Martha Abbott's blog

"Good fences make good neighbors"

A long time ago, Robert Frost wrote, “Good fences make good neighbors.”

In our time, it’s not the lack of fences that are a problem for neighbors; it is the lack of noise barriers.

Burlington has gone to great lengths to insure that there are effective noise ordinances in place in order to protect its residents from loud music and boisterous students.

When the baseball team came to Centennial Field, there were months of negotiations between the team, the city, and the neighborhood.  The team was required to erect noise barriers and to promise to turn the lights off by a certain time.

Now, Burlington has been asked by its neighbors in South Burlington and Winooski to be a good neighbor -- not to stifle the current high level of noise emanating from Burlington Airport, but not to exceed that level, to simply put safety standards in place, standards that would grandfather in current noise and crash risk levels.

But Burlington said NO.

The Burlington City Council has said to its neighbors: even though OUR airport is located in YOUR town, we aren’t going to enact any mitigation measures.

It’s as if UVM said to Burlington: even though our University is located in YOUR city, we don’t care how much noise OUR students make.  We don’t care how much OUR lack of student housing or OUR sprawl interferes with the quality of life of YOUR residents.  The City Council would never accept such a stance.

But, now the Burlington City Council has said just that to their neighbors.

They’ve said NO to the thousands of residents of South Burlington and Winooski who could now have to face the reality that their homes will be considered uninhabitable and worthless (as defined by the Air Force’s own study) and that they may need to move because the risk to life and limb is about to go way up thanks to the boondoggle that is the F-35.

The Burlington City Council has said NO to their neighbors, but YES to the local version of the Military-Industrial Complex.  Apparently, when the Chamber of Commerce and the Military join forces on something, they win, regardless of how bogus their arguments.  Of course, that’s what led to the F-35 program in the first place: Congress wanted to give a big gift to the defense industry.  No matter that the plane is poorly designed, way over budget, and likely to be useless in real combat.

The Burlington City Council has said NO, ignoring the fact that if this were put to a vote in Burlington, the PEOPLE of Burlington would say YES and vote to limit the airport to reasonable noise and safety standards.

Now, it’s going to be up to us to hold them accountable.  We must continue to raise our voices and not stop until we’ve been heard by those in power, those who yesterday turned a deaf ear to the people.  This fight isn’t over.

The Vermont Progressive Party: A Model for Change

The recent government shutdown in Washington makes clear that the Republican and Democratic parties are no longer capable of running a functioning government.  Nor are they capable of representing working people, or anyone else who does not have a corporate PAC behind them.  The two “brand name” parties have proven utterly incapable of solving one of the biggest problems of our time, global warming, which threatens the very future of human life on earth.

But imagine if we had a Progressive Party in every state right now.

Progressives are committed to working to create a better economy for all Vermonters, while promoting a safer and cleaner planet, and we work strategically to advance these issues.

From Church Street Marketplace and Burlington’s public waterfront (created and supported by Progressives in the 1980s) to shepherding the country’s first single-payer healthcare system through the Legislature in Montpelier, Progressives have worked hard to fight for the interests of working families and those with limited resources.  Once we promote these issues and they become popular, they are often co-opted by other parties, and then enacted.

Progressives continue to be effective in the Vermont Legislature far beyond our numbers, working tirelessly on behalf of middle-income, working Vermonters, who otherwise would have little voice in Montpelier.  We keep the conversations focused on the issues that matter to real Vermonters: on the need for affordable, universal health care and lower cost prescription drugs; on the damage done by outsourcing jobs and the need for a truly livable wage; on creating a sustainable economy and opposing budget cuts that hurt working people; on saving our family farms, supporting collective bargaining, labeling GMOs, developing renewable energy, decriminalizing marijuana, creating a fair tax system, keeping our utilities tightly regulated, closing Vermont Yankee, and more.

In the near future, we will also be focusing on banning direct corporate donations to candidates and parties, divesting Vermont's tax revenues from the fossil fuel industry, and creating a state bank, so that we can get our money out of Wall Street and instead use it to invest in Vermont’s local economy, infrastructure, and state colleges.

In the fourteen years since the Progressive Party was officially established, we have elected seventeen people to the Vermont Legislature, who have collectively served a total of fifty-two terms.

Since 1982, Progressives in Burlington have elected thirty-six people to the City Council, for a total of seventy-three terms, and three Mayors, for a total of thirteen terms.

For the past twelve years, I have been privileged to be State Chair of one of the most effective organizations for change in Vermont and across the country, but now it’s time for me to take on a different role.

Largely because we have focused on the core issues of economic and environmental justice – and because we stick to our principles, win or lose – we have attracted many young people to run for office, and to take on leadership roles on campaigns and within our party structure.

I am very pleased to find that after three decades of activism, we now have active and competent leadership across multiple generations.  For that reason, I am excited to be able to step down as Chair of the party with full confidence that there are many smart, capable, younger people who will step up and provide new leadership, energy and ideas.  I look forward to working with all of them.

