Letters to the Editor (9/30/20) | Letters to the Editor | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

News + Opinion » Letters to the Editor

Letters to the Editor (9/30/20)

By

Protest leaders stomping out the flames after igniting a small pile of Seven Days newspapers - FILE: JAMES BUCK
  • File: James Buck
  • Protest leaders stomping out the flames after igniting a small pile of Seven Days newspapers

Editor's Note

Last week's cover story, "Battery Power," about Burlington's ongoing Black Lives Matter protests, got a strong reaction — especially from those directly involved. The day after it was published, organizers of the monthlong occupation of Battery Park directed allies to round up copies of Seven Days from around town and bring them to the park. They defaced the papers and used them as props on their march down Battery Street to Main, lighting a small pile of them afire on the yellow centerline.

The story also unleashed a torrent of emails and letters to the editor — the kind of feedback Seven Days welcomes and encourages. Some of them passionately objected to Chelsea Edgar's characterization of the protesters and the power dynamics involved. This week's issue contains about two-thirds of the letters we've received since last Thursday.

Edgar's first-person account was based on weeks of reporting on a movement with a policy of refusing to speak to journalists. One of her primary sources within the group's leadership, Anthony Marques, left the encampment. Despite Edgar's repeated efforts, the women organizers declined to speak to her, so their voices were missing from the piece. As a result, quotes from the departing Marques went unchallenged. After the story was published, a leader of the group publicly alleged that he had threatened a Black women organizer — an accusation Edgar would have included, had she been able to speak with the leaders. Knowing of those allegations would have justified including his criminal record in the story. Marques, who also goes by Anthony Bathalon, has been charged twice and convicted at least once for domestic assault.

Edgar writes with voice and style. Regular readers of her work in Seven Days recognized her keen eye and sharp elbows in "Battery Power." She used the same bold color palette to paint the young white women in the group as the square-jawed cameraman shooting for WCAX-TV. Read on.

Hear Our Voices

I am one of the "hundreds of white girls" described by Chelsea Edgar in her article on the Battery Park protest against the Burlington Police Department. Over the past month, I have joined for many nights of marching to city hall. I was disappointed that Edgar's article avoided a rich discussion of why protesters such as myself have joined the movement, instead going to great lengths to defend what read as a tabloid-esque, albeit engrossing, piece.

Edgar astutely argues that the job of journalists is to mold stories and quotes to create intrigue, but she ignores confronting the power that comes along with it. Furthermore, her claim that "the story became about not getting the story" rang empty: While the lack of communication from the protest's leaders was indeed a theme of the article, in setting out to describe the protest she was inevitably going to form a picture of it for readers. What she ultimately described was a cult of ideologues, intent on isolating anyone who went against them, an image in stark contrast to the caring, open community fighting for deeply necessary changes that I've witnessed over the past few weeks. While the group is far from perfect, it's an injustice to focus on the petty disagreements of such an admirable movement.

Roxane Robin

Burlington




I must ask: Did anyone edit the "How Black Lives Matter" story? Journalism may be changing, but this article is as much about the journalist as it is about any relevant journalism. Edgar gives herself a pat on the back in this article, quoting an interviewee as saying she asks "good fucking questions."

While unwilling to respect the statement and position of the leadership at Battery Park, Edgar is actually on their side. Isn't Edgar the exceptional journalist they should let in? And shouldn't we feel bad for Edgar when she informs us of how she's been treated, as "an All Lives Matter bitch"? Edgar clues us in to how much cooler she is than the "females of the TikTok demographic, dressed in black, sporting some combination of Blundstones, ironic tubes socks and leg hair" she so derisively mentions. The nerve of them, growing hair on their legs! Those mammals.

While the leadership at Battery Park may not have given comment to journalists, surely journalists could still find something to write about? This article is more of a gossip column than it is informative news. Many portions are extraneous and do not move the story forward. Worse than that, they uphold racist and sexist beliefs and power structures. A good exercise for Seven Days would be to go through the story line by line and highlight the sections that uphold racist and sexist beliefs. 

While Edgar wrote a bad story, those who edited and published it did far worse work. 

