by Guy Page
July 4, 2020 – Howard Pyle’s 1903 painting “The Nation Makers” depicts a small line of determined Revolutionary War soldiers, tattered and bandaged, surging into battle. A Rockwell Center for Visual Studies essay says, “none of these individuals turn and look out at us the viewers, instead they are all moving forward into their future. That concentrated action gives us hope that we too will bear our responsibilities honorably.”
I met some latter-day Nation Makers this morning, at the Independence Day celebration on the State House lawn. People who see what’s wrong and don’t sit back and wait for others to fix it. They don’t see themselves in Pyle’s painting, of course. Hearing the comparison would move them to self-conscious, embarrassed laughter. I can imagine one of them, Second Amendment activist Jim Sexton of Essex Junction, saying, “those dudes were heroes, man.”
But the word ‘hero’ fits Karen Cummings Skau. You’ve probably never heard of her. In Bennington last month, among protesters yelling about police brutality and defunding the police, she stood, alone and calm, holding a pro-police sign and an American flag.
She had come to the Bennington protest even though an organizer had urged followers to “put the [expletive] in her place. “I only live a block from the protest but it was the longest walk of my life as I marched down to the PD with my American flag and sign,” she wrote me in an email two weeks ago. “My legs were shaking and my heart was pounding the whole way there.” Her sign snatched away and torn in half, Skau stayed anyway, proudly holding the flag that stands for law, order, and everyone’s right to peacefully protest.
Tonight, Cummings, her (new) sign and her flag will be seen at another protest in Bennington. Alone, again, if necessary. The Star Spangled Banner yet waves because those who love her endure the rockets’ red glare and the bombs bursting in air.
Bradford Broyles isn’t your typical Deplorable. He’s kind of a west-coast Hollywood guy – a real-life movie producer. (He actually knows Tom Hanks.) But he’s not afraid to speak truth out of power. When the City of Montpelier this week said it hadn’t enough time to process John Klar’s June 29 application to paint “Liberty and Justice for All” on State Street July 3, Broyles submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for the blurry-quick approval given to paint Black Lives Matter in front of the State House. Now Klar’s request is on the July 8 agenda. Was Broyles’ FOIA a factor? Maybe, maybe not. But he got involved. He took action. He’s in the front line. Ditto for Secretary of State candidate Brooke Paige who has issued a court challenge to the plan to mail ballots to every registered voter.
Nation Makers like Linda Kirker just don’t know when to stop marching towards the guns. A single mom who put herself through nursing school and then served in the Vermont Legislature, in her “retirement” she hosts “Sound Off,” a St. Albans weekly cable-access news show. Every week she gives her audience a Constitutional perspective. She’s also well-known for talking to young people of all ages about the benefits of the U.S. Constitution and our nation’s history of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. She is like the elderly preacher who when asked how long he intends to keep preaching, answers, “I was called to fight the Devil and when he quits, I’ll quit.”
People who listen to WDEV’s morning call-in shows often hear a pro-life caller named “Ruth from Sheldon.” Her full nom-de-plume is Ruth Saddleburr, she told me this morning. And indeed “Ruth” – whose real initials are D.B. – has been a burr under the saddle of Vermont’s left-leaning radio show hosts for more than a generation. Like Linda, she’s no sunshine patriot. She’s a Nation Maker. Her weapon is her phone, and she’s a crack shot.
Then there are the candidates for the Legislature. It’s easy to dismiss those who run for public office, risking public humiliation and (not unlikely for conservatives in Vermont) defeat. Today I met Samantha Lefebvre, running for the House in Williamstown, and Sally Achey, running against a strong Progressive incumbent in the Rutland County town of Middletown Springs. I chatted with Lt. Gov. candidate Dana Colson, and Lynn Dike of Bristol, Ericka Bundy Redic of Burlington, and Maryse Dunbar of Essex, all running against strong opposition for House seats. It takes courage, love, and fire-in-the-belly to march towards November 3, knowing a powerful opponent may draw blood at any time. That guy marching in front – could it be gubernatorial candidate John Klar, who has raised a company of fellow candidates marching under the banner of politically incorrect love of country and Constitution.
It goes without saying that I could list many more Vermont Nation Makers, including some who attended this morning. But like the Rockwell essay said – they’re not looking at us for applause. Their reward is victory, or at least failing knowing they did their best.
The scary thing about being a Nation Maker is that you don’t get to sit in a comfy chair and read a history book about what you accomplished. There is only the future. The battle. Outcome unknown except for the certainty of hard work. Failure a real possibility. Yet still you march forward.
Happy Independence Day and God bless you to all the Nation Makers and to the Americans they inspire.
Photo credit Howard Pyle’s “The Nation Makers,” Rockwell-Center.org.