The brave freedom fighters of Burlington have delivered a master stroke of stupidity.
During a City Council meeting in December, Councilor Joan Shannon was bombarded with prank calls — more than two hundred of them. The barrage interfered with her ability to participate in the meeting. Several miscreants were referred to a restorative justice program, which is way better than prosecution.
Now, you can think what you like about Joan Shannon. She’s a frequent target of abuse on Twitter, from people who think she’s a defender of the powerful and an opponent of police reform. Disagreeing with her is fair game. Trying to defeat her in the next election is fair game. Slagging her on social media is, well, not great, but within the bounds of what we all use social media for.
Prank calling? It’s juvenile. It’s sophomoric. And it’s counterproductive, since it’s likely to make Burlingtonians think less of the movement.
I mean, what’s next? TP’ing her trees? Tossing eggs at her house? Flaming bag of dogshit on the doorstep? Did the well-organized, principled folks who led the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020 suddenly revert to the seventh grade?
John Klar, erstwhile gubernatorial candidate and self-described leader of the short-lived Agripublican movement, has been a busy beaver. He regularly contributes opinion pieces to little-read far-right outlets such as True North Reports and The American Thinker. They’re not worth reading, but they do merit the occasional bit of scrutiny.
After all, this is a guy who got 12,762 votes for governor in 2020. He got walloped by Phil Scott, but that’s still 21% of the Republican electorate who either agree with Klar or hate Scott so much they’d prefer an unknown alternative.
Last week, Klar posted two pieces on consecutive days, each are on the same subject: the evils of the Black Lives Matter/antiracism movement and its essentially alien nature. The pieces include notable displays of Vermont nativism, unsubtle racism and white victimhood. (Maye he should move to Stratton.)
First, his February 19 TNR piece (click through at your own risk) entitled “Vermont Liberals Gaslight…Themselves?” Let’s run down the highlights, shall we?
The subject of today’s sermon is racial inequity in health care, and more specifically, racial inequity in access to Covid-19 vaccines. We have two readings. First, a legislative hearing about racial inequity in health care. Second, a racial equity activist’s efforts, apparently ignored, to get answers about Vermont’s vaccination policy.
As you can see above, Black and Hispanic Vermonters are far more likely to contract Covid than their white counterparts. And yet, the state isn’t doing much (if anything) to address the disparity in its vaccine policy.
More on that in a moment, but let’s turn to the hearing. The House Health Care Committee is considering H.210, a bill addressing racial disparities in health care. Wednesday morning, the panel heard from a nationally known expert in the field: Dr. Maria Mercedes Avila, a UVM prof and member of the Governor’s Task Force on Racial Equity.
Dr. Avila spent the better part of two hours unspooling a wide-ranging overview of those disparities. Their roots in history, their scope and persistence, their effects, and what can be done to address and eliminate them. It was a sobering presentation.
In the same week when a state lawmaker denied the existence of systemic racism in Vermont, there were hearings on three separate bills designed to atone for some of the most racist passages in state history.
Rep. Art Peterson, R-Of Course, opened his yap and revealed the hatred within during a Wednesday hearing on H.210, which would address racial disparities in health care. If you want details, click the link above. I’ll just note that Peterson (also known for opposing the display of a Black Lives Matter flag) entered the Legislature after narrowly defeating one of the most decent men in the Legislature, Dave Potter, last fall. Definitely not an improvement.
Let’s take the three bills one at a time, shall we?
Hey everybody, meet David B. Vincent Sr., resident of Georgia, Vermont and candidate for town Selectboard. He’s running against former state representative and senator Carolyn Branagan. And I’m going to take you on a merry tour of his Facebook page. In addition to the usual Trumpster memes, it also features commentaries by Vincent that are so badly written, it’s hard to tell what he meant to say. For instance, I’ve never heard “bitch in a nut” before, but maybe that’s a Franklin County colloquialism.
Before I go on, let me make it clear that the voters of Georgia can elect whomever they want, just as the people of Barre are free to elect Brian Judd and/or Timothy Boltin. But they ought to know what Mr. Vincent gets up to online. It’s not pleasant. Here’s some additional commentary on the subject of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Ooooookay. It’s better for him when he simply posts memes instead of writing for himself.
For those keeping score at home, that image insults one white woman, one Black woman and one Jew. Not that we should impute racism and misogyny to Mr. Vincent, oh no. Probably just a coincidence.
Great. Another person of color has been harassed out of public office. It’s like Vermont is living in a racist Groundhog Day.
This time it’s Alicia Barrow, resigning from the Hartford Selectboard. Funny, I thought the Upper Valley was pretty progressive. Guess not.
“Blatant bigotry,” she wrote in her resignation letter, caused her to “no longer feel safe nor welcome in a place I have called home for 15 years.” She has received, wrote the Valley News, “racial slurs and death threats over the phone, in person and by email during her time on the board.”
And what did local authorities do about it? Jack shit, apparently. Barrow reported one specific threat to the police, who did nothing. In fact, she fears “retaliation” by the Hartford PD because of her advocacy for defunding the police.
Tell me again how Vermont is all open and welcoming and tolerant.
Tell me why law enforcement, up to and including Attorney General T.J. Donovan, can’t help Vermonters of color live their lives in peace and security, and maybe even hold elective office without fearing for their safety.
Because Vermont will not be open or welcoming until we figure this out.
No sooner did I drop a post featuring five different stories about Vermont’s uneasy relationship with racial issues, than two more appeared in our media.
From the Bennington Banner, yet another unfortunate comment from a frequent offender on this subject. (No, not Kevin Hoyt.)
