Friday, May 25, 2012

HIGH VOLUME: Race, Education and the F-35s

Scenes of informed dissent
     Turnout has been high and dialogue heated at public meetings held lately in Burlington and environs. On a recent Monday, for instance, dozens of people both in favor and opposed to a proposed health access buffer zone at Burlington reproductive health care centers brought their arguments and deeply held beliefs to the City Council. On the same night dozens more Vermonters showed up nearby in South Burlington just to watch the City Council, in a 4-1 vote, reject a plan to base F-35 fighter jets at the airport. I missed that, but I was was there a week earlier…

     Noises Up… It was the most dramatic local showdown thus far this season. More than 300 people gathered at the high school in South Burlington for an Air Force public hearing on the environmental impacts of the multi-purpose F-35A, the military’s most expensive pet project yet. It was civil -- but intense -- as Vermonters talked passionately about military pride, damaged neighborhoods endangered jobs and rising noise for over two hours. 
     The lighting was spooky. But the testimony – a dozen people appear in the scene above – was often compelling.

     More than 100 residents showed up at Burlington High School a few days before that to speak their minds about racial inequality and harassment in the schools. Some were calling for Superintendent of Schools Jeanne Collins to resign. 
     Tension had increased since the release of a diversity, equity and inclusion plan, its rebuttal by a math teacher, and protests outside the high school. This scene captures several statements, plus a confrontational moment involving one leading Somali student. Collins has issued a public apology but says she does not intend to step down.
     From my place it’s a short walk up the hill to UVM….

     Part of my job for VTDigger is to cover some of the region's large institutions. The University of Vermont certainly qualifies. More than 10,000 students and half a billion annually in expenses and revenues. 
     “You can see the analogy with the banking industry,” lamented John Bramley at one point during the recent Trustees meeting. What he meant was that large institutions have economic advantages, and also that a university education could again “become the preserve of the wealthy and the privileged. Temporarily promoted last year after the tumultuous departure of President Dan Fogel, he delivered the news forcefully in final remarks before the arrival of a new president, lawyer and former University of Minnesota Provost Tom Sullivan. 
     Bramley sounded like he was borrowing from the Occupy movement. In this scene Provost Jane Knodell also defends the university's strategic plan. It ends with a brief look at financial aid that might not put you to sleep. 
     For more details check my articles on UVM, race in Burlington and the F-35 debate at VTDigger. But now some drumming and few last words....

     Yes, there's a lot going on. But that's no excuse to neglect the Maverick Chronicles. Hope you enjoy these scenes. On the other hand, sometimes you have to just kick back, watch and listen. So, I’ll end this installment with a rhythmic take on opening day at the Farmers’ Market in City Hall Park. It was lovely and the dancers were terrific. If you’ve come this far and especially if you sampled the earlier scenes, don’t skip the climax. It's worth it. 
     Dissent without music, food and laughter would not be worth all the trouble. Just saying... 
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