Third of Vermont’s towns have adopted declarations condemning discrimination

By Alexa Lewis | Community News Service

Around a third of Vermont’s towns have adopted declarations condemning discrimination and committing themselves to welcoming all people, and Bethel was one of the first.

And so far it’s been a “model town,” said J. Alvin Wakefield, one of the men behind the Vermont Declaration of Inclusion initiative, which put together a version of the document for communities to follow. Bethel Selectboard members adopted the declaration September 26.

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Bethel Town Hall

Owen Daniel-McCarter, a member of Bethel’s Equity and Inclusion Committee, said a resident brought officials the idea, and the committee was immediately interested.

“We had already been meeting with the selectboard to find ways to push them to be bold in their commitment to equity,” he said. “A clear declaration invites leadership to step up.”

The group behind the effort includes Wakefield, Robert Harnish, and Norman Cohen. They have been working on it for the past two years, in the wake of wide-scale protests over racial issues.

The declaration—as written by the group—says the signing town condemns racism and other forms of discrimination, welcomes people of any identity, and commits to “fair and equal treatment of everyone in our community.” The signing town also commits to make its actions, policies, and operating procedures reflect those values. Towns can adapt the language to their needs.

But adopting a declaration is only the first step, said those involved. Next comes implementation, when towns must hold themselves to their words.

Since September, Bethel officials and residents have been taking steps to “get comfortable talking about race,” said Daniel-McCarter. This has included training for selectboard members, in-depth talks about essays on racial justice, and making town operations more accessible and transparent.

“We were hearing a lot from the selectboard that young people and marginalized groups weren’t participating enough in town politics,” said Daniel-McCarter, who lamented the lack of diversity at town meetings. But Bethel’s Equity and Inclusion Committee, he said, “thought, there’s a reason these people aren’t showing up. We needed to address why.”

So town officials started offering ways for people to attend meetings virtually. People who otherwise wouldn’t be able to participate began showing up to meetings, Daniel-McCarter said.

Officials and activists in Bethel have also made progress in making the town constable’s operations more transparent. Daniel-McCar­ter and other committee members wanted to hold law enforcement more accountable and make information available about officers’ interactions with community members, he said. So the committee worked with the constable’s office to send traffic-stop data to the state. The town has two constables.

Daniel-McCarter said the town’s work is far from over. His committee wants to hold community talks for marginalized groups—people of color who farm, for example, or LGBTQ folks, he said. The committee wants people from those groups to find support when they need it.

Franklin was the first town to adopt the declaration. Harnish had a cousin on the Franklin Selectboard who had encountered a similar declaration in Maine and brought the idea to a meeting, Wakefield said.

“Bob [Harnish] thought it sounded like something that could have a larger impact, so he reached out to me,” Wakefield said. “We developed a strategy and decided to go statewide.” Right now, 84 communities out of the 251 in the state have signed a version of the declaration, and the group wants to see the remainder adopt their own too.

Wakefield believes that combatting discrimination begins with looking at a town’s business activity. “You have to ensure the town is really welcoming and not discriminating systematically in its operating procedures,” he said.

For example, he suggested town businesses ensure they consider vendors and employees who come from marginalized communities and that towns educate residents on how to be inclusive.

The Community News Service is part of the Reporting and Documentary Storytelling Program at the University of Vermont.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
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16 thoughts on “Third of Vermont’s towns have adopted declarations condemning discrimination

  1. People with power and authority covering their ass… after all they instituted racism and inequity and now they are pulling a gaslighting by making rules and laws that deflect blame from themselves.

  2. It does accomlish something the politicians, bureaucrats, and business owners didn’t consider: they outed themselves as enemies of the Republic of the United States of America, violators of the United States Consititution and the Declaration of Independence. The New World Order, under direction of the WHO, WEF, IMF and the United Nations, has infilitrated every institution of the United States with one goal in mind, destroy the United States of America. Liars, deceivers, and traitors – the ignorance of the facts and ignorance of this war against us is destroying our State. If it is allowed to continue, the Republic is gone for good.

  3. Must be great these towns have so few problems they have to invent new ones… Will there be speech police to enforce racially specked speech by the citizens? Also how about inclusion police to drag the minorities to meetings so there is more balance for the 1%? Liberalism is a mental disorder…

  4. I think they are just crazy. I could have sworn racism was pretty much out of style by the mid-70s.
    I never heard the “n” word in public until that gangsta rap crap normalized it.
    I could tell even then, the social engineers are bringing back racism, as if it was inevitable, a permanent defect in at least the white race.
    This is bs. I know and have known enough people of enough races to know that most people are just human, but there have always been greedy, plotters and schemers.
    So they figured out the power of the “race card” and made it front-and-center, entered the culture with crap music and horrible movies, etc.
    It’s pure evil.
    Besides, MLK didn’t kill himself, and James Earl Ray didn’t kill him either.

  5. Virtue-signaling ad nauseum. Sadly, such partisan finger-pointing CREATES racism, and upends basic constitutional precepts. Was Bethel not already inclusive? Is there any evidence that anything needed to be corrected? Using race as a measure is patently racist. Martin Luther King is. being trampled, silently

  6. “welcomes people of any identity”? Will this proposal include people who identify as ideological conservatives and those who embrace and value Constitutional freedoms? I know it’s true in a practical sense, but will it recognize conservative Vermonters as a “marginalized community”?
    Just asking…

  7. “For example, he suggested town businesses ensure they consider vendors and employees who come from marginalized communities and that towns educate residents on how to be inclusive.”

    So cool. Beat discrimination with discrimination. Brilliant!

  8. Just remember, it’s still OK to hate on conservatives, Trump supporters, anyone who’s religious and of course pro-life people. Because hate has no home here!

  9. We as Vermonters and Americans already have these protections under both federal and state laws, and many businesses and nonprofit organizations have rules supporting ALL people, period

    Peddling this stuff is just adding to the discent and hate. This is also just more duplication of what we already know and what we as people need to do and treat all people with respect and to be kind.

    Okay, let’s feel good, touchy-feely. Equity is holding people back, it’s not equally and it goes against our constitution, the Bill of Rights, everything Martin Luther King fought for.

    • Gregory, you hit the bullseye when you said, “…treat all people with respect and be kind.” Practicing that Golden Rule is a lost art in our culture. Each one of us needs to come to the realization that there is but one race, the HUMAN race. Only then can there be any hope of true
      “equality”.

  10. We as Vermonters and Americans already have these protection under both federal and state laws, and many businesses and nonprofit organizations have rules supporting ALL people, period

    Peddling this stuff is just adding to the discent and hate. This is also just more duplication of what we already know and what we as people need to do and treat all people with respect and to be kind.

    Okay, let’s feel good, touchy-feely. Equity is holding people back, it’s not equally and it goes against our constitution, the Bill of Rights, everything Martin Luther King fought for.

  11. It is already illegal to descriminate against people do to their race, gender or sexuality. Although, under the new woke, Marxist ideology, descrimination in the name of Regressive Tolerance is allowed and encouraged of an individual is white. Exemplified with COVID policies, special loan terms and incentives for the BIPOC population offered by the Vermont Housing Trust and BIPOC people having first access to the Infrastructure bill monies provided by US tax payers. We live in a dystopian reality.

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