Letters to the Editor (7/8/20) | Letters to the Editor | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

Published July 8, 2020 at 10:00 a.m.
Updated August 4, 2020 at 7:21 p.m.

History Lessons

In [Feedback: "Who 'Founded' Vermont?" June 17], Joseph LaFleur asks the question: "What should we think about the founders of the state of Vermont? Particularly Samuel de Champlain."

Here are a couple of history lessons. Champlain was not a "founder" of the state of Vermont. True, he named the lake after himself and the mountains on the eastern side using the French for "Green Mountains." But his arrival in 1609 preceded the creation of the American state of Vermont by many decades, and that honor is generally thought to have gone to the Allen brothers. 

The reason Champlain came from his post in Québec City was to mediate a dispute between the Iroquois and other Native peoples. At that time in the St. Lawrence watershed, there were many tribes that alternated between warfare and trade throughout the area with each other and the newly arrived Europeans.

Just about every inch of the Earth's surface, including its waterways, has been contested over time by humans and animals. It's been said that the diseases from invading Europeans advanced well ahead of their face-to-face interactions with Natives, causing death on an epic and terrible scale that didn't require much effort to finish off. 

Perhaps the same will happen to us, who knows? But history has taught us territory hegemony never lasts forever, whether usurped by outside strength and weapons or internal strife and division, like we see in our country recently. 

Buzz Hoerr


One Thing Bugged Me

Your article about Mount Independence is most appreciated by all of us associated with the Mount [Vermonting: "History on a Hilltop," July 1]. It is of historical significance to Vermont and the nation's birth and is considered the best-preserved Revolutionary War site in the U.S. 

We offer beautiful, well-groomed hiking trails, which feature great views of Lake Champlain and the surrounding mountains. Historical markers help visitors better understand the Mount's role and importance during the Revolutionary period. The museum contains an introductory film, artifacts and exhibits associated with the soldier's lives here. Nature and historical walks also occur every season.

Mount Independence is one of Vermont's treasures to be enjoyed and appreciated by all.

We are, however, at the mercy of Mother Nature, and some times can be challenging to visitors here. Our deerfly season is part of this. It does not last all summer, and I would invite the author to a return visit when she could write a more honest evaluation of the Mount without focusing on insects living in forests in Vermont.

Paul Andriscin


Andriscin is a site interpreter at Mount Independence.

Name Game

I am grateful for Derek Brouwer's article about Townshend's Negro Brook and am likewise appreciative of Alex Hazzard and Evan Litwin's efforts to rename the brook and its bridge ["Racial Remnant," June 24].

As I read the article, I wondered if the original naming was a well-aimed slap in the face of the federal government's 1850 Fugitive Slave Act, which mandated that Northern law officials, as well as ordinary white citizens, help slave catchers return escaped slaves to their owners. The Negro Brook, so named in 1854, might well have been a place of respite for Black people, where they could bathe, wash their clothes, fish and have drinking water for whatever duration of time was needed and that was relatively safe. 

One hundred and nine years later, in 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was still using the word "Negro." In his "I Have a Dream" speech, he employed the term 15 times, always with enormous pride. Now the term is insulting to many, just as the term "colored," in due course, had become outdated and insulting, too. So, a new name for the brook is needed, most will agree. But it should be considered that the original naming of the brook might have been a commemoration of sorts, during a time when the condition of being Black, even more so than today, meant danger, for the Black people themselves and anyone who dared to help them.

James Robert Saunders


Two Votes for Hansen

We are writing this letter as an enthusiastic endorsement of Meg Hansen for lieutenant governor of Vermont [Off Message: "Ashe Kicks Off Campaign for Lieutenant Governor," May 28]. We have known Meg for several years and are impressed with her knowledge of the concerns facing all Vermonters. Meg is a tenacious researcher, a gifted speaker, a writer, and an honest and compassionate woman. She will bring these skills and attributes to the job. Meg will be a staunch advocate for fiscal responsibility and proper constitutional governance in our Statehouse. Vermonters will find no greater ally in defending small businesses, entrepreneurs and economic freedom, and bringing prosperity to Vermont.

