First Church has a longstanding dedication to environmental justice. Our faith compels to do our part to steward the earth for future generations. We have marched with 350.org at the People’s Climate March; studied thinkers as varied as Thomas Berry and Pope Francis, insulated the building; divested from fossil fuels; and helped build gardens, install clotheslines, and teach composting basics all across town.
Anne O’Connor’s Acceptance Speech
Scarborough-Salomon-Flynt award speech
When I ran for the Select Board in 2013, I presented myself as an environmentalist. And I’ve loved working on projects like planting trees, reducing plastic waste, and working to preserve pollinators through Bee Friendly Williamstown.
But I want to take this moment instead to reflect on the work our town has publicly engaged with since 2020. I want to acknowledge how our largely white and often privileged town has struggled with our own history, and how we’ve bickered and belittled each other even while embracing the goal of becoming a better, more inclusive place. It has been painful to see the hurt and divisions that have played out in public and on social media. I love this town and I know we can do better. How do we get there?
Fundamentally, I do not believe we disrupt systemic harm by inflicting more harm. If we are to be a community that welcomes all, across lines of race and class, ability, gender identity and sexual orientation, we need to do our own work, to be in a practice of healing our own hurt and pain so that we can then create space for others to heal theirs. I don’t think this is easy at all: it’s a discipline. At a community level, it means practicing respect for our mutual humanity—where you and I never let ourselves objectify someone else. It means maintaining our equanimity, balance, and connection even in the midst of change—where you and I take a breath and calm down before we act. It means practicing open-heartedness, love, and perseverance as a guiding principle—where you and I don’t give up on hope, or on each other.
I think a lot about the unprecedented challenges facing our society now, but for every atrocity, for every disaster, we see people stepping forward in response, helping each other, showing that there is a path out of trauma—a path that begins with us.
I’m grateful for how passionately we all care about this community. I appreciate our willingness to be involved and to pursue what we think is best. This award honors the spirit of community, and I am grateful that you all embody that same spirit. Thank you for all that you do.