Scoping the hard work ahead on unity amid difference

In the wake of the Marathon bombings six months ago, I wondered what it would take for the popular sentiment of “we are all one Boston” to take root in reality.

We got part of the answer Wednesday night, as the third strike thrown by Koji Uehara threw the region into a virtual chorus of Big Papi’s “This is our bleeping city!”

Photo by Ben Sachs-Hamilton

Photo by Ben Sachs-Hamilton

It certainly threw the TV room at Beacon Hill Friends House into that mindset, with more than half the room making its way to the streets of Boston despite the midnight hour. The roar of the crowd drew me to Parkman Bandstand, where police officers on bicycles (and suited up in reflector jackets rather than riot gear) posed for photos with the crowd they were assigned to control. As one of the officers mentioned to a tipsy reveler who, at least by appearance, had nothing in common with the cop, “We’re all Sox fans tonight.”

Even the worst reported incident of vandalism, the destruction of a car on Boylston Street, ended well with a successful crowdfunding campaign to cover the owner’s insurance deductibles.

My walk in the park concluded a big day for me. It was my 65th birthday, and included another walk, this one with Carol to Faneuil Hall in hopes of getting a glimpse of President Obama. In town to defend his health care plan and apologize for its ragged online launch, the president’s appearance provided an excellent platform to consider the challenge of unity amid difference.

He spoke in the same room that former Republican Gov. Mitt Romney used seven years ago to introduce the state-wide health care plan that, in some ways, served as a model for Obamacare.  But the optics were quite different back then. Included in Romney’s event was the Senate’s leading Democrat, the late Ted Kennedy, along with state officials of both parties.

Kennedy began his remarks by quoting one of his sons: “When Kennedy and Romney support a piece of legislation together, it’s usually because one of them hasn’t read it.” But he went on to praise Romney for initiating the “artful compromise” involved in laying what he termed “a cornerstone of bi-partisan progress” at the heart of Romneycare.

By contrast, Obama included no Republicans of note in his event. While crediting Romney for doing “the right thing on healthcare,” he also devoted a chunk of his time to blasting his opponents for erecting “more obstruction and more resistance to getting anything done.”

He also said: “Our job is to align our politics with the goodness of the American people. And I don’t think that’s a partisan agenda; I don’t think that’s a Democratic or Republican agenda. I think that’s an American agenda.”

The president put his finger on what needs to get done, but, at least in this setting, offered no roadmap for getting there.

cat pumpkinUnity in the city feels more achievable. The night after Bostonians filled the streets to celebrate the Red Sox, it felt like many of them showed up in our neighborhood for Halloween on Beacon Hill.  The symbolism of wildly costumed kids in common pursuit of treats went no deeper than the make-up on Snow White’s face, of course. But it underlined the possibilities for good times in a city crippled, not that long ago, by the fear of locked-down streets and “sheltering in place.”

In between dispensing Snickers and M&M’s on a Chestnut Street stoop, a couple of friends debated, sometimes harshly, the respective merits and drawbacks of mayoral candidates Walsh and Connolly. Although no consensus emerged on which candidate stands the best chance of reforming Boston’s schools, these neighbors seemed quite capable of going their separate ways on Tuesday and co-existing quite cordially and effectively in the condo where they live. Still to be determined: What it will take for the new mayor to make the sort of progress on school reform that Romney and Obama have made with health care.

There’s work to be done, too, at Beacon Hill Friends House. As diverse a group as we are in several respects — age, sexual orientation, background — we recently lost our only residents of color and we enjoy — from what I can tell — very little diversity of ideology and politics.

Tomorrow, all 18 residents of the house are expected to participate in Workday, our bi-annual commitment to getting the house ready for approaching seasons and fixing what’s broken. Some of us may spend the lunch break with Red Sox Nation and Saturday’s duck boat parade, but we’ll get the job done.

President Obama, perhaps it’s time you invited the Republican leadership to such a Workday at the White House. I bet the Boston Art Commission would lend you that painting of Daniel Webster you admired in Faneuil Hall the other day. You know the one — that masterpiece depicting Webster reminding a Senate colleague of their common bond: “Liberty and Union, now and forever, one and inseparable.”

Correction: An earlier version of this post reported that Beacon Hill Friends House recently lost its only resident of color. In fact, we recently lost two residents of color. It’s a mistake that underlines one of the most important dimensions of building and thriving in a diverse community: sensitivity and accuracy in respecting the core characteristics of people we live with. 11/5/13

Your suggestions for achieving unity amid difference? Examples you’ve noticed of collaboration among disagreers?

One thought on “Scoping the hard work ahead on unity amid difference

  1. I remember that incident where a car was destroyed on Boylston Street and that crowdfunding campaign to cover the owner”s car insurance deductibles. As for Obama’s health care, it doesn’t to differ among other health care plans and insurance in the country.

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