Meg also understands the importance of self-governance through local, democratically elected school boards. Our small, rural schools are at the heart of our communities. We have all witnessed the devastating financial and moral effects of Act 46. Meg will fight against the overbearing and unnecessary overreach of an out-of-control education bureaucracy. Please join us in voting for Meg Hansen in the Republican primary.

Stuart and Michele Lindberg 


Whither Marlboro?

I have been surprised to see so little coverage from Seven Days on the demise of Marlboro College. The last story was in July 2019, announcing a merger between the 74-year old institution in Marlboro, Vt., and the University of Bridgeport [Off Message: "Marlboro College to Merge With Connecticut's University of Bridgeport," July 25, 2019]. Less than two months later, the college announced it was canceling the Bridgeport merger. Less than two months after that, it announced a new plan to dissolve the college and send nearly $50 million in assets (endowment plus proceeds from selling its southern Vermont campus) to Emerson College in Boston. Tenured faculty only would have the option to teach at Emerson, and current students who were able to relocate to Boston could bypass the Emerson admissions process. 

Thus the college's legacy of place-based learning, grounded in the New England self-governance model of Town Meeting, with in-depth study culminating in each student's individualized Plan of Concentration reviewed by outside examiners — unprecedented at the undergraduate level — would come to an end. This consistent entry in the Colleges That Change Lives guide would no longer transform its students or have a lasting impact on alumni, many of whom continue to live in Vermont. 

This state is no stranger to the changing seasons of higher education and to the current trends that have caused real harm to these generative institutions that are essential to Vermont's social, economic and cultural well-being. There is very little time left to make a difference. I urge Vermonters to speak up quickly and resist another Vermont college closure.

Amy Tudor


'This Is Journalism'

Thank you for the very comprehensive and balanced coverage of the budget discussions at last Tuesday evening's Burlington City Council meeting [Off Message: "Hours Before Deadline, Burlington City Council Approves New Budget," June 30]. This is journalism! I watched most of the meeting on Zoom and fortunately was able to view the final hour and the vote. This Seven Days piece accurately captures the deliberations and the comments from councilors, Mayor Miro Weinberger and other participants.

Bob Kiernan


'No' to Defunding Police

I'm alarmed by the Burlington Police Commission's direction on this [Off Message: "City Attorney Prevents Burlington Police Commission From Asking Officers to Resign," June 23]: They are charged with overseeing public safety for the community as a whole without bias, not just bending to special interest pressures. I don't sense an indiscriminate commitment to that cause. I also don't understand why they keep bringing up the actions of officers when those cases have been adjudicated. It only serves to heighten tensions. I would suggest those officers seek legal assistance. 

Defund police to fund social services? Not at the expense of minimizing your initial response capabilities. Police are not, nor can they be, social workers. When someone is shot, stabbed or assaulted on the streets, you need a police officer to respond. When an incident occurs, there is a state of disorder, a hot zone that is still hazardous. The police are charged with restoring order and making the area safe. They are responsible for public safety and protecting lives. Defunding the police is not the means to accomplish this. Reducing staff only increases response times, diminishes backup for officers, and increases the chance of injury and threat to the police and public.

Burlington is not a "safe" city. Check the crime stats yourself. Common sense should tell you this is not the answer, by any means. No matter how much criticism police get, they are still duty bound and respond without prejudice. Say no to defunding. Support BPD and other departments!

Ronald Beliveau

Plattsburgh, N.Y.

Beliveau owns property in Burlington.

Mural Is Symbolic

[Re Feedback: "Everyone Loves to Disagree," "Hardy Defense" and "Legal Argument for Mural," May 27]: I was disappointed to see multiple letters in your May 27 issue decrying the removal of the downtown mural, because we have more pressing racial problems to deal with and because the letters represent the white "moderate" stance that makes it so difficult to address those problems. 

