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Vermont Protest Grows On Multiple Issues Across State

by William Boardman, published
Credit: Occupy Vermont

Vermont is a place where the protest vote can be in the majority and Vermont protest itself is currently in full bloom across the state.

Vermonters have always been independent, whether it was having their own republic (1777-1791), re-electing a Congressman while he was in jail (Matthew Lyon, 1798), or sending a Socialist to the Senate (Bernie Sanders, 1994-2012).

It’s not just Occupy somewhere, of which there are several in Vermont, but a whole host of issues and actions ranging from rolling a tractor over several sheriff’s cruisers in Newport up north to getting arrested at a “die-in” at the Vermont Yankee Nuclear power plant in Vernon down south.

Here’s a sampling of current  Vermont protest activities:

  • POLICE VIOLENCE in Burlington continues to roil a lot of people, with a series of rally/march/speakout events on August 8, 9, and 13, as the mayor vaguely promises some sort of investigation, the police chief goes on vacation, and the local newspaper takes an atypical editorial stand against local authorities.   
  • F-35 STEALTH FIGHTER basing at Burlington Airport, threatening the habitability of hundred of nearby homes, has raised a continuing hue and cry especially in the neighboring cities of Winooski and South Burlington, pitting low income neighborhoods and one city council against the Air Force, Vermont congressional delegation, Burlington mayor and the Vermont Chamber of Commerce, despite clear errors of fact and methodology by the Air Force in its environmental impact study.   Resistance to the F-35, which began two years ago with a handful of people, is now widespread, as is support for anything military.   There was a public forum on the F-35 in the city hall auditorium on August 8.
  • TASER ABUSE by Vermont State Police, resulting in a man dying in Thetford, has moved into the courts, as the dead man’s life partner is suing the state police for both compensatory and punitive damages.  Vermont’s governor continues to support taser use even as he misrepresents the fatal incident and an online petition calling for a taser moratorium has reached 1,163 signatures.
  • SMART METER DANGERS statewide have been widely debated and protested since the spring.  Even though there is no reliable science showing whether they’re safe or not, the power companies continue to install them, mostly with state support.  The legislature, persuaded there was significant doubt, passes legislation allowing Vermonters to opt out of having a smart meter, at no cost to the individual; and anyone with a smart meter already installed can have it removed, at power company expense.
  • OIL PIPELINE across Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, the rural state’s most rural area, has provoked protests from environmentalists who don’t want to see corrosive tar sands oil moving at high speed through a pipeline that is already 70 years old. Vermont, the Sierra Club Vermont, and others joined in creating a “human oil spill” to get the attention of the New England Governors’ conference here July 30.
  • EMINENT DOMAIN used by a Vermont power company to put a powerful antenna next door to the home and studio of Russian-born artists on a mountaintop in Wells has already moved through a variety of court and regulatory procedures, with a ruling for the power company by the Public Service Board.  The artists have filed an appeal and organizing a day of protest at the summit of Northeast Mountain on August 25.
  • NUCLEAR POWER, with the focus on Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon, has been a subject for protest since before the plant was built in 1971.  Arrests in non-violent civil disobedience actions this year total well over 200, with the August 1 arrest of nine members of the Shut-It-Down Affinity Support Group, who staged a die-in protesting the plant’s continued operation after the expiration of its original license.
  • INDUSTRIAL WIND FARMS are frequently controversial in Vermont, but none probably moreso than Green Mountain Power’s 21-turbine project on Lowell Mountain in Lowell, now in its third year of protest.   On August 6, police arrested six protestors for blocking construction equipment in a non-violent road blockade.  Those arrested ranged in age from 50 to 71.

May Day in Vermont this year saw a crowd of 1,500, give or take a few hundred, gather at the capitol in Montpelier for a “Put People First” rally to address issues of economic justice, healthcare, workers’ rights, women’s rights, disability rights, migrant justice, and a healthy environment.  One of the more active organizing groups, the Vermont Workers’ Center in Burlington, also assessed media coverage after the event – results uneven.

The Workers’ Center is also organizing a People’s Convention for Human Rights in Burlington over Labor Day weekend (Aug. 31-Sept. 2) to “explore how we can work together to fight for our human rights, a healthy environment, dignity for everyone and real democracy.”

The “People’s Convergence” at the governors’ conference July 29-30 gathered hundreds of people from eastern Canada and the U.S. objecting to a range of government and corporate practices ranging from drowning native lands for hydro power to promoting tar sands oil instead of developing “green energy,” from banking corruption to exploiting migrant workers.  When some two dozen protestors tried non-violently to block busloads of dignitaries on their way to a dinner party on July 29, Burlington responded with violence, pushing that issue into prominence.

In probably the most dramatic reactions to police behavior, Roger Pion of Newport became something of an instant folk hero when, apparently acting alone for reasons he has kept to himself, borrowed his parents’ 20,000 pound tractor on Aug. 2 and rolled it over seven six sheriff’s cruisers and a van for transporting prisoners.   At Pion’s arraignment at Newport Superior Court Aug. 6, his attorney David Sleigh persuaded the judge to drop one of 14 charges, but Pion remained in jail on $50,000 bail on the other charges.

While local media like the Newport Daily Express run anonymous, police-sourced stories trashing Roger Pion’s reputation, his family and friends get no coverage.  Pion was arrested July 3 and ended up in the hospital with injuries inflicted by police.  The police reports blame Pion, while his family appear on amateur video saying the police have been harassing Pion for 17 years and were the aggressors in this incident.

Together with the Burlington police using pepper pellets and state police having a taser fatality, the Pion case contributes to an emerging perception that Vermont has too many police and too much policing, but this sense is not yet an organized movement.

Other threads of Vermont protest come from Ron Paul supporters and libertarians like the Vermont Campaign for Liberty, as well as the perennial, but low key campaign for a Second Vermont Republic, after secession from the United States.

And from another direction comes the Ecosocialist Convergence on August 13-15 in Glover, Vermont, at the home of the internationally famous Bread And Puppet Theater troupe.   Co-organized by Ecosocialist Horizons, the two-day event will be a mix of workshops, forums, and assemblies offered in the spirit of this quote from Zapatista Subcommandante Marcos, who says: “this isn’t about constructing a world rebellion. That already exists. It’s about constructing a space where this rebellion encounters itself, shows itself, begins to know itself.”

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