Civil Rights

Civil Rights

Paid Sick Days are a Vermont Value

We, in each of our towns, and throughout The Valley are, together, a community.  As Town Meeting approaches, I trust that all of us, regardless of our particular political persuasions, agree.  And as a community we do right to concur that one does well, when one’s neighbor does well.  This commitment to our friends, family, and fellow residents is an old one. When the Green Mountain Boys evicted New York land surveyors, tax collectors, and sheriffs, I do not doubt that they too were motivated by this notion of self-preservation as inalienably linked to community; Freedom and Unity. More recently, we saw this belief manifest during the crisis following Irene. Two and one half years ago I was honored to see many of you from Waitsfield, Warren, Duxbury, Fayston, and beyond coming to lend a hand in Moretown during our hour of need.  Such acts of human camaraderie will never be forgotten.  In essence Vermont has a long and proud history of people reaching out in solidarity when their neighbors could use a hand.  We are, in a word, a people who embrace and honor the core value associated with the very notion of community as the foundation upon which rests the prosperity of the individual.

Today, we can and do express our sense of community, not only in time of crisis, but also through a maturing social compact which gives form to the worth and well-being of our fellow citizens.  Maintaining and improving an equitable education system that gives support to children and families is one such expression.  Creating a Vermont controlled healthcare system that provides insurance and quality medical care regardless of job or lot in life is also such an expression. Guaranteeing that all working Vermonters are afforded the right to accrue paid sick days is yet another.

It is for these reasons that I support H208, a bill currently in the Vermont House of Representatives that would guarantee all Vermonters the right to earn up to 7 sick days in a given year. As your neighbor, I encourage you to support this noble effort too.

The fact is, all people get sick some time or other; most of us a few times a year.  When this happens, when one has a fever, one should be able to stay home for a day and get better.  And if your kid is home sick, and if both parents have to work, one parent should be afforded the economic ability to care for the child during that time of need. How could one begin to construct a moral argument against this statement?  Either we are a community, and therefore embody the core truth inherent in the principle which is Vermont, or we are not. I assert that we are Vermonters.

However, the reality is that thousands of low income people in these Green Hills do not have any paid sick days. When they get sick, they often must make a hard decision: work while their body and mind are turned against them, or stay home and miss one fifth of their weekly pay. For the many, this one few-and-far-between unpaid sick day means the phone will be shut off; the rent will be late; the kids will miss a meal. For those that do work when they are ill, not only does their productivity go down, but they typically infect their co-workers which, in turn, makes productivity sink measurably lower.  Therefore, as a community and as Vermonters, it is absurd to maintain a status quo which serves no human, neighborly, or long-term interest. For these and other reasons, H208 (paid sick days) is supported by both Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility and Organized Labor. 

As a resident of Moretown, as part of the broader Valley community, I encourage all of you to take a moment to reflect on this human issue.  I encourage you to express your support for H208.  I also encourage our two State Representatives, Maxine Grad and Adam Greshin to actively support this bill with no exemptions. I also call upon our Governor and Washington County Senate delegation to likewise support this legislation. By doing so, they will all be casting a vote in favor of the Valley’s working families and in line with Vermont’s long tradition of valuing our community over short term and private interests. After all, one does well, when one’s neighbor does well.

David Van Deusen is Chair of the Moretown Progressivt Comittee. He is also the elected 1st Constable of Moretown, is a former Selectboard Member, and currently works for the Vermont State Employees Association as a Union Representative responsible for Central Vermont.

F-35 Battle Moving to Burlington Council as Key State Dem Joins the Opposition

September 4, 2013; Kevin Kelley; Seven Days

The battle over local basing of the F-35 will soon return to a familiar arena — the Burlington city council. Last summer, councilors passed a resolution asking for more information about the planes without supporting or opposing the basing. But now F-35 opponents intend to introduce a resolution declaring the war plane unwelcome at the city-owned airport.