Kathleen Stutzman

Huntington




I am appalled at the language used in this article. For instance, the line: "But the vast majority were females of the TikTok demographic, dressed in black, sporting some combination of Blundstones, ironic tube socks and leg hair."

By saying "But," this article suggests that it is wrong for such people to be protesting, based on their appearances. Simultaneously, this message shames Burlington residents based on their appearance and asserts a misogynistic stance about how women and others should appear in this society. That is disgusting, and Seven Days' skewed coverage of our local racial injustice is even more disgusting. I could write all day about how disgusting this article is, but I'm sure you already know.

Whether or not these statements are the true feelings of Seven Days, it shows how even our local news outlets are more concerned with views and monetary gain than they are with supporting our community and civil rights. Clickbait appears to be the primary concern of Seven Days this year.

As an individual and local business owner, I will never do business with Seven Days, and I do not plan to read anything from Seven Days again. I applaud those that burnt your stories in the night. I hope you consider your future actions in publishing such filth.

Cameron Scott

Burlington




Seven Days is the most thought-provoking news outlet in the state. If anyone is looking for a fair hearing in the public press, Seven Days is the place. For a civil rights movement trying to bring scrutiny onto injustice, decrying freedom of the press and freedom of speech is hypocrisy of the worst order. Book and newspaper burning is a tactic used by the worst of the totalitarian despots in world history. By participating in this travesty, the organizers bring discredit on their movement. They are shitting in their own nest.

Bruce Wilkie

Derby Line




Chelsea Edgar's article on the BLM protests is blatant misogynoir. She discredits Black female/femme leadership and sides with a former encampment attendee/organizer who was a threat to the women/femmes of the Black Perspective, giving him a platform to further condemn the Black female/femme leadership.

Edgar also is openly misogynistic within the first paragraph of her article, poking fun at the appearances of the girls/femmes who show up to support Black voices at nightly protests. This is incredibly immature and unprofessional.

She expresses frustration with the movement's refusal to speak with the media, when she does exactly what they fear in her article: twists their words and misrepresents them completely. This article should never have been published, as it is a threat to women/femmes, especially Black women/femmes. It is very embarrassing for both Edgar and Seven Days.

This is highly inappropriate, destructive and overall terrible journalism. I will not support Seven Days due to the publishing of such an article.

Alta Fox

Burlington




Chelsea Edgar's article was entertaining, illuminating and scary at the same time. Kudos to her and to Seven Days for having her back, as we all should. Reporters and a free press are the backbone of a successful democracy. I'm looking at you, North Korea, China, Syria and Iran. I'm not sure how long the Battery Street groupies would last pitching their tents and blocking traffic in P'yongyang. The statistics on reporters that are killed and harassed globally, for merely telling a story, are frightening.

Edgar's article came to my attention after VTDigger.org reported on the backlash. I had to share some of the more mind-bending quotes with my partner. "This is more than a full-time job." Really? Talk to an ICU nurse during a pandemic. And the white woman who reconciled her unease with the profane chants against the police by realizing it was her "white fragility speaking." Such original slogans as "Oink! Oink! That's the sound of the police!" should make any self-respecting 60-year-old uncomfortable. They may be police to you, but they are fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, daughters and sons. In other words, humans. And you're not in kindergarten anymore. So come up with something more profound and less profane. 

The one that was not funny at all was Harmony Edosomwan telling Edgar never to come back to a protest. Or telling the WCAX-TV reporter that he was "perpetuating white supremacy" for observing the protesters. OK, Kim Jong-un. That's just censorship. It is illuminating, the extent to which the self-righteous are afraid of a free press. To quote a cis Black man, "A critical, independent and investigative press is the lifeblood of any democracy." Well said, Nelson Mandela.  

Susan Manley

Wilder




Protesters outside Burlington City Hall - FILE: JAMES BUCK
  • File: James Buck
  • Protesters outside Burlington City Hall

You may have used the words "Battery Power" on the front page, but your cover story works to disempower protesters at every opportunity. Whether by flippantly referring to followers as "females of the TikTok demographic" or the "glee" of protesters watching a journalist being "ripped into" by Black leadership, the writer continuously revels in half-observations and condescending witticisms that seek to delegitimize the protest and its message. 

