The Great July 3rd Bottled Water Brouhaha, a.k.a. Men Behaving Badly

Okay, so there’s a tempest in a water bottle here in Montpelier. For years, the local Boy Scouts have sold water at the city’s Independence Day parade. The Scouts have also done a lot of cleanup work after the parade. But this year, no Scouts.

It began with the Scouts’ request for a vendor permit appearing on Council’s consent agenda, a list of noncontroversial items requiring no debate. Well, Councilor Thierry Guerlain asked that it be removed from the consent agenda; he raised concerns about the antigay policies of the Boy Scouts of America.

(The BSA allows openly gay Scouts, but still bans gays from supervisory or leadership capacities.)

Local Scout leadership responded by withdrawing its request, and its participation in the parade. And now, reports the Times Argus, the city is scrambling for volunteers to cover the duties usually handled by the Scouts. (Note: Both links are to the paywalled Times Argus. Sorry.) 

On Wednesday, when I guest hosted the Mark Johnson Show on WDEV, I spent a few minutes on this story. It seemed to me that Guerlain’s objection was ill-timed and wrongly placed. Sure, the Scouts’ policies are retrograde and offensive; but was this really the time and place for such a fight? I thought not, and I still do. The local Scouts’ participation in the parade benefits them and the community as a whole. And letting them sell bottled water is not in the same league as, say, buying Krugerrands during the apartheid era. As I said on the radio, you’ve gotta pick your battles. It’s one of the more annoying traits of Vermont liberals*: raising highfalutin’ issues of principle on the most petty of pretexts.

*After the show, I had a brief chat with “Sleepy Bill” Sayre, who was preparing to host Common Sense Radio. He acknowledged that he feels the same way about Vermont conservatives. It was kind of a nice moment.  

Since then, I’ve realized that while Guerlain and like-minded Councilors were being petty and small-minded, so were the local Scouts. They could have approached Council to hash out the issue. For that matter, they could have waited for Council’s next move: all Guerlain did was remove the item from the consent agenda. There was no Council action one way or another. The Scouts could also, I suppose, offered to volunteer at the parade without selling water — although to me, that’d be going above and beyond the call. Selling water and raising some money for local activities is a reasonable trade for their cleanup work.

Instead, the Scout leadership had a hissy fit, took its ball and went home. In short, the leaders acted in a way that, I’m sure, is contrary to the spirit of the Scouting movement.

So what we have here is a situation where adults “acted like children,” and the community suffers. And so do the kids, who miss an opportunity to learn some valuable lessons by serving their community. Instead, they get a lesson in pure pettiness and arrogance. From both sides.

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