“The only thing new in the world is the history you don't know.” -- Harry Truman

Monday, September 28, 2020

Explore The Vermont Way

A fresh look at a remarkable place


Restless Spirits, Popular Movements

From Ethan Allen to Bernie Sanders, Vermont has forged a separate path as a small, independent state with a strong sense of how to preserve its basic traditions while changing with the times. Green Mountain Politics revisits its unique story through movements and memorable people who have created the delicate balance of sovereignty and solidarity, political independence and mutual aid known as the Vermont Way. The journey features a memorable cast of characters. 


Many episodes have also been released on other websites, as well as in live presentations. The project also includes rare photos, dramatic stories and an episode from The Vermont Movie. Latest — Culture War in Bennington; Birth of the NPAs   2017 additions -- Cleaning up the World: Vermont's First Earth Day, Earth Day 1990: Making Peace with the Planet and Dark Shadows in Vermont's Past.  Also check out Class Struggle: From Socialism to the American Plan and How Traditions and Values Have Defined the Vermont Way (Green Mountain Noise, 2VR, Spring 2014) Publishing partners include VTDigger, Center for Global Research, Second Vermont Republic, ZNet, and Toward Freedom.   

Monograph available as PDF
What is the Vermont Way? The term has been used to describe everything from the traditional way to make maple syrup and smart farming in general to a political campaign agenda and the ability to make something out of almost nothing. Sometimes it extends into the phrase “the Vermont way of life.” When he left the Republican Party Jim Jeffords said, “Independence is the Vermont Way.” In her autobiography Consuelo Northrup Bailey, the first female attorney admitted to practice before the US Supreme Court and the first female lieutenant governor in the nation, said the character of Vermont was defined by “everyday, common, honest people who unknowingly salted down the Vermont way of life with a flavor peculiar only to the Green Mountains.”

"Serenade in Green"

Green Mountain Politics describes the state’s delicate dance of sovereignty and solidarity, independence and mutual aid. The subtitle refers to the focus on political, economic and social events, trends and personalities. Covering centuries, this transmedia project features unique stories, sketches of key figures, and original analysis that explains how the Vermont Way evolved. The following installments are available:

Dark Shadows in Vermont's Past 

The Parkway That Never Was
From The Vermont Movie, directed by Nora Jacobson
 This 5:53 film segment streams on this site and allows scrolling with audio

An illustrated print edition is being developed, with new insights about influential Vermonters like revolutionary leaders Matthew Lyon and Ethan Allen, Anti-Mason Governor William Palmer and feminist Clarina Nichols; railroad and marble tycoons, anti-slavery activists, major strikes and labor protests; Vermont-born Presidents Chester Arthur and Calvin Coolidge and progressive politicians James Burke and Ernest Gibson; intimate portraits of Governors Phil Hoff, Tom Salmon, Richard Snelling, and Madeleine Kunin, as well as Bernie Sanders, James Jeffords, and Howard Dean. Plus, the Vermonter who rescued America from McCarthy. Excerpts from Greg Guma's Dangerous Words and Maverick Chronicles are also available:

Subscribe to The Vermont Way for articles and event announcements. 
See more excepts at VTDigger.org

Video: Vermont Pastoral 

Photo Montage & Music by Greg Guma 

Sunday, August 30, 2020

A Progressive Censors Red Emma

September 3, 1909: Burlington Mayor stops Anarchist from speaking

James Burke, Burlington's first Progressive mayor, in 1906.

Geography made Burlington the fastest growing part of Vermont as early as the 1820s, when a canal at the southern end of Lake Champlain created a trade route from Canada to New York. Once railroad lines were added along the burgeoning waterfront, what became known as the Queen City emerged as the region’s transportation and business hub.

“In a commercial point of view,” crowed the Burlington Clipper newspaper, “Burlington is most favorably placed.”

What was true for commerce also held for immigrants. Waves of Irish, French Canadians, Italians, Jews and Germans rolled in. The effects were clearly felt by the turn of the century. Vermont remained a rock-ribbed Republican state, but an active working class emerged in Burlington and Democrats, albeit some of them prosperous “charter members” of the community, took control of City Hall.

