We’re in the midst of an important Westport anniversary.
At dusk 237 years ago yesterday — April 25, 1777 — 2000 British troops landed at Compo Beach. Tory loyalists planned to guide them up Compo Road to Cross Highway, across to Redding Road, then north through Redding and Bethel to Danbury, where they would burn a major munitions depot.
Patriots fired a few shots at the corner of the Post Road and Compo, but the British marched on. In Danbury they destroyed the Continental Army’s munitions, then headed back toward their waiting ships at Compo.
Hastily assembled patriot forces fought them in the fierce Battle of Ridgefield. Led by Brigadier General Benedict Arnold — not yet a traitor — and outnumbered 3 to 1, the patriots deployed a strategy of selective engagement.
The next day — April 28, 1777 — patriot marksmen waited on Compo Hill (the current site of Minuteman Hill road). They did not stop the redcoats — 20 colonials were killed, and between 40 and 80 wounded when the British made a shoulder to shoulder charge with fixed bayonets — but they gave them a fight.
A very different fight took place in the days leading up to April 26, 2013. Here on the “06880” blog, a post about the new town arts curator devolved into nasty attacks on her and her appointment. Accusations flew about a waste of town dollars. Even after it was noted that she is a volunteer, she continued to be vilified.
A post about a summer party planned for the “06880″ community quickly degenerated into a political catfight. Much of the joy of the announcement was sucked away by anonymous commenters.
So a year ago today, I pulled the plug on anonymity. In a pissed-off post, I described the reasons I finally had it with “trolls.” By stirring the pot so virulently, they were poisoning the blog for everyone. They clothed themselves in free speech garb, but in reality they were just cyberspace bullies.
That post drew 91 comments. Almost all were positive. A few people predicted the end of “06880.”
So what’s happened in the year since, now that commenters have to use their real, full names?
Well, I’m working harder. Not everyone follows the rules. I spend time deleting occasional anonymous posts — I have not gone as far as to demand pre-registration — and sending requests to re-post (I’ll even do it for you).
The number of comments is down a bit — but not significantly. Instead of 2 or 3 bozos shouting at each other, we’ve had (for the most part) civil conversations.
The dark spirits are gone. “06880” is lighter, freer.
We now know who is part of the “06880” community. And doesn’t any community — a blog, a town, whatever — function better when everyone knows their neighbors?
In the nearly 2 1/2 centuries since the Battle of Compo Hill, the British have never ventured inland again.
And — as the past year proves — the trolls are also gone for good.