By Guy Page
Last week, the BIPOC Affinity Public Meeting for Vermont’s Climate Action Plan was cancelled because some non-BIPOC people had registered. Because the meeting organizers demanded BIPOC-only participation, the meeting was rescheduled last night.
The meeting was sponsored, publicized, and facilitated by the Vermont Climate Council, a state board empowered by the Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA) to recommend reductions in carbon emissions. The GWSA specifies addressing the climate change impacts on BIPOC Vermonters.
After a lengthy back-and-forth email conversation this week in which two state officials – including the Secretary of the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources – strongly discouraged me from joining the meeting, I decided to attend anyway. As a longtime journalist, I said I believe that all government-sponsored meetings should be open to the press. And I said I oppose excluding anyone – press or not – from a government-sponsored meeting due to skin color.
Editor’s opinion: What the state-sponsored public hearing organizers call a safe ‘affinity space,’ I call ‘discrimination.’ I do not doubt their sincere desire to right wrongs. I share it. But a cowering acceptance of government discrimination on the basis of race sets a poisonous precedent. It invites more of the same – or worse. On the morning he was deported from Russia, dissident Alexandr Solzhenitsyn exhorted his followers to “Live Not By Lies.” Whenever and wherever government dresses up explicit discrimination with a new name and a friendly face, we must call it out. When we let government condone evil in the name of Good Intentions, we pave the road for inevitable future abuses.
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Last night’s Zoom meeting began at 6 pm. I joined at 6:04 by phone.
Vermont Climate Council consultant and meeting facilitator Kiah Morris began the meeting with the Land Acknowledgement – a statement something like the mirror image of the Pledge of Allegiance, in which the land of the State of Vermont is acknowledged as belonging to native Americans.
She also compared the “present day reality of migrant day farmworkers” to slavery. And she took pains to not leave Lake Champlain out of the Land Acknowledgement. She said she breaks out in rashes whenever she goes in the water, and that fish and shellfish are not safe to eat due to toxic chemicals.
Morris then restated the purpose of discouraging non-BIPOC people from participating: BIPOC Vermonters need an “affinity space” to express a perspective that “is not often welcome, that is not often acceptable.” Vermont has historically “not done a good job” with affirming BIPOC perspectives, and is not doing so now, either, she claimed.
“We are all losing if we do not all come together,” Morris said. “We must all honor each other in these spaces.”
Morris lamented the inability of some to “honor these spaces.” She claimed some people last week sought to join the meeting as “voyeurs and potentially to act as disrupters.”
I registered for the October 5 BIPOC-only public meeting that was cancelled last week. I don’t know if Ms. Morris was referring to me as a ‘voyeur’ or ‘potential disruptor.’ I do know that after last week’s cancellation, I had an email exchanges with Jane Lazorchak, the Director of the Global Warming Solutions Act, and Secretary of the Agency of Natural Resources Julie Moore. They both were reluctant to have me participate. However, in the end they were unwilling to block my participation. I registered for last night’s meeting yesterday afternoon.
I joined the Zoom meeting by audio only, because my phone connection is less susceptible to disruption than my video internet connection. Several minutes into the call, the moderator asked me to identify myself. “Guy Page, Vermont Daily Chronicle,” I said.
Morris then stated ground rules for media coverage, including asking permission to use any information presented. “We ask you to do that outside of this space,” she added.
Morris then referred to the gathering as a “public meeting.” According to long-held understandings of freedom of speech and of the press, anything said at a government-sponsored public meeting is considered fair game for publication. Permission after the fact is not needed. Because of poor audio quality and having to leave the meeting a couple of times, I didn’t get many names. But I did get their many of their statements. The most relevant are published below.
Many of the concerns raised by the BIPOC-only attendees had little direct link to being BIPOC in Vermont.
One woman said Vermont could use more biogas energy. A Grand Isle resident said his flat, island county is prone to climate-related flash floods. “That costs us more money. We need to find a way to make our homes more flash-flood resilient.”
However, at least one explicit intersection between race and climate was mentioned. An indigenous Vermonter pointed to the historic injustices of Big Hydro in Canada, the source of about a quarter of Vermont’s electricity.
Canadian Hydro power is responsible for flooding indigenous people out of their ancestral lands, he said. He noted the irony: in the development of low-carbon power deemed necessary to limit future flooding caused by global warming, many indigenous peoples lost their homes to intentional, man-made flooding.
“North of the border there have been thousands of indigenous peoples who have become climate refugees due to flooding,” he said. He called for a moratorium on Big Hydro in the U.S. and Canada and it “needs to be replaced by a more ethical, more responsible source.”
Recommendations made last night will submitted for inclusion in the Council’s pending Action Plan. The next meeting of the full Climate Council is scheduled for November 9.
Categories: State Government