Political Battles On Front Porch

Facebook teems with local groups. With names like Westport Moms, Westport & Fairfield Parents and What Up Westport, they’re great places to ask questions, share tips and (virtually) hang out.

But Jane Green was tired of reading about strollers and nursery schools.

So a year and a half ago — hoping to shine a light on local businesses, events and goings-on of interest to an audience broader than just kids’ parents — she started Westport Front Porch.

The front page of Westport Front Porch.

It wasn’t like she had tons of time. She is that Jane Green — an internationally known novelist, TV/radio personality, chef/entertainer — but she was passionate about using social media to create community in her adopted hometown.

Westport Front Porch has over 3,800 members. Most of the posts, Green admits, are “anodyne.” Recent discussion topics included bat removal, orchards and TV installation.

Green monitored comments carefully. She did not want the “discord and drama” so often found online these days.

But moderating comments is time-consuming. Gradually she pulled back. Jerri Graham took over day-to-day operations of the Porch.

In between writing, being a mother, running a household — and appearing on TV — Jane Green finds time to run Westport Front Porch.

As election season approached, some Porchers posted about politicians. Green began monitoring comments closely again.

“It felt fine to have the type of political discussions neighbors might have once had on their front porch,” Green says.

“I thought, let’s open the Porch up. There are real political issues in towns — about traffic, pedestrian safety, water towers. Let’s have those conversations.”

She posted guidelines. Civility topped the list. “Call me Pollyanna,” says Green.

Throughout that first day, Green moderated the comments. She removed some. She tried to keep the group “safe and comfortable.”

That night, Green woke up at 2 a.m. She took a quick look on Facebook.

“It was a nightmare,” she recalls. “Threads had exploded. People were duking it out. Insults were flowing. It was absolutely inappropriate.”

She does not point fingers at any one political party. Supporters of Democratic, Republican, independent — probably Whig and Know-Nothing — candidates fired away.

Green closed the Porch to all political comments.

“I love Westport. I believe in this community,” Green says.

“But in this age, we’re all locked behind technology. We hide behind screens. It’s become too easy to be nasty, in a way we never would be face to face.”

Green adds, “These are contentious times. We’ve forgotten how to communicate politely, and how to connect. But as humans we long for connection.”

She feels badly that Westport Front Porch devolved into a politically toxic site overnight. She is sad that she had to cut off comments about important town issues.

But she has not given up.

Jerri Graham proposed a political meet-and-greet. Now she and Green have partnered with Megan Rutstein and Melissa Post — founders of the Westport Moms group — who had already planned a political candidates event for October 18 (Westport Country Playhouse, 7:30 p.m.).

Politics as it should be, Westport style: Republican First Selectman Jim Marpe and his challenger, Democrat Melissa Kane, enjoyed the “06880” party in July. Two others are running for first selectman: John Suggs and T.J. Eigen. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

It’s a chance to talk with office-seekers, ask questions — and, presumably, do so in a polite, up-close-and-personal way. First selectman candidates will offer a few words; those for all other offices will be available to mix and mingle.

“Westport is a small town,” Green says. “We’re all friends and neighbors. But I’ve seen friends and neighbors no longer talking to each other.

“I’ll listen to anyone, so long as they talk about what they think is best for the town  without blaming or shaming,” she says firmly. “If we come together for the greater good, and are willing to listen, great things can happen.”

8 responses to “Political Battles On Front Porch

  1. Carl Addison Swanson

    Good post but rather naive. Westporters have been arguing among themselves (and not always nicely) since the 1950’s here. From the Nike site to Cockenoe Island to the purchase of Longshore to allowing Stauffer Chemical to call this home to most recently, the safety of our artificial fields and the lights that adorn them. I would imagine, you Professor Woog as an expert in the field with this blog, might advise Westport Front Porch of the nicety of local commentators? But this country was founded on harsh debate among aristocrats, many times anonymously. The only difference now is that we peons have a voice via social media which, seemingly, scares some folks? And being nice, starts at the top, POTUS.

  2. What a great idea!!! Invite your friends and neighbors to come out and open their eyes, ears and minds to the issues that affect all Westport residents. Encouraging people to let go of the mouse and come out from behind the screen and actually engage each other one on one!!! Imagine what the results could be: Informed citizens going to the polls on Nov 7th.

  3. If you want to find out more about The State of CT budget issues-please join many of us inn facebook at Fiscal ImpaCT. It’s an open dialogue on the fiscal crisis in CT where CT residents join state legislators in an honest conversation. You can also find lots of details posted by many.

    Fiscal ImpaCT

Commenters must fill out their real full names, and provide their real email addresses.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s