The four Progressives who plan to bring the resolution to a vote on October 7 face a difficult task. To win, they need to sway a majority of the 14 council members. Ward 7 councilor Tom Ayres, considered the most potentially persuadable of the seven council Democrats, said on the margins of a Wednesday press conference outside city hall that he will not vote for any resolution categorically rejecting the F-35. And that’s exactly what the Progs’ proposal would do.

But the plane’s opponents did wheel out a new political weapon on Wednesday. Three Democratic state legislators, including senate majority leader Philip Baruth (D-Chittenden, pictured), attended the anti-F-35 press event. Activists there argued that the Burlington city council has the power, as landlord of the airport, to prevent its tenant, the Vermont Air National Guard, from operating the aircraft on city property.

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Resolution on Justice for Trayvon Martin

WHEREAS, Trayvon Martin was murdered at point blank range by George Zimmerman for “walking while black” in a neighborhood where Trayvon was staying with his father, after Zimmerman racially profiled and followed Trayvon, despite being told by police to stay in his car;

WHEREAS, the acquittal of George Zimmerman exposes the blatant racism inherent in our judicial system and the effect that racial bias has on prosecutors, juries, and the media;

WHEREAS, African-Americans in similar situations have been convicted and are serving jail sentences for attempting to defend themselves from bodily harm, notably in the case of Marissa Alexander (also of Florida), a victim of domestic violence who was attacked by her husband and fired a bullet into the ceiling; although there was no injury to her attacker, she was given a prison sentence of 20 years;

WHEREAS, the Police Departments of Burlington, South Burlington, UVM and Winooski have participated in data collection on racial disparities in traffic stops since 2009 and a 2012 report on that data concluded there were significant racial disparities in traffic stops, outcomes of stops, arrests and searches;

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Vermont Progressive Party condemns the racial biases in our judicial system and at all levels of government and urges our fellow citizens, both those in and out of public office, to ask themselves what they can do to address this ongoing and pervasive problem of racism in our culture;

AND BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Vermont Progressive Party urges the Department of Justice to bring federal charges against George Zimmerman;

AND BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Vermont Progressive Party will work towards ensuring that racial disparities in traffic stops, and in the criminal justice system generally, are eliminated by 2018 by advocating for more training and oversight for police;

AND BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Vermont Progressive Party will advocate that all school districts be required to produce annual reports on racial disparities in disciplinary actions in the schools, with a goal of ending such disparities by 2018;

AND BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Vermont Progressive Party will advocate for increased recruitment and hiring of people of color by state and local government and school districts throughout Vermont;

AND BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Vermont Progressive Party will advocate for increased anti-racism and cultural diversity training for employees of state and local government and school districts throughout the state;

AND BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Vermont Progressive Party will continue to actively work against racism in our communities, in ourselves, and structural racism in our institutions of education and government.

Adopted August 10, 2013

Black boys denied the right to be young

By Eugene Robinson, The Washington Post, July 15, 2013

Justice failed Trayvon Martin the night he was killed. We should be appalled and outraged, but perhaps not surprised, that it failed him again Saturday night, with a verdict setting his killer free.

Our society considers young black men to be dangerous, interchangeable, expendable, guilty until proven innocent. This is the conversation about race that we desperately need to have — but probably, as in the past, will try our best to avoid.

George Zimmerman’s acquittal was set in motion on Feb. 26, 2012, before Martin’s body was cold. When Sanford, Fla., police arrived on the scene, they encountered a grown man who acknowledged killing an unarmed 17-year-old boy. They did not arrest the man or test him for drug or alcohol use. They conducted a less-than-energetic search for forensic evidence. They hardly bothered to look for witnesses.

Only a national outcry forced authorities to investigate the killing seriously. Even after six weeks, evidence was found to justify arresting Zimmerman, charging him with second-degree murder and putting him on trial. But the chance of dispassionately and definitively establishing what happened that night was probably lost. The only complete narrative of what transpired was Zimmerman’s.

