How Not to Position Yourself as a Progressive Firebrand

Well, some angry pro-choicers did the unthinkable: They took out their anger at the Roe v. Wade decision on the exterior of the Vermont Statehouse. They broke some windows and spray-painted “IF ABORTIONS AREN’T SAFE YOURE NOT EITHER” on the concrete outside the front entrance. One of the broken windows was in the office of Lt. Gov Molly Gray, who issued the following statement:

“I am alarmed by these attacks on our State House — my workplace — and condemn them in the strongest possible terms. Vermonters are feeling deep anger and frustration in the wake of yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling. I share this frustration. However, threats of violence and destruction of property are absolutely unacceptable and never the solution.”

And her campaign wonders why she’s considered the moderate, establishment candidate in the race. Her statement betrays an institutionalist point of view that prioritizes the sanctity of a building over the rights of women.

I’m sorry, but there does come a time when “threats of violence and destruction of property” are, if not exactly appropriate, perfectly understandable. One of our highest institutions just forcibly turned the calendar back by a half-century in a way that made “A Handmaid’s Tale” seem like a prophecy. It’s not surprising, then, if some people strike out against the nearest symbol of institutional America. In this case, the Statehouse.

Just spitballin’, but if Gray had asked me (and why would she?), I would have suggested a statement like this:

I share the widespread anger over the outrageous Supreme Court decision. This betrayal leaves women wondering if anyone speaks for them in the corridors of power — including my own party, which complacently believed that the rights granted in Roe v. Wade were secure. The damage to the Statehouse is unfortunate, but it pales in comparison to the damage done to American women by the Supreme Court.

I intend to channel my anger into productive action. We must restore reproductive rights and be diligent about protecting them. What we have done in the past simply isn’t enough.

Yeah, something like that.

I’m sure that Gray won’t be the only officeholder to slam the minor-league vandalism. Denizens of the Statehouse are extremely protective of their pile of bricks and mortar, believing it to be a sanctified cathedral of democracy or some such. I remember there was a great deal of pearl-clutching over the band of protesters who — horror of horrors — briefly interrupted a State of the State address by Peter Shumlin in the House chamber.

I’m sorry, but the Statehouse is just a place. It is not imbued with the very spirit of democracy. What matters is what is done inside the Statehouse by the people who work there.

I’ll close with a couple of quotations that, unlike Lt. Gov. Gray’s statement, have stood the test of time. Replying to her assertion that “threats of violence and destruction of property are… never the solution” I posit Thomas Jefferson’s “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.’

Never the solution? Should the Americans have quietly paid the tea tax and limited themselves to writing stern letters and assembling peacefully?

Quote number two, by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich: “Well behaved women seldom make history.”

Now is not the time to be well behaved.

7 thoughts on “How Not to Position Yourself as a Progressive Firebrand

  1. kjkelley1

    Whoa, John, this is an uncharacteristically ultraleft analysis. Trashing democratic institutions is never a progressive act. The Vt State House is more than ‘just a place” — same as the US Capitol.

    Reply
  2. Kenneth Johnson

    Given that the Black Lives Matter violence gave the right plenty of talking points, I posit that violence is not the answer. Would you have said the same if anti-abortion protesters had done the same damage to protest the violence to fetuses? I support abortion rights, yet feel that if we enter an endless tit for tat of violence it will only serve to increase our divisions, which are already being heavily exploited. In this instance, Ghandi may have had more wisdom than Thomas Jefferson.

    Reply
  3. Sen. Joe Benning

    Re: “I’m sorry, but the Statehouse is just a place. It is not imbued with the very spirit of democracy. What matters is what is done inside the Statehouse by the people who work there.”

    John, as a pro-choice Republican who supports Prop 5, and as chair of the Senate Institutions Committee responsible for the State’s brick and mortar, and as someone who has literally given at least a hundred tours of our Statehouse to visitors, I think you’ve missed the boat on this one.

    First, you’re dismissal of Vermonters’ allegiance to “The People’s House” demonstrates a lack of understanding. I proudly ask visitors I meet in the foyer whether they’ve already missed something. Eventually they’ll get around to suddenly recognizing there were no metal detectors or wand-waving security guards inhibiting their entrance. That sudden realization leaves a palpable impression on them. Those granite walls and hallowed halls are not “just a place.” It’s part of Vermont’s identity. There are those who seek to fortify it now because they are afraid. Acts like those of these vandals will only increase that pressure. I hope that day never comes.

    Second, it is indeed imbued with the very spirit of democracy. There is a long and cherished history there that can speak to one’s soul if one is willing to listen. Every legislator and staff person who ever worked in that building knows that. You’ve obviously never had a good tour. My swipe key is good until at least the first week in January. (Hopefully longer if I win the Lt. Governor race.) You tell me when you are available and I’ll happily give you a tour. At the very least you’ll come away with an appreciation for those of us who know we’ve been given the honor and privilege of serving there.

    Finally, I’ll completely agree with you that what matters is what is done inside the building by the people who work there. That’s why this particular vandal’s actions are so baffling. Their ire is unwarranted when it comes to the people inside that building and the actions they’ve taken on this very issue. Proof of that is on the ballot this November. This vandal’s destruction was childish, only serving to anger allies and justify self-righteous responses from opponents.

    Destructive violence is never appropriate- not in Washington or Montpelier or anyplace else. Your article suggests it’s acceptable whenever one aligns with those frustrated on a given issue. I sincerely doubt Jefferson would agree. So my tour offer remains open, to you and anybody else who is tempted to say “the Statehouse is just a place.”

    Reply
  4. vtvita

    Sorry VPO, this damage to the statehouse is highly counter-productive. It accomplishes nothing except to give the regressives an incident to distract us. It’s also disheartening for those of us who are otherwise sympathetic.
    This is a rare misstep for VPO, IMO.

    Reply

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