White supremacy is sustained by publicly centering the experience of those in power, as well as white experience, and meticulously documenting the perceived mistakes of those fighting for change. The article does both, centering a rebuffed journalist with far too little self-awareness about why protesters might distrust her. She offers instead what little interactions she had, painting a picture that veers into the realm of racist, sexist and ageist stereotypes.

Your paper frames the struggle for racial justice for the community, and this is what we get? You even close with an image of a squirrel carrying a Cheetos bag? I'll grant that the image fits with the tone of the article — dismissive and cynical, suggesting that these protests are as disposable as anything else in the "dumpster fire" of our public discourse. 

I have more faith than this. The protesters' demands for justice are valiant and powerful. I want better for Burlington, and so do they — and they are actually doing something about it. Seven Days, you had an opportunity to stand for something, and you instead stood for yourselves. Do better.

Meg Reynolds

Burlington




What was the point of last week's article by Chelsea Edgar? It read like a travel blog or a day-in-the-life on a high school sitcom. Was the reporter mad that they wouldn't talk to her? Because it certainly didn't seem like she was interested in pursuing responsible, impartial journalism. Rather than inform, it only stoked the flames. 

Leah Collier

Shelburne




Seven Days is wrought with fragile whiteness from top to bottom. The truth can only be inconvenient when it is, in fact, the truth.  

Chelsea Edgar chose to sit in her white guilt and shame and publish an untruthful hit job that slandered the hard work and progress made by the Black women and femmes who have been tirelessly organizing the encampment and protests — and that elevated the message of an abuser who has antagonized them and is not welcome among them. 

Paula Routly used her positionality as publisher of the paper to publish this spectacle and come running to the defense of her fellow white woman after Chelsea began receiving her well-earned barrage of criticism that comes unsurprisingly after one publishes an article nothing short of a crude, racist misrepresentation of the truth. 

Here was an opportunity for Seven Days to critically examine its wrongdoing and make steps toward positive change. Instead, Seven Days chose, yet again, to stand firmly against anti-racist progress and growth in our community.

Teremy Garen

Burlington




The people who have been protesting for a month now in Burlington's Battery Park over Black Lives Matter issues have come close to discrediting themselves with their shocking confiscation, destruction and burning of vast numbers of the September 23 print issues of Seven Days.

In order to comprehend how an allegedly progressive group could show such absolute contempt for free speech, something must be said about the 20-year decline of support for free speech among people who call themselves progressives, documented in my article "How the Shadow University Attack on First Amendment Defenders of Private Speech Paved the Way for the War Party's Attack on Public Speech." What I presented there fits in well with other scholars who oppose censorship of free speech in the alleged interest of diversity. True diversity does not need to generate attacks on free speech. Harvey Silverglate and Alan Charles Kors, creators of the website Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, have shown the absolute hostility to free speech of university speech codes, which have influenced the current anti-free-speech movement on college campuses and the current movement in Battery Park.

Seven Days editor Paula Routly noted that the destruction of the papers is as authoritarian as the things this movement is criticizing. I would add the question: Why should progressives imitate the free-speech-hating Donald Trump? Their attack on Seven Days is as mean-spirited, idiotic and tyrannical as Trump's attack on Black athletes who kneel during the national anthem.

Norman Arthur Fischer

Burlington

Fisher is a retired professor of philosophy at Kent State University. 




Chelsea Edgar's "coverage" of the Battery Park encampment and protests is hardly journalistic. Edgar was given the opportunity to spread the message of an inspiring and impactful movement but chose instead to write a scattered story that reeks of condescension and misogyny. Battery Park is the best example of collective action, organization and togetherness Burlington has seen, yet Edgar's words will only serve to affirm skeptics' negative views of the protests. This is exactly why protesters refuse to interact with the press — and will continue to, thanks to Edgar's apparent superiority complex and eagerness to disrespect Black women in print. Chelsea, the tongue-in-cheek comments about white "females" and their leg hair should be saved for your aspiring satire career at the Onion.