Jurors knew that Zimmerman was an overeager would-be cop, a self-appointed guardian of the neighborhood who carried a loaded gun. They were told that he profiled Martin — young, black, hooded sweatshirt — as a criminal. They heard that he stalked Martin despite the advice of a 911 operator; that the stalking led to a confrontation; and that, in the confrontation, Zimmerman fatally shot Martin in the chest.

The jurors also knew that Martin was carrying only a bag of candy and a soft drink. They knew that Martin was walking from a 7-Eleven to the home of his father’s girlfriend when he noticed a strange man in an SUV following him.

To me, and to many who watched the trial, the fact that Zimmerman recklessly initiated the tragic encounter was enough to establish, at a minimum, guilt of manslaughter. The six women on the jury disagreed.

Those jurors also knew that Martin, at the time of his death, was just three weeks past his 17th birthday. But black boys in this country are not allowed to be children. They are assumed to be men, and to be full of menace.

I don’t know if the jury, which included no African Americans, consciously or unconsciously bought into this racist way of thinking — there’s really no other word. But it hardly matters, because police and prosecutors initially did.
The assumption underlying their ho-hum approach to the case was that Zimmerman had the right to self-defense but Martin — young, male, black — did not. The assumption was that Zimmerman would fear for his life in a hand-to-hand struggle but Martin — young, male, black — would not.

If anyone wonders why African Americans feel so passionately about this case, it’s because we know that our 17-year-old sons are boys, not men. It’s because we know their adolescent bravura is just that — an imitation of manhood, not the real thing.

We know how frightened our sons would be, walking home alone on a rainy night and realizing they were being followed. We know how torn they would be between a child’s fear and a child’s immature idea of manly behavior. We know how they would struggle to decide the right course of action, flight or fight.

And we know that a skinny boy armed only with candy, no matter how big and bad he tries to seem, does not pose a mortal threat to a healthy adult man who outweighs him by 50 pounds and has had martial arts training (even if the lessons were mostly a waste of money). We know that the boy may well have threatened the man’s pride but likely not his life. How many murders-by-sidewalk have you heard of recently? Or ever?

The conversation we need to have is about how black men, even black boys, are denied the right to be young, to be vulnerable, to make mistakes. We need to talk about why, for example, black men are no more likely than white men to smoke marijuana but nearly four times as likely to be arrested for it — and condemned to a dead-end cycle of incarceration and unemployment. I call this racism. What do you call it?

Trayvon Martin was fighting more than George Zimmerman that night. He was up against prejudices as old as American history, and he never had a chance.

Vermont Gov. Signs Bill Marijuana Decriminalization Bill into Law

June 7, 2013; Phillip Smith; Daily Chronic

MONTPELIER, VT – Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) signed into law Thursday a bill decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana. That makes Vermont the 17th state to decriminalize, including all of its neighboring New England states except New Hampshire.

Introduced by Rep. Christopher Pearson (P-Burlington) and passed with tripartisan support, House Bill 200 removes criminal penalties for possession of up to one ounce of marijuana and replaces them with a civil fine, similar to a traffic ticket. People under 21 will be required to undergo substance abuse screening.

Under current state law, possession of up to two ounces of marijuana is a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail for a first offense and up to two years in jail for a subsequent offense.

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Legislators affirmed state’s social liberalism

May 16, 2013; Peter Hirschfeld; Rutland Herald

But so far at least, the Vermont Democrats running the show in Montpelier seem content to save their liberalism for the social arena. And progressive lawmakers are beginning to wonder whether one-party rule will ever translate into new public investments to bolster human services, combat climate change, or expand access to health care.

“The primary focus for progressives, whether you’re a large ‘P’ or a small ‘p,’ is economic issues,” said Sen. David Zuckerman, a Progressive/Democrat from Chittenden County. “And in that arena, the bodies were relatively conservative.”

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