in a positive manner at a time of severe polarization between red and blue states," according to a press release describing its mission.
Fink had the same idea.
"For those of us who don't like how the election turned out, we're left with two choices," he wrote. "We can keep ignoring or ridiculing the resentment my neighbors feel, and calling them ignorant and otherwise illegitimate for the ways they think, talk and act. And we'll keep getting the same results. Or we can listen and try to understand where they're coming from, even when we don't like it, and see what we can build together."
"Because either way, in this election we learned that rural people have power. Whether we like it or not," he wrote. Fink is a member of Appalshop, a grass-roots multi-media arts organization.
Alliance members talked about ways to "to create some type of partnership with a community in a different part of the country with a significantly different political and socio-economic profile than our own," according to a release.
"The purpose: to discover common visions and respectfully address differences as we move ahead in challenging times."
One person happened to read the article written Fink, a leader in Appalshop - grass-roots multimedia arts center living in Letcher County wrote called "Democracy in Trump Country."
In the spring, members of the town will travel to Kentucky, said alliance member Sharon Dunn. In between, they'll stay in touch, she said.
"We're hoping so much we'll be able to talk to each other and respect each other," Dunn said. The county was once a center for coal mining but now only about 10 percent still work in that industry.
She said they'll be able to talk about "common things we all dream about."
"It's going to be really fascinating," Dunn said, adding that she's been reading all kinds of books about Appalachia in preparation.
They will also be filming the events to document how the program is working "as a template for other communities" who might want to follow.
Public events begin at Saturday at the Leverett Elementary School at 9 a.m. with a community forum, followed at 11:30 a.m. by a performance by the North Leverett Community Chorus to celebrate the heritage and folkways of Appalachia and New England. A potluck begins at noon. Admission only requires bringing something local to share.
At 6 p.m., a feast will be held at the Montague Common Hall (formerly Montague Grange), and again people are asked to bring a dish to share.
A contra dance will be held at the at Leverett Coop & Leverett Library. Tickets are $10.