Kelly Duggan

Winooski




I am a fifth-generation Vermonter with a love for this state and its people. I also recognize its scars, including ongoing and frequently ignored racism. Oftentimes, the excuse for this ignorance of racism and racial bias is that "everyone is white," so therefore we don't need to address the mistreatment of our neighbors of color. Imagine my horror when I clicked on your article titled "How Black Lives Matter Protesters Occupied a Park, Captivated a City — and Got Some of What They Wanted," which begins by stating that the protest was "hundreds of white girls ... waiting to be told what to do." Within the first line of this article, the author has minimized the issue of racism in Vermont and erased voices of color.

Shockingly, the author has transformed an opportunity to raise awareness of violence — including in Vermont — against Black and brown bodies into a deeply misogynistic and ignorant article used to make fun of our community members. I am ashamed that Seven Days gave this author a platform. To all Vermonters and visitors of color: You are valued, your lives matter, and we won't stop fighting for you.

Nina Menard

Woodstock




It’s very disturbing that Chelsea Edgar’s BLM piece made it all the way through your organization. It’s horrifying. It’s so anti-Black, so dangerous, so condescending. Seven Days needs to make public amends for what it’s done. Of course folks don’t trust the media, because you all pull this racist trash in the world.

Emma Redden

Burlington




Protesters in Burlington - COURTESY OF MATT HEASLEY
  • Courtesy Of Matt Heasley
  • Protesters in Burlington

I want to give Chelsea Edgar props for the excellently written first-person piece. It is unfortunate that not everyone lives in reality and took your truth and personal experiences in every way other than the way you intended.

I am a 30-year-old woman of color in the Burlington area, and reading your article made me chuckle, nod my head in agreement several times, and exclaim in glee how bold, unbiased and honest your account was. I hope you don't let the words of the "protesters" and their self-appointed leaders make you feel as though you did anything wrong, said something you shouldn't have and, most importantly, that you are racist, simply because you put into words what I'm sure so many people are thinking but would never print.

Not all people of color want to blame every white person for the injustices we have faced and continue to face. The emphasis of the movement should be on creating more opportunities for healthy dialogue. It keeps these much-needed conversations going, even if it's uncomfortable.

Thank you, and keep up the good writing!

Codi Williams

Winooski




There is no problem with the term "girls" when it refers to people younger than adulthood. However, Chelsea Edgar uses it in the first line of her piece on the Battery Park protests to describe the young women showing up as allies night after night at Battery Park. Referring to women as "girls" is a long-standing subtle and pernicious tool to undermine the power and legitimacy of women. Was this the intention of Ms. Edgar? Language has power. Please don't be careless.

Dana Steinhoff

Winooski




I have recently read the article about the Battery Park protest written by Chelsea Edgar and felt compelled to let someone at Seven Days know how I felt about it. If I were Chelsea, I'd be incredibly embarrassed right now. The article she wrote was irresponsible and straight-up bad journalism. 

Beyond any of the atrocious content, my takeaway was that Chelsea writes several pages about how she has nothing interesting, informative or revelatory to say about the protest or anything happening in Battery Park. That's it; that's the whole article. But, boy, does she write a novel about how little she has to contribute. 

Please ensure that she is reprimanded and perhaps attends a college-level journalism class, if for nothing but a refresher. Also, please take better care when publishing articles written by white people about people of color, because it must be done with tact, which Chelsea failed to do.

Soshannah Block

Burlington




I am disgusted by the inaccurate, biased and completely unprofessional reporting present in Chelsea Edgar’s article “Battery Power.” The sheer audacity of a white reporter casting herself as a persecuted bastion of democracy fighting against angry, irrational Black women and femmes is simply staggering. So, too, is the idea that when she was turned away, she decided to get her information from Anthony Marques, who claimed the Black women and femmes at the head of the movement were secretly hateful and exclusionist, and then spent the rest of the article making it clear how much she ended up agreeing with him. In her mind, she’s a freedom fighter, and the organizers are the ones trying to hold her down. She’s living up to the very expectation she’s trying to subvert — that journalists constantly twist the words of activists and distract from their true goals — and, apparently, it never crosses her mind.

