Sunday, March 8, 2015

The Green Mountain Way: Why It Works

From The Vermont Way
Since the 1970s Vermont has been a testing ground for groundbreaking politics. But the many ex-urbanite professionals and members of the counterculture who helped to make that possible were building on a solid foundation. Active dissent began before the American Revolution, as early settlers organized to declare themselves free of British rule and exploitation by land speculators. It continued with the re-election of Matthew Lyon to Congress in defiance of the Alien and Sedition Acts, resistance to an embargo of Britain and the War of 1812, rejection of Masonic secrecy and Town Meeting defeat of the Green Mountain Parkway during the New Deal. This pattern reflects a libertarian streak that has resisted the pull of modern liberalism.

For more: The Vermont Way

Despite relative isolation before the arrival of railroads, telephones, highways and instantaneous global communication, Vermonters have also expressed an egalitarian belief in equality and tolerance that made it fertile ground for revival-era religious experiments and persistent leadership in the fight to end slavery. Although the state was sometimes slow to respond, as with the decision to extend voting rights to women or when handling early union activism, the tradition re-asserted itself in Gov. Ernest Gibson’s expansion of social services in the 1940s, the peaceful assimilation of immigrants and the landmark legislative decision in 2009 to make same-sex marriage the state law.

Public concern has frequently extended beyond the protection and defense of state residents and resources. Ecological consciousness, rooted in Vermont’s rural character and a practical understanding of interdependence, has made it an advocate for reducing pollution, conserving limited resources, protecting endangered habitats, and closing the Yankee Nuclear plant.  Skepticism about wasteful military spending and the logic of war, combined with the symbolic power of Town Meeting, has helped it to spur national reconsideration of the nation’s nuclear weapons stockpiles and intentions.

Today Vermont is as identified with liberal social causes and political mavericks like Bernie Sanders as it once was with “rock-ribbed” conservative thinking. But beneath the different labels is a consistent approach to governance and the way it is discussed. Despite a centralized administrative structure, Vermont has emphasized accountability more than most -- through the retention of short terms of office, a citizen legislature, and the tradition of local control.

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