Recently there was another digital scuffle on the Newtonville listserv. This time it was over the use of the word “assimilation” in a discussion of whether at-large elections promote diversity – not over whether or not diversity is beneficial as some have said.
It was used as a discussion point and was not directed at any group. It made some people uncomfortable, including me. The choices then became to leave the list, stay and vehemently state the word should not be used or stay and continue the discussion to understand why the word was used. I will always choose the latter. How do we find common purpose to grow on if words themselves are banned? Do we want to stay divided? Some inroads have been made correcting false statements and understanding opinions on the listserv – I would prefer to pursue them.
This is actually part of an on again, off again, continuing squabble over development in Newtonville – as well as other issues such as disagreement over the best types of affordable housing, the benefits of Newton’s City Counselors’ passing a Welcoming City ordinance and both the marketing tactics and content of the new Charter proposal – among others.
The listserv was co-founded by Emily Norton and Miles Fidelman around the time Mayor Warren’s selection of developers, “not” a proposal became “and” their proposal to develop over and under the Austin Street parking lot. It has continued to be an outlet to voice concerns for those who believe that large scale development is swallowing Newtonville as well as functioning as a neighborhood bulletin board.
Most members thought that Emily Norton was the founder, owner and moderator. Miles let it go until Emily while enforcing her “sandbox rules, ” called out those who were using politically incorrect words telling them to stop or she would kick them off the list. It was then that Miles said he maintained the list on his server and was a co-founder of the list. Emily, Miles and others had a final showdown over his use of the term “illegal immigrants” that prompted Emily to break with Miles and start a Newtonville Google group.
Miles Fidelman is now the sole owner of the Newtonville listserv and states he does not moderate the list. He does “request a modicum of civil behavior” and has a set of guidelines, some of which are “refrain from … unsubstantiated labelling,” “respect others,” “respect differences of opinion,” “avoid taking offense.”