White Supremacy Ain’t Just About the KKK, It Be Also Tied Up with Strange and Awkward ‘Political Revolutions’
Remember when Bernie first announced his candidacy for the President of the United States down on the waterfront? Of course the site they chose was not a coincidence, it was apparently where the “Burlington’s Not For Sale” slogan was born back in the early eighties. The view of the Adirondacks from Burlington has always been a great backdrop for seducing onlookers into believing that all is well in Vermont.
In the first few pages of his last book Bernie reflects on the way mainstream media outlets either mocked him, or didn’t even cover his campaign trail at the beginning of the race because his platform was dismissed as unrealistic. Even after he shined in the debates and activated young America to check themselves into the game, the status quo, even right here in Vermont, just couldn’t stomach a candidacy that was so critical of the power elite, with all of its unrealistic big ideas. People just weren’t ready for that loud, Brooklyn-Jewish accent and wayward hair.
I never understood why Sanders didn’t just run as an Independent candidate after losing the primary, after finally piercing into the nation’s consciousness. I was totally lost on why his loyalty to the Democratic party trumped the will of the people, and all of a sudden I was feeling berned in a different kind of way.
When he finally conceded to the nomination of Hillary, he was praised by the Welches of the world as being a ‘statesman,’ a lot of good that did for the American people. The first requirement of a statesman, wrote Dean Acheson, was that he be dull. Oy.
While Bernie took the nation by storm, a lot of swag got sold, and even if he didn’t go on to become president, the campaign had created a niche market for quite a few people, albeit periodic and temporary.
Back in the green mountain state, Vermonters could only really feel the Bern in theory as a hometown hero, urban myth, or great white hope. The political landscape in Burlington and the State of Vermont was suffering from the same maladies that Bernie attributed to the ‘American people’ around the country – the unaffordability of childcare, housing, health insurance, a college education, sharp increases in substance abuse, and yes, the prevalence of white supremacy culture.
By white supremacy culture I’m talking about individual and institutional characteristics like perfectionism, sense of urgency, defensiveness, quantity over quality, worship of the written word, paternalism, either/or thinking, power hoarding, fear of open conflict, individualism, progress = bigger/more, objectivity, and right to comfort. I’d also add orthodoxy to conventional wisdom to this list, especially when whiteness is used as a means for social control (this is where Black folks get the term “acting white”).
While the world was feeling the Bern, the house that Bernie built was being overcome by bigger/more – in the form of development at a rate and scale unprecedented in the City of Burlington, and the State of Vermont. Even more ironic, anyone with a critique of the prevailing conventional wisdom and its governing coalition were marginalized as “reactionary fringe” by Burlington, VT Mayor Weinberger.
It felt as though the city was being forced to submit to the idea that just because the city had a good bond rating, life was good for everyday people. And if you happen to be on the opposite side of the status quo, you may be summarily dismissed as a fringe member of the community, regardless of how many people struggle to make ends meet month to month, and day to day.
In reality, the Weinberger administration’s legitimacy hinges on a mediocre percentage of Burlington’s registered voters, the entanglement of transactional relationships with a selective cross section of the business community, the local nonprofit industrial complex, and individuals appointed to boards and commissions to serve the interest of the Clinton-style neo liberal agenda. The honorable Miro backed Clinton in theory as well as in practice.
When the Burlington Progressive Party opposed the Burlington Town Center proposal and its zoning changes, Mayor Weinberger responded by asserting, “What is happening is that there is a struggle going on for the soul of the party of Sanders, Clavelle, and Knodel,l” he announced to his democratic caucus… “a battle for the future of Burlington”.
Since Bernie was never a “Progressive” party candidate, I couldn’t tell if the mayor knew the difference between the progressive coalition that got Bernie into office, and the “Progressive” party that became institutionalized after he was elected.
Now that I’m a little more woke, I get the feeling that the struggle for the “soul of the party of Sanders” began long ago, when it sold out for a political economy that relied on war machines. The party of Clavelle, when the Legacy Project evaporated and was abandoned when Weinberger took office. The party of Knodell, when Bob Kiss became the scapegoat for the Burlington Telecom malfeasance, and a progressive agenda in city hall was usurped by charges of financial mismanagement.
Today, the so-called “battle for the future of Burlington,” rests on the tension between market-based growth (corporate interests) and community development principles/priorities (a socialist blueprint for public participation). At the same time, the nonprofit service-provider matrix is the fix for poverty management, and the bar for public engagement remains low.
With the disappearance of the ‘activist’ government from the early 80s, and what was considered to be a “progressive response to the Reagan Era,” power shifts at the municipal and state levels have moved to a throw-back to the small, self-perpetuating group of city fathers, when American cities and states were literally and figuratively “closed corporations.”
It may not have been openly referred to as white supremacy culture back then, but membership into these state-sponsored closed corporations required Jews, Irish, French Canadians, and other persons to become “white”.
With no statues of Robert E. Lee or confederate flags for easy targets, white supremacy culture can remain the norm without any open conflict about it.
2018 will mark the 35th anniversary since Mayor Bernie Sanders created the Community Economic Development Office (CEDO), which took on the broad mission of opening up the city’s government to economic development initiatives that would favor the city’s poor and working-class residents. We don’t do the same drugs no more.
With the deterioration of Burlington’s Neighborhood Planning Assemblies (NPAs) as a means for acting on the community and economic development principles that supported a ‘durable local economy,’ the focus of the city’s success now revolves around its bond rating status and tax increment financing – a play-now-pay-later set up that the current administration may not be around to account for when things fall apart.
Long gone are the days of CEDO’s goals toward job growth that would be distributed across the income spectrum, and Jobs and People report, which recommended a focus on locally owned and worker-owned and managed firms.
Where’s Bernie now? Not at the Burlington Neighborhood Planning Assemblies. In fact, after the election of Donald Trump last November, when Bernie swooped down into the Old North End to console the community and assure everyone that “all are welcome,” he did so on the day that the Wards 2/3 NPA was taking place, but chose a different audience and location. Organized by Carina Driscoll (who just announced she is considering running for Mayor of Burlington), Bernie’s appearance highlighted the disconnection from the neighborhood most neglected by the city. I think that was the night I closed my Bernie bro account.
As for Weinberger, whenever he brags about winning 68% of the vote in his last mayoral victory in March of 2015, he forgets to add that out of 31,195 registered voters, only 7,677 participated – out of which he got 5,241. That’s about 17% of the voting population in Burlington.
With so many decisions being made by so few people in the city, mistakes of judgment, policy, protocol, procedure, enforcement, and action are likely to happen at every level. Under this governing coalition equity will never be achieved.
Lucky for us, revolutions don’t really happen through elections. Revolutions happen in the classroom, when teachers and students build relationships. Revolutions happen at work, when coworkers are honest, humble and trusting of each other. Revolutions happen on the street, when people look out for one another.
 From Dismantling Racism: A Workbook for Social Change Groups, by Kenneth Jones and Tema Okun, ChangeWork, 2001
 “Activists in City Hall – The Progressive Response to the Reagan Era in Boston and Chicago”, Pierre Clavel
 “The Ungovernable City – The Politics of Urban Problems and Policy Making”
 Sustainable Communities – Creating a Durable Local Economy, Rhonda Phillips, Bruce Seifer, Ed Antczak