Individual free speech isn't at issue here; public spaces are allowed a public debate about representation. No one is stopping those authors from standing on Church Street (or writing to Seven Days) and proclaiming what is obvious: that they are more concerned with aesthetics than with violence, and more worried about the feelings of one artist than about who we count as a Vermonter. Why should one artist's viewpoint be protected over many residents' viewpoints? Were these same letter writers as concerned about free speech when a local artist defaced the same mural in protest last year?

Symbolism doesn't have to be as extreme as a Confederate statue to matter — it doesn't even have to be intentional. What matters is the effect. What matters is who we try to be as a community, even when we falter. What matters is whether we are willing to listen to each other's experiences and to the painful sweep of American history. With that in mind, let's move forward and focus on real reforms. 

Caitlin Morgan


Amplify, Don't Diminish

As a member of the Burlington community and one of the 1,000 "activists" who called in to the public forum to echo the demands of the Vermont Racial Justice Alliance, I found that "After Public Urging, Weinberger Proposes Police Budget Cuts" [Off Message, June 15] diminished the significance of that event.

To start, the title of the article evoked a sense that the mayor met the demands of the public, and although the article goes on to reveal that he in fact did not, I still found the language in the title to be misleading. Additionally, the article stated that 800 people called in, when, in reality, the number was over 1,000. This discrepancy might have been due to the fact that the article was published hours before the city council meeting recessed. 

More importantly, the article neglected to cover any of the lived experiences, stories, thoughts, arguments and opinions of the community members who called in. Rather than promote the words of BIPOC folx, the article focused on Mayor Miro Weinberger's response. 

What made this city council meeting so significant was not just the sheer power in numbers, but the sincerity and vulnerability of all the speakers. It's truly a shame that Seven Days didn't choose to report on the meaningful testimonies from BIPOC folx and allies. Now is the time for all sources of media to amplify the voices of those who have so often been silenced; now is not the time to diminish their voices. 

Callie Kotzan


Satellite Solution?

[Re "No Fast Track to Speedy Internet," June 17]: I believe ubiquitous access to high-speed internet is essential to Vermont and other rural areas. This pandemic has only emphasized the costs of doing nothing. I was surprised there was no mention in this article about SpaceX's Starlink, which aims to provide internet access via satellite. If Elon Musk's company does what it promises to do (and beta testing in northern latitudes is under way now), it would be a shame to sink funds into physical infrastructure if Starlink will be available in the near future.

Tim Guiterman


'Just Getting By'

You missed some points about disability ["High Stakes," June 17]. Unless you come from a caring and wealthy family, disability usually means poverty. Even Section 8 allows only up to $2,000 in savings, or penalties will follow. You are kept out of owning a house and getting car loans. This means landlords who don't want you to rent their low-rent squalor, and junk cars that fail and always need fixing, are now on your horizon, forever. Then there are the endless co-pays and health advisers who encourage you to exercise and doctors who say that you are not disabled if you can bike. The health care is inadequate, capricious and arbitrary, so you still have teeth falling out and half of your hearing because there is no real effort to address these problems in a meaningful way. All the while, you are surrounded by people with plenty who wonder why you spend so much time fixing your car and just getting by... 

Paul Falcone


Bluemle Booster

The District 6-5 House Representative race is possibly the most exciting one ["Five Candidates for Five Sisters," June 24]. I can vouch for one exceptional candidate: Tiff Bluemle, who will provide strong, effective and seasoned leadership grounded in her collaborative leadership style.

Tiff is an exceptional candidate specifically because, as an executive director, she has decades of experience building relationships and consensus among diverse groups of people for policy, budget, programmatic and social change that result in justice and equity for women and girls who face compounded financial, racial, language and educational barriers. Her policy work is grounded in the lived experiences of women and girls, which Tiff learned through her work. 