Not only is Edgar’s article biased and blatantly entitled in concept, it’s written in a way that puts in mind a whiny child. The people who agree with Chelsea are endowed with glowing descriptions; the people who don’t are “a white guy with thick eyebrows,” “a skinny, bespectacled 22-year old” and, in a particularly cringe-worthy example, “females of the TikTok demographic, dressed in black, sporting some combination of Blundstones, ironic tube socks and leg hair.” I expect to see this kind of schlock on Breitbart, not Seven Days. Maybe I should have known better.

Luca Socks

Cabot




In the largest protest movement in U.S. history, people across the country have organized to protest police violence against BIPOC people. The Battery Park encampment and nightly marches have raised this conversation in Burlington with renewed urgency. The work of these activists has been effective. In the words of the late congressman John Lewis, sometimes we need to "get into good trouble, necessary trouble" for long-needed changes to move forward.

I was excited to see that Seven Days had chosen to cover this protest and hoped for a comprehensive exploration of the organizers' demands and the historical context of these demands, both local and national. But the very first paragraph set the tone for the article. Why begin with such dismissive comments about "girls" that diminished their intelligence and agency, instead focusing on their appearance? Why even begin by centering the experience of white people in this article about anti-racism activism? 

If those leading the protest refused to speak with a white reporter, why not try to understand the historical reasons for that reluctance? Why not gather information from the protesters' public statements and social media posts, instead of primarily relying on the perspective of one man with what seems to be a clear grudge against the femme leaders?

What a wasted opportunity for Seven Days to raise awareness about a critical issue of our times, to elevate the too-often-silenced stories of BIPOC people, and to challenge white people to understand and believe the experiences of BIPOC people.

Celia Cuddy

Burlington




It was shocking and distressing to learn that people affiliated with the current Burlington protest thought it was somehow appropriate to confiscate copies of the current issue of Seven Days and burn them during another noisy downtown protest.

The Vermont Press Association Executive Board has voted to condemn the juvenile acts by protesters. The VPA urges those responsible to spend some quality time learning about censorship, the First Amendment, and the right for the general public to enjoy the freedoms of the press and speech provided through Seven Days.

The organizers are upset because Seven Days did its job. Not everybody is always happy with news reports. Every participant in a meeting or event has an opinion on the topic. In today's world, many just want their point of view advanced. There is no dialogue, no compromise. It is only my way, not your way.

The fact that reporter Chelsea Edgar spent several weeks visiting the site, conducting interviews and working on the story shows just how seriously she and Seven Days took the work. Edgar's story is an accurate and compelling first-person account of life at Battery Park.

By stealing and burning Seven Days, the protesters have shown a serious disregard for others. This form of censorship shall not be tolerated.

Based on the ongoing misguided directions of a few protest leaders, it's also likely they will direct their followers to write letters to the editor expressing displeasure with Seven Days.

But the protesters need to know that Seven Days — with an incredible 25-year history of public service — will be printing long after they leave Battery Park for the final time. 

Lisa Loomis

Fayston

Loomis is the president of the Vermont Press Association and the editor and co-owner of the Valley Reporter in Waitsfield. Seven Days reporter Courtney Lamdin is on the VPA Executive Board, but she did not participate in the drafting or internal discussion of the above letter.




Chelsea Edgar's choice to open her front-page, main-spread article covering the Battery Park protests with the phrase "hundreds of white girls ... mill[ing] around" took my breath away. I couldn't believe this much-anticipated piece about the protests would choose to refer to college-age women as "girls" in the opening line.

This unaccountably flippant tone and casual misogyny — not to mention misgendering — continues throughout the article, marring what otherwise manages at times to be a decent piece of journalism. The fact that Edgar demonstrates an ability to report in a thorough, neutral way and provides readers with much-needed facts and context makes it even more of a shame when, halfway through, the article turns into a kind of lazy exposé. In my opinion, this exposes Edgar's immaturity as a journalist. If she wants to be edgy, she should write fiction.