2013 State Convention - A Message from our Chair

Dear Friends -

I’d like to invite you to join us for our upcoming Annual Convention on November 9th, at the Capital City Grange in Berlin.  If possible, please plan on arriving promptly at 12:30PM to enjoy a light lunch provided by our friends at the Vermont State Employees Association.

Capital City Grange, Berlin
November 9, 2013
Lunch & Registration - 12:30 PM
Convention - 1:00 PM

(RSVP on Facebook)

We have a very exciting agenda planned, including:

● a special video message from Prof. Bill McKibben;
● a discussion with and Student Activists about fossil fuel divestment issues;
Progressive Legislators will present their priorities for the 2014 session;
State Auditor Doug Hoffer will talk about his first year in office;
● and much more!

Our new State Committee will also elect five officers and six at-large members to the Coordinating Committee.  If you are interested in running for the CoCo, e-mail a short bio and picture to before October 31.  These bios will be posted on our website and will be available on the day of the meeting.  Nominations may also be made from the floor.

Finally, I want to remind you that there are many ways to help ensure the continued financial health and success of our party.  If you are not already a regular supporter, please consider establishing a monthly donation.  By signing up as an ongoing contributor, you allow us to spend less time fundraising and more time recruiting and training candidates.  If you already give monthly, please consider making a special, one-time donation to help us offset the costs of this year’s reorganization.  Remember, unlike the other two parties, we're an entirely people-powered party, which means we can’t do it without you!

Thank you for your support.  I look forward to seeing you in Berlin.


Martha Abbott
Party Chair

PS: The Vermont Workers’ Center will be holding their 15th Anniversary Celebration Dinner that evening at 6PM at the Old Labor Hall in Barre -- I hope to see you there, as well!

Black boys denied the right to be young

By Eugene Robinson, The Washington Post, July 15, 2013

Justice failed Trayvon Martin the night he was killed. We should be appalled and outraged, but perhaps not surprised, that it failed him again Saturday night, with a verdict setting his killer free.

Our society considers young black men to be dangerous, interchangeable, expendable, guilty until proven innocent. This is the conversation about race that we desperately need to have — but probably, as in the past, will try our best to avoid.

George Zimmerman’s acquittal was set in motion on Feb. 26, 2012, before Martin’s body was cold. When Sanford, Fla., police arrived on the scene, they encountered a grown man who acknowledged killing an unarmed 17-year-old boy. They did not arrest the man or test him for drug or alcohol use. They conducted a less-than-energetic search for forensic evidence. They hardly bothered to look for witnesses.

Only a national outcry forced authorities to investigate the killing seriously. Even after six weeks, evidence was found to justify arresting Zimmerman, charging him with second-degree murder and putting him on trial. But the chance of dispassionately and definitively establishing what happened that night was probably lost. The only complete narrative of what transpired was Zimmerman’s.

Jurors knew that Zimmerman was an overeager would-be cop, a self-appointed guardian of the neighborhood who carried a loaded gun. They were told that he profiled Martin — young, black, hooded sweatshirt — as a criminal. They heard that he stalked Martin despite the advice of a 911 operator; that the stalking led to a confrontation; and that, in the confrontation, Zimmerman fatally shot Martin in the chest.

The jurors also knew that Martin was carrying only a bag of candy and a soft drink. They knew that Martin was walking from a 7-Eleven to the home of his father’s girlfriend when he noticed a strange man in an SUV following him.

To me, and to many who watched the trial, the fact that Zimmerman recklessly initiated the tragic encounter was enough to establish, at a minimum, guilt of manslaughter. The six women on the jury disagreed.

Those jurors also knew that Martin, at the time of his death, was just three weeks past his 17th birthday. But black boys in this country are not allowed to be children. They are assumed to be men, and to be full of menace.

I don’t know if the jury, which included no African Americans, consciously or unconsciously bought into this racist way of thinking — there’s really no other word. But it hardly matters, because police and prosecutors initially did.
The assumption underlying their ho-hum approach to the case was that Zimmerman had the right to self-defense but Martin — young, male, black — did not. The assumption was that Zimmerman would fear for his life in a hand-to-hand struggle but Martin — young, male, black — would not.

If anyone wonders why African Americans feel so passionately about this case, it’s because we know that our 17-year-old sons are boys, not men. It’s because we know their adolescent bravura is just that — an imitation of manhood, not the real thing.

We know how frightened our sons would be, walking home alone on a rainy night and realizing they were being followed. We know how torn they would be between a child’s fear and a child’s immature idea of manly behavior. We know how they would struggle to decide the right course of action, flight or fight.

And we know that a skinny boy armed only with candy, no matter how big and bad he tries to seem, does not pose a mortal threat to a healthy adult man who outweighs him by 50 pounds and has had martial arts training (even if the lessons were mostly a waste of money). We know that the boy may well have threatened the man’s pride but likely not his life. How many murders-by-sidewalk have you heard of recently? Or ever?

