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Social justice leaders challenge Sanders

Last week, the Sanders Institute hosted a three-day forum on progressive ideas, but looking at the guest list, a number of Vermonters, many of them black leaders of political organizations, are feeling excluded, angry and marginalized.

The event was described by the Associated Press as a “pep rally for ... policy issues such as universal health care, protecting the environment and economic and criminal justice reform.” The Sanders Institute is an independent nonprofit but Sen. Bernie Sanders was a speaker at the event.

A letter written by Tabitha Pohl-Moore and Steffen Gillom, the presidents of the NAACP’s Rutland Area Branch and Windham County Branch, respectively, and signed by other social justice leaders, asked how Sanders “could be ‘awoken,’ in the words of Victor Lee Lewis, when you come home to Vermont to talk about justice and institutional oppression and don’t invite the very people you represent?”

Pohl-Moore called the forum an “elitist event” that excluded Vermonters who worked diligently with marginalized people to create Vermont’s reputation as a progressive state.

“If there is a meeting and they are sitting at the table, we ask them to have a seat on that table,” added Wafic Faour, a member of Vermonters for Justice in Palestine and Black Lives Matter of Greater Burlington.

Kiah Morris, a former state representative for Bennington, who resigned because she was receiving threats and harassment, said it was not news that Vermont was in the midst of a “crisis when it comes to the rights and the experiences of people of color.”

“It’s international news. If there was ever an opportunity to show our Vermont leaders — because it was held in Vermont. That was not a mistake — so if we ask the global leaders that we are to be driving these conversations, than we have to be there. There is no future without us,” she said.

Asked to explain how the guests and speakers were chosen for the forum and to respond to the letter from Pohl-Moore and Gillom, which was posted on Facebook, Sanders’ office released a statement.

“The senator is proud that the Sanders Institute was able to bring progressives from all over the country and from throughout the world to our state of Vermont to discuss some of the biggest issues we face. Needless to say, in Vermont, like other states across the country, there are some very serious social and racial justice challenges, and the senator looks forward to continuing his work with Vermonters on these issues.”

Morris said she was especially offended because people of color already recognized systemic racism as toxic.

“For us to be excluded and only considered as an afterthought and to have to sort of beg our way in is a ridiculous notion,” she said.

Beverly Little Thunder, an activist and member of the Peace and Justice Board, called the effort to pass responsibility to the Sanders Institute an “old game played by white men all over this country.”

Discussing the event on Monday, many who had spent years or even decades working for social justice expressed disappointment in Sanders.

“This is a well-established pattern that Sanders has illustrated over the decades of marginalizing people of color, of not extending himself to understand our experiences here as they relate to micro-aggressions, micro-invalidations, micro-injustices. He has shown himself incapable or unwilling to do what it takes to engage us, one-to-one or collectively, in terms of understanding what our experiences are in this state and how he might be able to mitigate the negative effects of systemic racism,” said Curtiss Reed Jr., executive director of Vermont Partnership for Fairness and Diversity.

Reed added Sanders had “never stepped foot in the arena of social justice for the state of Vermont.”

The executive director for Justice For All, Mark Hughes, said he was going to say “all the things nobody is saying.”

“We also have a so-called progressive, neo-liberal white movement across this state that worships — and I say that with a capital W — Bernie Sanders and will come at you, sideways, if you say anything about him, in conjunction with Bernie being extremely defensive, which creates an environment similar to that that’s created by Trump himself because no one wants to say anything,” he said.

Gillom said progressive politicians could be taking a risk by not considering exclusion.

“Gone are the days when people of color are just going to sit by idly while movements use our intellectual capacity and promote themselves on our backs and we just go with it. We have come a long way and people of color are resilient,” he said.

Hughes added that the issue would not be forgotten.

“We’re disappointed in what Bernie Sanders had to say about this. … I expect there will be some pushback, especially from our so-called white neo-liberal progressives who are hugely protective of Bernie, I’m fully expecting that and I’m looking forward to the conversations,” he said.

patrick.mcardle

@rutlandherald.com


Local
Middlesex
Marijuana grow operation permitted

MIDDLESEX — The town has approved a marijuana grow operation for the Vermont Patients Alliance.

The town’s planning and zoning boards approved a proposal by landowner Kingsbury Companies, LLC, to subdivide a 9-acre parcel of land off Center Road to allow VPA to build an 8,408-square-foot processing building, a 4,000-square-foot office and laboratory wing and 9,450-square-feet of greenhouses.

The new industrial-scale operation is part of the medical marijuana dispensary operated by Vermont Patients Alliance in Montpelier. It is one of four dispensaries across the state — the others are in Burlington, Brattleboro and Brandon.

The dispensaries are part of a state-run marijuana registry created in 2011 to allow the sale of medical marijuana to people with serious illnesses. Different derivatives of marijuana have been shown to be effective in treating the symptoms of cancer, Alzheimer’s, Crohn’s disease, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy.

However, officials involved in the new grow operation in Middlesex stressed that there will not be a dispensary onsite.

