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Rep. David Watters, May Day 2012 speech at Dover City Hall

We gather today at City Hall to celebrate the building of Dover by generations of workers from all the countries of the world. Except for the People of the Dawn, the Abenakis, we are all migrants in this land we call the United States of America. Here is the roster of some of the names of seacoast families, immigrants and children and grandchildren of immigrants who have dedicated themselves to public service: Shaheen, Sununu, Maglaras, Krasker, Boc, Lessard, Pelletier. Indeed, almost all those who serve us today had a relative who arrived by ship through Ellis Island, or by train from Canada. The roster stretches back through the generations of Torrs and Tuttles who found refuge and new hope in this good land in the days of its founding.

We celebrate also the nameless Irish women workers who built St. Mary’s penny by penny and dime by dime, and the French Canadian families who consecrated their labors to let God’s light shine through the stained glass of St. Charles. Families came from what was called Syria, now Akoura, Lebanon, to work and to dream of keeping faith and community alive in St. George Maronite Church. They came from Greece to build Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church.

We celebrate the Jews whose exodus led to Dover. As the Bible tells us, Israel was an immigrant and refugee people, forged from the diversity of ten tribes into one people. Ruth was a refugee among the alien corn, and many Ruths have found refuge in the big-hearted community of Dover, where compassion has flowed like the rivers that replenished the land and powered the mills. Today, the Indonesian Harvest Church gathers in Christians, some families fleeing persecutions as had the Puritans Underhill and Knollys on Dover Point in 1638. When we sing “God bless America,” we believe God blesses the America that opens its arms to the least of his people and promises liberty and justice for all at the end of their journeys from other lands.

May Day is a day to honor the working men and women, immigrants and descendants of immigrants, who have built this city. Dover’s early minister, Jeremy Belknap, chronicled the hard work of hewing wood, making bricks, building ships and mills as a foundation was laid for the industrial revolution that drew workers from the countryside and then the world. The struggle for dignity and fair wages saw Dover mill girls lead one of the first labor strikes in America, and in a century-long struggle, the sisterhood and brotherhood of collective bargaining lifted working families to dignity and prosperity. In 1912 Lewis Hine took photos of ten-year-old mill hands in Dover; 100 years later, the children of immigrants go to school and dream big dreams. In Dover schools we hear the languages of the world, and as Horace Mann envisioned, our public schools are the nurseries of democracy to make of many people one America. To those who would refuse the refugee and oppress the immigrant, let them hear from Dover the voices of our immigrant ancestors sounding as strong as the falls of the Cocheco, “We are one family, one city, one country. There are no strangers here.”