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Dissent and Democracy

January 12, 2015

reptomstevens

The State House was abuzz on Thursday past, what with the Legislature having to officially elect the Governor to serve this biennium, a homelessness vigil on the front steps at noon, and an inaugural speech interrupted by advocates and supporters of a universal health care plan that Governor Shumlin shelved in mid-December. We have an uneasy relationship with dissent — think of how we wanted people to be quiet during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — and yet the ability to dissent (free speech) was one of the freedoms we fought for in these wars. Even in Vermont, our expectations are for a balance between having one’s voice heard in a place that is far more accessible than its counterparts in other states, and a certain politesse expected of the public, especially during moments of pomp and circumstance.

Thursday’s Gubernatorial Inauguration was interrupted by a contingent from the Vermont Workers Center and Health Care is a Human Right. The organizations, along with many Vermonters (myself included), were grossly disappointed with the decision by Governor Shumlin to postpone plans for the discussion and/or implementation of a universal health care system in Vermont. Commonly called “single payer,” this form of delivering and paying for health care for everyone in the state of Vermont was the crown jewel of Governor Shumlin’s agenda, and he expressed very clearly that it was the biggest disappointment of his political career. The decision was interpreted as a death knell for universal health care, and it is hard not to agree. Members of the Vermont Workers Center and Health Care is a Human Right had worked for years to see Act 48 passed (which directed the administration to do the studies and present payment schemes), and they had invested incredible amounts of time and energy to support the Governor in his effort. That they were an effective voice for “regular” Vermonters — workers, the aged, the poor, the young — was a victory for their increased maturity as an organization. They promised a large crowd for the inauguration, and they delivered.

What was different was that they chose to be loud, proud, rude, constant and, to a degree and very superficially, disrespectful. Their tactics were, in my experience, unique to the Vermont State House. Some memories recalled a similar protest…in 1991. Read more