The events of the last two weeks have shaken the very fabric of our society, awakening us to the persistent and real problem of injustice in the United States.  And Vermont is not immune from this issue.

Vermont is not insulated from the novel coronavirus nor from the virus of racism. Both are crises facing our nation and we need to employ similar techniques to both. Techniques that include Vigilance, Empathy and Leadership.

Vigilance in first accepting that racism exists in our country and in Vermont today. It comes in many forms; blatant, unintentional and systematic. Just like we need to test for the virus, track the virus and treat the virus, we need to recognize all examples of racism, track the racism and treat the racism through community dialog, education and reparative justice.

Empathy in the same way that we wear face masks in public not for our personal safety but for our neighbors. The masks most wear are not strong enough to stop the virus from being breathed in but they are strong enough to stop us from spreading it to others. In all of our individual actions, we must recognize and stop racism not just for individual benefit but for the benefit of our community.

Leadership in how we speak of these problems and how our leaders ask action of us determines how our community responds to a crisis. Many have commended Governor Scott for his leadership during this pandemic and his steady hand at the spigot. This illustrates how leadership matters and we must look to our leaders to steer the dialog, hold all accountable and remedy the issue.

It’s time for Vermont to demonstrate leadership.

Vermont may have been a Union state during the civil war.  We may be one of the most progressive states in the nation today.  But we can not escape the moral stain on the soul of America that the institution of slavery, the oppression of Reconstruction, the policies of the Jim Crow era, and the continued effects of systemic racism have left behind.  In an effort to redress the wrongs done to our fellow Americans, I support reparative justice efforts outlined in H.478 in the Vermont State Assembly.  We cannot rewind time but we can acknowledge what time has done.  Studying the past will help rectify the long standing effects of immoral governance.  

While our nation shows its undeniable strength of spirit across the country, with peaceful protests in all fifty states, it’s time for Vermont to show what it really means when we say “Black Lives Matter”.

I understand that I will never understand.

But this is my first step in trying to help.  Expect more, from me, from our neighbors, and from our fellow Vermonters.  We are one people with one government for one people.

Thomas Chittenden