As the board chair of Vermont Works for Women while Tiff was the executive director, I saw that she was always working side by side with program staff and participants. Her success as an advocate for organizational funding from the legislature and philanthropic partners hinged upon understanding the lived experience of the girls and young women who came to VWW for workforce development, support and mentoring. Tiff's lifelong commitment, patience and vision resulted in economic stability for many women and girls who found the courage to push past our society's injustices. This is why Tiff's experience will make a huge impact in the legislature.

Liz Curry


Was That Legal?

[Re Off Message: "Cops Search for Vandal Who Targeted Black Lives Matter Mural at Statehouse," June 14]: Being a native Vermonter, I was first dismayed and then disappointed to learn that "Black Lives Matter" has been painted on State Street, in front of the Capitol building. Are there not laws against vandalism anymore?  

I did find the video of the Montpelier City Council meeting that approved said actions and was surprised that not one person asked whether painting a political statement on State Street was even legal in regard to vandalism (Vermont State Statute 13 V.S.A. § 3701) and/or the probation of billboards (Vermont State Statute 10 V.S.A. § 495). You could almost say that the Montpelier City Council showed a blatant disregard as to whether these painting actions were even legal!  

Then I read that the governor gave the OK to spoil the street! What gives him, or any other individual, the ability to ignore state statute? Whoever is responsible for this defacement needs to be personally, financially responsible for cleaning it up. 

But maybe we have precedent now. What if I and a bunch of my friends want to paint "Biden 2020" on one of our other major roads? How about "Trump 2020"? We could also paint "Meat Is Murder" or, perhaps, "Jesus Saves." There appears to be nothing stopping me from painting "Jacob's Pizza," either!

I used to think that we Vermonters were just a little bit smarter than your average American citizen, but I see that that is no longer the case.

Bret R. Collier

Big Lake, MN, & Berlin, VT

Mask at Hand...

[Re Off Message: "Scott Extends State of Emergency to July 15," June 15]: Supermarkets are one of the best places to find COVID-19. They are losing business due to people's fear.

Masks would help in crowds, but ignorant people refuse to mask. Local management might be willing to require masks, but their corporate overlords do not allow local control.

Gov. Phil Scott needs to stop listening to the Vermont Chamber of Commerce types and require masks in high-volume stores and other venues.

Small businesses may voluntarily require masks to enter. They should prominently post if masks are required or not so customers can decide to enter or not.

Geoffrey Cobden


Required Reading for Legislators

[Re Off Message: "VT House Republicans Decry Reference to 'Racist' Trump Tweets in Juneteenth Resolution," June 19]: The representatives who voted against the Juneteenth resolution should read Robin DiAngelo's White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism. The representatives' claims that they are "not a racist," that they themselves have been discriminated against and that they don't see color — and how they went out of their way to say that they had Black family members and friends — could not have more perfectly followed the defensive script that white people use when discussing racism.

The resolution sought to decry racism and the systems that perpetuate it. It sought to be more than "not racist" but to be "anti-racist." (They should also read Ibram X. Kendi's How to Be an Antiracist.) By calling out Donald Trump's racist rhetoric, the resolution took a position on racism: anti-racist. When we refuse to confront racism, we condone racism and cannot claim otherwise by simply stating we are not racist or have Black friends or family members.

To quote DiAngelo, "If, as a white person, I conceptualize racism as a binary and I place myself on the 'not racist' side, what further action is required of me? No action is required because I am not a racist. Therefore, racism is not my problem; it doesn't concern me and there is nothing further I need to do. This worldview guarantees that I will not build my skills in thinking critically about racism or use my position to challenge racial inequality." All white people have work to do, especially those of us who are not racist.

Sally Adams

South Burlington

Sound Barrier

[Re Off Message: "Data Show Vermont Air Guard F-35 Flights Spiked in April," April 24]: I am wondering what the real estate industry is doing about showing and selling homes in War Zone Vermont at 9 a.m. No video or drone coverage then, eh? I couldn't imagine trying to sell my nice hillside without the new owner having firsthand knowledge of the flights. Should be an interesting item we now deal with in the county.

