Fernald Update

March 25, 2021 Sue Rorke

Update from Alex Green

It has taken a few months for the Fernald post-holiday-light-show world to take shape, in which the next steps are clear.

In some ways, we face a disappointing outcome in dealing with the City of Waltham. The Mayor has put forward a new plan which does not include a memorial or a museum. But the Mayor of Waltham is not the only or the last word on these issues and the fate of the Fernald will be decided in ways beyond the control of one person. Since the end of the light show, a few of us were able to have conversations with legislators about what makes sense to do next.  

As a result of those conversations, Senator Mike Barrett, and Representative Sean Garballey have put forward a bill calling for the creation of a commission to investigate and report on the history of state institutions for people with disabilities in Massachusetts. This landmark piece of legislation would create and empower a board led by people with disabilities to dig deep into the history of all state institutions for people with disabilities, find out where survivors live today, and make recommendations about what should be done, based on what is uncovered.  

It would get at the underlying issues that led to the light show in the first place–namely, that the history of state institutions in Massachusetts has not be properly researched or told–leading to insensitive uses of these former institutional properties. If this is the outcome of our protest efforts, I would say we have made enormous strides. 

You can read the House version, HD.3868, and the Senate version, SD.2424, (they are the same).

This is the first step toward ensuring that this long-overlooked story is–for the first time–fully investigated by the state in ways that can allow us to properly understand the scope of what has happened in Massachusetts, and begin to heal.  

I would greatly appreciate if:  

  1. Let me know if your organization will support this legislation.
  2. Send a formal letter of support and thanks to Sen. Barrett (Mike.Barrett@masenate.gov) and Rep. Garballey (Sean.Garballey@mahouse.gov) and also asking them to ensure that the chairpersons of the commission are people with disabilities.

In the coming weeks, I hope to create a series of short videos and fact sheets that can be shared with legislators to advocate for this bill. 

This will be a long haul, but one that could result in the foundation for an uncontested history of state institutions for people with disabilities, from which to pursue the memorial we came together to ensure when we first gathered around the light show last fall. 

Alex Green – alex_green@hks.harvard.edu