“It’s just a grow facility; there’s no dispensary,” said Dean Zoecklein, operations manager for Kingsbury Companies. “I bring that up because that’s an important distinction as part of the permit.”

Zoecklein also noted that the grow operation would not be on land owned by Kingsbury Companies after it sub-divided its Middlesex property and sold a 3-acre lot to a company associated with Vermont Patients Alliance.

The application for the grow operation was submitted in May to both the Planning Commission and Zoning Board of Adjustment seeking conditional use of the site in a mixed-use district. A permit was issued in October.

Minutes from the August ZBA meeting note that board member Dan Crisp reported that licensure requirements for marijuana dispensaries in the state is “an extremely thorough and lengthy process. Members expressed satisfaction with documentation previously received.”

Fellow board member John Demeter “states he feels the applicants — KCOS and VPA in particular — made a thorough and well-thought out presentation of their vision for this project. Others agreed that concerns raised were addressed and alleviated,” the minutes added.

A straw poll indicated support for the project, and the ZBA voted unanimously to approve the project with conditions, the minutes said.

Conditions set by the Planning Commission included: the combined total number of employees at both businesses on the site shall not exceed 60 employees; the VPA facility shall ensure stormwater does not impact neighbors; and VPA is encouraged to explore energy-saving opportunities with its utility company and Efficiency Vermont.

“As part of the lot sale, there’s a little bit of work to prepare the site,” Zoecklein said. “There will most likely be a closing after Dec. 15 and VPA may or may not elect to start (construction) in January.”

A representative for VPA could not be reached for comment.

stephen.mills

@timesargus.com


News
River of Light

The annual River of Light festival illuminated Stowe and Main Street in Waterbury on Saturday, with a parade culminating in a bonfire and gathering in Dac Rowe Park. The event was started in 2010 as a collaboration between Thatcher Brook Primary School’s Art teacher MK Monley and local artists {span}Gowri Savoor and Angelo Arnold. Thatcher Brook students crafted h{/span}undreds of lanterns, and were joined by local artists who made their own larger-scale pieces. josh.kuckens@timesargus.com


Local
Barre man denies selling crack cocaine out of his home

BARRE — A Granite City man has been held on bail for allegedly selling crack cocaine out of his home.

David Ray Boswell, 40, pleaded not guilty Monday in Washington County criminal court in Barre to a felony count of trafficking crack cocaine. Boswell also pleaded not guilty to a felony count negligent operation while eluding law enforcement and misdemeanor counts of gross negligent operation and two counts of violating conditions of release. If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of 38 years in prison. He was ordered held at Northeast Correctional Complex in St. Johnsbury on $10,000 bail.

Elizabeth Lynn Green, 40, pleaded not guilty Friday to a felony count of trafficking crack cocaine. Green faces a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison. She was ordered held at Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility in South Burlington on $5,000 bail.

Cpl. Jonathan Houle, of the Barre City police, said in his affidavit a search warrant was executed on a home on Spaulding Street Friday. Houle said Boswell and Green were inside the home at the time. Inside their bedroom, Houle said police found numerous bags containing a white powder, other bags that contained a white rock-like substance and scales. Houle said when police spoke to Green she admitted to selling drugs and Boswell admitted to using drugs.

Houle said police also located a safe in the kitchen that contained more bags of white powder and white rocks. In all, police seized over 300 grams of substances that field tested positive for cocaine, according to the affidavit. Police also seized two handguns and two long guns.

The search warrant was signed by Judge Mary L. Morrissey on Nov. 21. According to the application for the warrant, Houle had been receiving information about drug activity at the home for the past week leading up to the request for the warrant. Houle said the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives had told him there also may be stolen guns inside the home.

For the felony count of negligent operation and the misdemeanor counts Boswell faces, Officer Amos Gaylord, of the Barre City police, said in his affidavit he was on patrol on Sept. 13 on Maple Avenue when he heard what sounded like a motorcycle approaching him at a high rate of speed. Amos said he clocked the motorcycle driving 65 mph in the 25 mph zone. He tried to pull the motorcycle over, but Amos said the motorcycle sped up and was passing cars on the left and the right as they drove past Hope Cemetery. He said the motorcycle was able to get away.

Amos said he recognized the motorcycle as one involved in a prior incident where Boswell was the driver. Boswell contacted police saying he had heard police wanted to talk to him, according to court records.

Amos said he asked Boswell about the chase and he replied he didn’t know what Amos was talking about. Boswell told Amos he sold the motorcycle from the previous incident and said someone else was driving it at the time of the chase. Amos said he knows the person Boswell said was the culprit and that person is smaller than the person involved in the chase.

On Sept. 29, Amos said he saw Boswell driving the motorcycle from the Sept. 13 chase. Amos said he again spoke to Boswell who again denied driving the motorcycle. Amos said the motorcycle was found in Boswell’s driveway when police executed the search warrant Friday.

eric.blaisdell

@timesargus.com


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BTA Hotspot

Wednesday

Flu Season

Licensed Acupuncturist Allison Jacob will share tips from the ancient wisdom of Chinese medicine. 6:30 p.m. Waterbury Public Library, 28 N. Main St., Waterbury, 244-7036.