Brian Campbell


Ingram for LG

[Re Off Message: "Debbie Ingram Kicks Off Bid for Lieutenant Governor," June 26]: There are excellent candidates for lieutenant governor. Two are acquaintances of mine: Tim Ashe and Debbie Ingram. Both are bright, ethical and have served as state senators. However, a choice must be made. I will vote for Debbie Ingram because of one outstanding characteristic: She understands the economics of justice! She will press for livable wages and rural economic development and will build the state budget to achieve these goals. She'll also include marginalized communities in the decision-making process.

Vermont still reels from the dual crises of the COVID-19 pandemic and job losses. Our farmers are struggling for survival. Some 40 to 50 percent of Vermonters earn as little as poor and low-income individuals throughout the nation. An average salary will not pay a mortgage or the rent. Few workers have enough savings to get their families through a crisis or to retire. Our teachers and health care workers tell us they are worn down and spread too thin. Some jobs will not return. We must rebuild our economy, but not as it was before, with too many inequities or with shareholders' profit the only measure of success.

We can achieve success for small businesses, banks, farms, infrastructure and tourism with a combination of capitalism and social democracy. This success must be based on fair salaries, health care, affordable housing opportunities and retirement. I am convinced this is the way forward and that Debbie Ingram is the leader Vermont needs to get us there.

Hope Lindsay

South Burlington

Hail Hackie!

Readers were surprised and saddened by last week's announcement that longtime Seven Days contributor and cabdriver Jernigan Pontiac is retiring his Hackie column. His farewell, "See You Down the Road," accompanied the last dispatch, entitled "Halfway House." We will all miss Pontiac's well-observed portraits of the quirky, fascinating and flawed human beings he drove and chatted up. He was honest and empathic. The world could use more of that.

A Good Run

I am just writing to say what pleasure Jernigan Pontiac's Hackie column has brought me over the years. Journalism has too few ways to tell simple stories about regular life; this was a lovely exception, executed with grace and real craftsmanship. I am sorry the time has come for this cab to drive off into the sunset, but I am very grateful for the hundreds of fine tales that got told along the way.

Bill McKibben


So Long, Jernigan

I doubt I am the only reader who feels a sense of personal loss at the prospect of no more Hackie columns from Jernigan Pontiac. Dare we hope that he will miss his writing and feel compelled to submit future articles on occasion?

In a world and at a time of so much frightening and aggravating news, he has truly been a bright spot for this reader. As a song of my youth put it: "Happy trails to you," Jernigan.

Ann Larson


Happy to Ride Along

I was surprised and disappointed to read that Jernigan Pontiac will stop writing his weekly Hackie column henceforth. During his 23 years of writing it, while I acknowledge that I did not read all 600, I did read the lion's share of them. I found them to be fascinating. I enjoyed being that fly on the roof of the cab, riding along with Jernigan and his passenger or passengers, and hearing their stories. They were intriguing sociological case studies of people and their lives.

Shawn Murphy

Plattsburgh, N.Y.

'The Journey Continues'

Greatly sorry to learn Jernigan Pontiac is retiring from writing the Hackie column. It has always been one of my favorite parts of Seven Days. I very much enjoyed his wonderful stories about his customers and admired the way his own humanity and decency showed through in his writing. Well done!

Many blessings on whatever's next for him. The journey continues...

Jud Lawrie

Essex Junction

'Happy Place'

Just tell Jernigan: Thank you so much. He was a consistent entertaining, happy place for me. Loved his take on people and the great state of Vermont, and his overall philosophy. Thanks for all the words. Enjoy your next endeavors!

Sharon Allen


'Thanks, Jernigan'

I've read Hackie for years — always a great, often touching story about people from an author with a great view on life. Thanks, Jernigan.

Peter Fjeld