There was a rare victory for Democracy at Burlington’s City Council Meeting on Monday night, when Save our Skies, a member group of the Coalition for a Livable City, managed to stop the mayor, the City Attorney, and Councilors Knodell, Wright, and Hartnett, from skewing the language of the people’s resolution to stop the F-35 basing at the Burlington airport. The increasingly strong movement for democracy in Burlington was able to stop this dastardly plan with smart legal know-how and improved strategies for outreach. The neighborhood power is growing.
No one can say that the Keep Burlington Telecom Local advocacy group slacked on their organizing last year. Their constant vigilance and exposure of the usual round of misinformation coming from the City radicalized many people who previously had believed that the Burlington City Council was really, for the most part, working to represent the will of the people. Knodell and Wright, in cahoots with Mayor Weinberger and the ever-faithful City Attorney Blackwood (a cabal of three parties: Progressive, Republican, and Democratic) dared to betray the people’s trust blatantly—even if late at night after most people had left the last contentious meeting about Burlington Telecom—ignoring their responsibilities as delegates for their constituents’ wishes and interests, ignoring the rule of the law and due process and vigilance.
While that battle seems to have been lost for the moment, the real reckoning will come in March, at the polls, when the people will have a chance to register their disgust for a railroading of democracy that has surpassed all acceptable limits. But will the people of Burlington recognize which candidates can be trusted to protect the interests of the people and safeguard the perilously shaky edifice of democracy? Most candidates—except the incumbent Mayor—are claiming that they want to increase public participation in decision-making processes in the city. Which ones have a record that demonstrates that they can be trusted?
Infinite Culcleasure, running for Mayor as an Independent, is a real advocate for neighborhood power, as demonstrated by his work as co-director of Parents and Youth for Change, a non-profit that advocates for increasing the agency of under-represented families in Burlington and Winooski, in his faithful work as a Ward 2/3 Neighborhood Planning Assembly steering committee member, and by the very nature of his campaign, a coalition of a wide spectrum of grassroots organizations all committed to real participatory democracy. This is different than the paternalistic lip-service given to helping the needy and the under-served which one hears in Progressive circles, an ethos which keeps the majority of people disenfranchised, while asking them to trust the expert Progressives and their tangled web of NGOs to solve problems about which they themselves usually have no first-hand knowledge.
James Lockridge, running for Ward 3 City Councilor, has proven time and time again that he is 100% committed to real and transparent public processes in all aspects of City governance. His work to investigate and expose the inconsistencies in Arts governance in Burlington, his work to bring in under-represented stake holders, his attempts to implement the most basic due process in the administration of Burlington City Arts despite strong resistance to reform, demonstrate patience, diligence, and an undying faith in the ability of people to do better. His advocacy for the preservation of 242 Main and the Memorial Auditorium, his work as director of Big Heavy World, also are strong evidence of his commitment to strengthening the voice and agency of youth and adults in our community. His Progressive opponent is, on the other hand, deeply ingrained in that old boys’ and girls’ club that thinks it already has all the answers. Pine is an apologist for the mall rezoning and downtown development and a strong vocal supporter of Jane Knodell, notorious for her blatant disregard of the will of her constituents.
Charles Simpson, running as a Progressive for Ward 6 City Councilor, has proven himself a tireless advocate for democratic due diligence and fair and sustainable decision-making processes. As a founding member of the South End Alliance, Save Open Space-Burlington, the Pine Street Coalition, and Save our Skies (all member groups of the Coalition for a Livable City), Charles has worked from the grassroots up towards sustainable community-driven solutions to the threat of gentrification in the South End Arts District, to the development of the Burlington College land, the downtown mall rezoning, the Champlain Parkway, and the F-35 basing, and more. Charles deserves a seat at the table, and Ward 6 deserves a councilor as devoted and knowledgeable as Charles in these complex times.
PLUS also endorses Max Tracy for Ward 2 Councilor, Ali Dieng for Ward 7 Councilor, and Ib Nar for School Board—all of whom have demonstrated true commitment to increasing the agency and voice of the many, diverse people of Burlington and defending democracy against conflicts of interest, coercion from monied interests, and the corruption of party politics.