This was always going to be a hard piece to write, but it was important. People in this community are earnestly trying to form their opinions about whether to lend their support. Their willingness to engage is in the balance, and that engagement is crucial for the safety of our BIPOC neighbors. It's a shame that, with this particular piece, the journalist entrusted with educating Seven Days' readership chose to capitulate to her worse impulses as a writer — and that the editing staff failed to strike what was utterly gratuitous from the finished product.

Grace Grundhauser

Burlington




The "Battery Power" article published this week was one of the strangest articles I've ever read. Somehow the reporter managed to cover almost nothing about the protests and the larger context around them, and instead wrote a play-by-play of her own experience of feeling excluded by the activists. I understand it's difficult to cover a movement whose organizers don't want to speak directly to the press. However, that absolutely does not excuse this bizarre recounting of a reporter's internalized sexism and racism from being written or published.

I was really excited to see the Battery Park protests highlighted on this week's cover, since there's so much to learn about the function of this protest and the complicated inner workings of city government. How change happens on a city scale can be confusing, and I know a lot of people have been looking for clarification from trusted news sources on what has been happening and not happening in Burlington among the community and city officials. Instead I got a reporter's hot takes and judgments on individuals she's met and, strangely, the grooming habits of young women.

Frankly, I'm baffled that an editor reviewed and green-lit this article, but that's likely because I'm a middle-class white woman who was socialized to believe that this society and its institutions are ultimately good. I've been reading and loving Seven Days from the beginning, and I'm so disappointed anyone there thought this piece was worthy of print.

Lindsey Brand

Duxbury




Driving up to Burlington last Thursday, I had no idea Seven Days had published "Battery Power" the day before. But by the end of that night, after having the paper shoved into my face and camera lens more than a dozen times, I felt I should check it out. The article was well written, detailing a movement still struggling to establish clear objectives and leadership, and uncertain how to clearly represent itself in a public forum.

The pandemic put me, a professional sports photographer based in Asbury Park, N.J., temporarily out of work. In June, I started freelancing, covering protests in Trenton, N.J. One night ended in a riot, with looting and burning cop cars. Since then I've traveled around the country photographing protests. I enjoy talking to the people on the ground and getting to know the leaders of local organizations. I am a strong believer in the rights of the citizen. Usually it is the police I have to worry about trying to obstruct the press.

Thursday night in Burlington, it was the protesters. As soon as I started shooting, my view was instantly obstructed by copies of Seven Days scrawled with markers. The message was clear: The press was not welcome.

It's concerning to see such a shunning of and disengagement with the media. It is precisely the kind of rhetoric the Trump presidency thrives upon. This attitude, whether consciously or not, has pervaded all aspects of American social life. The silent treatment is not effective in a street fight and, clearly, this movement is a fight for people's lives. Silence, exclusivity and alienation only drive the cause into obscurity and nurture suspicion, turning away potential allies.

Matt Heasley

Asbury Park, N.J.




Seven Days should be ashamed that it let this article be published. This writing does nothing but misrepresent the Black femme leaders of the movement. This writing exemplifies why organizers dislike talking to media. I urge the writer and this publication to apologize to the individuals included in this article and the entire encampment community. Apologize for staging less important matters to readers instead of highlighting the Black Perspective's greater effort, for villainizing Black femmes and for exploiting BIPOC invitations to admonish the writer's own guilt. Thank you. Peace and love.

Andrew Baker 

Burlington




The Vermont Journalism Alliance condemns the attempts to bully and intimidate Seven Days by some individuals involved in ongoing racial justice protests in Burlington.

Hoarding and burning newspapers is an act of censorship. It is meant to strike fear in journalists covering the important public dialogue around racial justice and police brutality.

We call on leaders of the Burlington protest to refrain from attempting to curtail the media’s constitutional freedoms as they fight for their own.

We acknowledge the role media has played in systemic racism over the centuries, and our organizations are committed to breaking that cycle in our coverage.

The Vermont Journalism Alliance

Editor’s note: The alliance includes the following news organizations in radio, television, print and online media: the Valley News, Vermont Public Radio, Vermont Community Newspaper Group, VTDigger.org and WCAX-TV. Seven Days is also a member but did not assist in drafting the statement