The conversation we need to have is about how black men, even black boys, are denied the right to be young, to be vulnerable, to make mistakes. We need to talk about why, for example, black men are no more likely than white men to smoke marijuana but nearly four times as likely to be arrested for it — and condemned to a dead-end cycle of incarceration and unemployment. I call this racism. What do you call it?

Trayvon Martin was fighting more than George Zimmerman that night. He was up against prejudices as old as American history, and he never had a chance.

Shumlin’s New Tax on Low-Income Working Vermonters

Make no mistake: Governor Shumlin is proposing a broad-based tax increase on low-income working people.  Substantial cuts to the Earned Income Tax Credit are a tax increase by anyone’s measure. And a tax increase on the most vulnerable Vermonters, those who are working and raising children.

One example: A single mother of two small children who is self-employed and earns $27,000 a year.  She pays no income tax, but because she is self-employed, she pays $3,200 toward Social Security and Medicare (known as Self-Employment Tax on the Federal income tax return (1040), where it is collected from those who don't receive a W-2 from someone else).  Her Federal Earned Income Tax Credit is $3,200, which effectively pays that Self-Employment Tax.  Her Vermont Earned Income Tax credit is about $1,000.  That Vermont Earned Income Tax Credit effectively boosts her income for the year by $1,000 as an incentive because she is earning income and supporting her two children.

Obviously that $1000 makes a big difference in a household of 3 people, the difference between living on $27,000 or $28,000.  It is 3.5% of their income, so taking it away is essentially a 3.5% tax, which is really a 100% increase in their tax rate as the Vermont income tax rate on people of her filing status (head of household) making less than $46,000 is 3.5 percent.

Even Republican Lt. Governor Phil Scott said on the Mark Johnson show that he thought taking away people's Earned Income Credit was a bad idea because "this is money people use to buy groceries".

Governor Shumlin has said that he doesn’t want to raise taxes on the wealthy for fear they will leave the state.  I guess he figures low-income working Vermonters won’t leave, or does not care if they do.  Shumlin claims he is trying to incentivize people on welfare to get jobs, yet proposing now to penalize those who have jobs.  He claims he is trying to persuade young people to stay here and raise a family.  Someone should tell him that many young people are low-income earners when they first start a family.

This is the most regressive tax proposal to come out of any Governor’s office, Republican or Democrat, in recent memory.

Letter - A Challenge to Vermont's Other Major Political Parties

Today, I sent the following letter to my fellow major party Chairs, calling on them to join the Progressive Party in refusing corporate donations and asking them to join in a pledge to ask Super PACs to stay out of Vermont elections. This letter follows up on a resolution passed by the Party’s State Committee in November.

Jake Perkinson, Chair                Jack Lindley, Chair
Vermont Democratic Party         Vermont Republican Party
PO Box 1220                             PO BOX 70
Montpelier, VT  05601               Montpelier, VT 05601

Fellow Party Chairs,

The past two years saw historic levels of unlimited spending in Vermont and nationally on political campaigns by corporations and Super PACs on behalf of both Democratic and Republican Party candidates.

Here in Vermont, where we value the personal contact that we have with our political representatives, there has been a great deal of agreement from all sides of the political spectrum that the Citizens United decision was damaging to our democratic process.  Many people have called for a constitutional amendment to make it clear that corporations are not people, should not have the same rights as people, and that money is not speech.  This amendment would allow reasonable campaign finance limits that would prevent a handful of billionaires from being able to attempt to buy elections.

However, a constitutional amendment will take time.  Here in Vermont, we are fortunate to value the contributions of people of moderate means to the political process.  We can decide to preserve our open and accessible political process by agreeing to abide by some simple rules and insisting that all of the candidates who want the support of our respective parties also abide by these rules:

1) Refuse all corporate contributions.  Simply return those checks and ask that the corporate shareholders donate as individuals if they so wish.  Candidates for US Senate and US Representative are already prohibited under Federal Law from accepting donations from corporations.

2) Let’s agree that, as Chairs of our respective parties, we will pledge to publicly ask Super PACs not to spend money in Vermont on behalf of any candidate for public office.  Let’s also encourage all our candidates to do the same.  Let’s agree that, if any Super PAC does spend money on behalf of a Democrat, Republican or Progressive, that the favored party or candidate will donate half that amount of money to a Vermont charity.  Let’s also agree that we will challenge all the candidates who seek the support or nomination of our respective parties to make a similar agreement with their opponents.

We are lucky in Vermont to have a small community, where we know and respect each other and where democracy is alive and well.  Let’s show the rest of the country that we can take back our democracy from billionaires and corporations, and that we can do it by talking to each other and agreeing to work together on a level playing field even as we compete for votes.


Martha Abbott, Chair
Vermont Progressive Party

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