PLAINFIELD — Though it may be a bit redundant given a policy already on the books, town officials were happy to join more than 70 municipalities in the state in a declaration of inclusion.
The select board took up the declaration at its regular meeting Tuesday night.
The declaration is an effort started two years ago by Vermonters Bob Harnish and Al Wakefield after George Floyd was killed by police in Minneapolis in May 2020. The pair were later joined by Rutland resident Norm Cohen. The trio set out to get 100 municipalities to sign on to the declaration by May 2023.
In late October, they announced 73 municipalities, representing about 52% of the state’s population, had adopted the resolution.
Plainfield is the latest town to have done so. Wakefield said in a Wednesday email the count now stands at 80 municipalities, with St. Johnsbury, Vernon and St. Albans adopting the declaration in the past couple days. He said he was quite happy to add Plainfield to the list.
Board member Sasha Thayer had asked that the declaration be added to Tuesday’s agenda.
Thayer said she made some small tweaks to the declaration, which can be found at vtdeclarationofinclusion.org, a website created and maintained by the Vermont Chamber of Commerce.
The declaration, which the select board voted unanimously to adopt, states, in part, “The Town of Plainfield condemns racism and welcomes all persons, regardless of race, color, religion, national origin, immigration status, sex, gender identity or expression, marital status, age, social class or disability and wants everyone to feel safe and welcome in our community.”
The declaration states the town formally condemns all discrimination and commits to fair and equal treatment of everyone.
Thayer also included the town resources and policing policy adopted in Plainfield in 2017.
Board Chair Jim Volz said, “There seems to be huge overlap between those two, the existing town resources and policing policy seems to say essentially the same thing.”
The policy states, in part, the town will “treat all with fairness and consideration without regard to an individual’s sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, race, color, religion, national origin, immigration status, age, social class or disability.”
This policy was adopted after residents approved a non-binding resolution on Town Meeting Day in 2017 declaring Plainfield a sanctuary town following a statewide effort to keep local law enforcement from participating in federal immigration enforcement.
Volz said he wasn’t against adopting the declaration and agreed with its message, but he wondered whether the town needed to take action with the policy already in place.
Thayer, who was elected to the board in 2017, said she supported the policy as a way to tell the federal government it didn’t have the authority to tell the town to enforce its immigration laws. She noted the town doesn’t have the resources available to do that enforcement anyway.
Thayer said she found the list stating everyone who should be treated with fairness in a piece of legislation and decided to add that to the policy so that it didn’t only talk about immigration.
She said, “What we ended up doing was coming up with a document that we all felt comfortable with, that I have loved because it really kind of lays out, what are we about as a town? And how do we want to be relating to our townspeople? How do we want to be relating to one another?”
Since that policy was adopted, Thayer said there has been an increased focus in Vermont on inclusion, diversity and racial relations. She said this declaration is part of that focus.
Thayer said she recently heard about the 73-town milestone for the declaration. She said she looked into the declaration and discovered the connection with the Chamber of Commerce, which she said, “is not necessarily known as the most liberal of organizations.”
She noted Gov. Phil Scott, a Republican, made his own proclamation of inclusion in May 2021. The proclamation condemned discrimination in all its forms and declared the second week of May as Inclusion Week.
“So it’s not just one political group or another that says, ‘This is something we should do.’ But it’s a pretty broad spectrum across the state that says, ‘This is a good thing to weigh-in on and be part of,’” she said.
Thayer said she saw the declaration as a complement to what the town has already done.
“I think we were ahead of the game, even though it was generated by our concerns about how migrants are treated,” Thayer said.