In the years that followed Burlington hosted “progressive era” reforms like a municipally-owned electric company, public dock and restrooms, an attractive train depot with modern amenities, playgrounds for children, and a public wharf. A central figure during this period was James E. Burke, a Democrat first elected Mayor in 1903 and re-elected six times over the next 30 years.

A Catholic blacksmith and son of Irish immigrants from Canada, Burke began his political career when he was almost 50, becoming a champion of the poor, labor, and ethnic newcomers. After rising to prominence largely on the freedom to reach the public with his ideas, you might think he would cherish the right of dissent no matter who was speaking. Yet Burke sometimes revealed a tendency to drown out his opposition.

There was the night when the Masons visited the City Council to request tax exempt status on their Church Street property. Hamilton Peck, a former Republican mayor with whom Burke had battled over control of the Street Commission, represented the Masons. When he asked to speak, Burke rapped his gavel angrily and refused.

Assuming that he spoke for everyone, the mayor told the lawyer that they’d heard as much of his talk as they wanted. Peck accused Burke of denying his right to speak. A Board majority decided to give him five minutes.

“The mayor not being a mason,” Peck began. That was too much for Burke. “I resent that,” he interrupted, “be a gentlemen.” Peck continued, threatening a lawsuit in the process. Burke was defiant, virtually daring the Masons to file. Members in the audience stormed out in disgust.

Given his short fuse, it’s no wonder that Burke often found himself in legal battles. Luckily for Burlington, he was frequently sustained in court. That was the case with the Masons, who refused to pay their taxes until 1910, when the State Supreme Court ruled against them.

But his most infamous moment of intolerance came on September 3, 1909. In the midst of battles with corporate power, he used police power to deny the freedom to speak to a woman whose philosophy he abhorred.

Emma Goldman
Emma Goldman was one of the most famous radicals in the country, a forceful speaker who had come to Vermont to discuss “anti-militarism” and the truth about anarchism. In Barre and Montpelier, although some people did object, she found public venues. Her audiences paid 25 cents for admission and were certainly educated and entertained, if not persuaded.

The night before her Burlington engagement at City Hall, however, Mayor Burke sent a telegram to Montpelier telling her that the auditorium wasn’t for rent, even though her manager had put down a deposit. On September 2, the Burlington Free Press printed the mayor’s statement:

“Announcement having been made that Miss Emma Goldman, apostle of anarchy, would speak at City Hall Friday night, I wish to say that she will not be allowed to preach any of her un-American doctrines in any building owned by the City of Burlington; and I would also request that the proprietors of all other halls refuse to let her have them for the above-named purpose, and I believe it is about time that the American people should insist that Miss Goldman while representing her anarchist teachings, should not be allowed to address public audiences.”

Burke’s hard-line position confused the city’s small Jewish community. The mayor was popular among them, but Goldman was, to be sure, a well-known Jew. Some people wanted to see her. Reacting quickly, her manager Ben Reitman made emergency arrangements for Goldman to speak at Isaac Perelman’s Hall on the corner of Ceder and LeFountain Streets. On the day of the talk he distributed red posters around town.

Goldman’s topic was supposed to be “Anarchism and What It Really Stands For.” She wanted to respond directly to the mayor’s attack. To draw the line more clearly, the following words were emblazoned on the publicity flyers:


Most storekeepers refused the flyers or tossed them out. But a large billboard with the same message was propped against the fence in front of the Unitarian Church.

Ben Reitman
At 7 p.m. “Red Emma” and Reitman arrived at the hall. A large crowd was already inside. Burke was outside with two policemen. When Goldman tried to enter, the officers took up positions in front of the door and Burke made a speech. She was forbidden to enter, he said. Attacking her politics again, he added that citizens were angry and at least one merchant in the neighborhood feared violence.

Goldman and Reitman, known as "king of the hobos," had seen this kind of hostility and disregard for speech rights in other places. Deciding to withdraw, they asked if Reitman could enter alone to address the audience as a member of the New York Free Speech Committee. Burke refused, ordering both of them “in the name of peace, of society and of law and order” not to speak anywhere in his city.

The next day the anarchists departed for Massachusetts and the mayor proudly claimed that he had done his duty – protecting Burlington from un-American ideas and “treasonable utterances.” 

It wasn’t one of Burke’s more progressive moments.