From VTDigger, Vermont’s racial equity director issues a damning new report.
The latter is the more impactful, but first let’s pick the low-hanging fruit.
UVM’s Designated Racism Detector, Prof. Stephanie Seguino, reported on racial disparities in Bennington traffic stops. Surprise, surprise, she found that Bennington cops were much more likely to pull you over if you’re black — a perpetual issue for the town’s police department.
The kicker was a quote from town manager Stuart Hurd, a steadfast denier that the P.D. has any racial issues whatsoever.
“Unfortunately the updated study may not have changed its analytics, continues to use census data that does not take into account people traveling in and out of Vermont on a regular basis, and continues to disregard the fact that many departments were incorrectly filling in the information requested on the ticket (no training had been provided by the state when the tickets changed).”
There’s been a cluster of news items this week that point in the same direction: Vermonters are really uncomfortable with racial issues. To wit:
Rutland Aldermen split on a resolution condemning the attempted insurrection at the U.S. Capitol
Barre Council puts divisive flag measure on Town Meeting ballot
Business owners of color feel unwelcome in the Chamber of Commerce
House Republicans introduce a bill that would prohibit public schools from flying the “Black Lives Matter” flag
The Vermont Senate’s first woman of color says Vermont has a retention problem with people of color rather than a recruitment problem.
First, we go to Rutland, a city with a habit of shooting itself in the foot. This week, Aldermen worked themselves into a tizzy — and ultimately held a tie vote — on a measure condemning the events of January 6 and blaming President Trump for triggering the riot. A couple of racist or racist-adjacent Aldermen led the charge against it.
Tom DePoy offered a substitute resolution to condemn the Capitol riot, but also the Black Lives Matter movement. Apparently he thought of this as a way to unify the community. It was voted down by the panel. Paul Clifford, who has a history of racist social media posts, voted against the original resolution. Sam Gerusso courageously walked away from his computer before the vote, saying “I shut off my camera and volume and went and used the restroom, got the mail, checked on my wife.”
Vermont Public Radio has begun a noble effort in upstream swimming that makes a salmon run look like a splash in the kiddie pool. The overwhelmingly-white-even-by-Vermont-standards service has launched the Diverse Voices Initiative, “a comprehensive approach to enhance diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.”
I wish them luck. They are not only battling a history of whiteness that goes back beyond the founding of NPR to the early concept of “educational radio”; they are also trying to foster diversity in a famously non-diverse state, and they are battling the rules of radio programming itself. Kind of a tall order.
Let me pause for a moment and state, for the record, that I’m an old white guy and I’ll probably get some stuff wrong here. What I do bring is experience in public radio that goes back to the late 1970s, which is not nothing.
Public radio has always been a preserve of whiteness. Specifically, of college-educated upper-middle-class whiteness, the kind of people who read The New Yorker and drink wine and do brunch. And listen to classical music, which used to be a mainstay of public radio before news/talk took over.
Many public radio licenses were held by universities. Back in the late 70s and early 80s, I worked for one such organization in another state; its programming largely consisted of classical music plus lectures and commentaries by university professors. That’s tape-recorded, full-hour classroom lectures. The station’s news department made a point of not covering its own community. It ignored campus protest movements that sometimes took place in the plaza below its fifth-floor perch. That would be demeaningly tawdry, and not of interest to their refined audience. (It also might upset university administration, which at the time provided much of the organization’s funding.)
Practically from the beginning, NPR stations were beset by criticism of their pearly whiteness. In 1977 — two years before the creation of “Morning Edition” — the Corporation for Public Broadcasting commissioned a task force on how public television and radio were addressing communities of color. Its conclusion: when it came to serving people of color, “the public broadcast system is asleep at the transmitter.”
And despite NPR’s stated commitment to minority outreach, the task force found that only thee percent of its budget was spent on programming focusing on the nonwhite U.S. population.
Vermont Secretary of Education Dan French posted this tweet, calling attention to a new free online American History text. What he doesn’t say is that this “Free Online U.S. History Resource” came out of the Koch brothers’ network of conservative/free market nonprofit organizations. And the history lessons on offer are slanted in favor of an originalist, American exceptionalist, small-government view of things. They also present a sugar-coated version of the story of slavery and race relations in America. Resources on abortion, health care, firearms, marriage equality and other issues are strongly tilted toward the right. The Zinn Education Project:
In its materials for teachers and students, the Bill of Rights Institute cherry-picks the Constitution, history, and current events to hammer home its libertarian message that the owners of private property should be free to manage their wealth as they see fit. As one Bill of Rights lesson insists, “The Founders considered industry and property rights critical to the happiness of society.”
French’s tweet appeared on his personal account and does not necessarily reflect his professional views — but he identifies himself in his Twitter bio as Education Secretary and this tweet was published at 10:09 a.m. on Tuesday, when he was presumably at work. The lines get blurry real quick. The tweet can certainly be viewed as an endorsement from the state’s top educator, which is a pretty powerful thing.
The Bill of Rights Institute, which “publishes” the material, is taking advantage of the fact that many public schools are under-resourced. The offering of free texts can seem like a godsend to strapped districts — and low-income students as well. On its own website, it boasts of having reached “more than 5 million students and over 50,000 teachers.”
It’s possible that French is ignorant of the origin and true purpose of the Institute. As is common practice in the Koch empire, its name and branding are designed to be inoffensive. I mean, who can be against the Bill of Rights? But as an educational professional whose word carries weight, French ought to know what he’s talking about before he hits “send.” If he doesn’t, he hasn’t done his, ahem, homework. And he shouldn’t be giving his imprimatur to ideologically biased educational materials.