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Going back to where I come from
Because this nonsense is taxing
When my family took long car rides, we entertained ourselves by either silent reading, car games, or storytelling. I always carried a book with me, as reading was my preferred idle time activity. But sometimes I told my brother stories. Mostly made up. Some were memorized from various fairy tale anthologies.
Yesterday, my friend Lalitha and I hightailed it out of town to avoid receiving any anticipated backlash from an article about our recent experience in Montpelier. It calls some City folks out, names racism, identifies the harms, and quotes both of us. I had warned my board president about it, in case any negative press reflected on the organization.
We spent the drive processing the events leading up to the story, the report, our thoughts, the initial aftermath. Then we tried to put it all behind us. We were going to visit with my Mom, who was helping my Auntie Phady prep for her late husband’s memorial ceremony to take place this weekend. It was a dry sunny day, and we took the backroads from Montpelier to Brattleboro.
Being a girlfriend in arms often means holding space for the whirlwind of emotions and helping to sort out the big deals from the niggling nothings. This road trip was part of that–a way to lose the intensity of primal scream by drawing it out along Routes 12 and 5 and all the farmland and riverbank between. Leave it to stink in the morning sun like the manure that pierced our noses. Let it rot and fall with the grace of the forgotten barns we sped past.
There’s one facet of this story that I would like to examine. That is City Manager Bill Fraser’s and Mayor Jack McCullough’s claims that “The city’s consistent position is that nobody should have been denied the food” (McCullough), even if that decision was made “after a very short time” (Fraser) after their initial plan to deny food to certain people. Fraser implied that this very short time was within “in those first minutes” (FrontPorchForum post 7/26/23). No, he didn’t imply that. He actually said that.
Later in the article, both Fraser and McCullough acknowledge that this change was made after hearing directly from Lalitha about her concerns. It must be noted that Lalitha didn’t start serving food until Monday the 17th–a full week into the flood recovery efforts. She didn’t speak to the Mayor until the following Wednesday when she realized the situation was untenable. (This was not reported, but Lalitha confirmed this with me). So even if the change in policy happened at the snap of the Mayor’s fingers, it would have been late Wednesday afternoon that it was in place–a full 7 days after food service began. For context, that is 168 hours. Seven days is 10,080 minutes. I know Bill’s not a mathematician, but that is a lot of minutes. And it’s a very long time to withhold food.
The most important thing to note is not even that 10,080 minutes elapsed before someone at City Hall thought that it was wrong to withhold food from people of color, but that it took another person of color to raise the issue in the first place. That she was listened to at all was a miracle. Though the fact that the events warranted an article means that she was not “listened to” but rather “responded to”. I don’t think the folks in charge actually listened to Lalitha.
But let’s look at the facts.
A few white people in City Hall decided that some people were not qualified to receive free, donated food. Even though this would likely be a discriminatory practice. A person of color administering free food found this problematic and spoke to EVERY SINGLE WHITE PERSON WHO COULD DO ANYTHING ABOUT IT and asked them to do something about it. She talked to more than a handful–Vermont is bursting at the seams with white people.
Why did she only approach white people? They were the people in power–the Mayor, the City Manager, the Parks person in charge of the Hub–they were all white people. There was no one else to ask.
And instead of listening to her concerns and finding a timely, workable solution, Mayor passed the buck to the City Manager, and “hoped” that Lalitha would bring it up at a City Council meeting that he called to order, instead of being a true ally and bringing it up himself.
But she didn’t. She’d already brought it up to everyone that mattered. So “they” changed the “policy” (I’m guessing it was an informal policy, since I haven’t seen it in writing) amongst themselves (all white folks, mind) and considered it the problem solved. NONE of the people of color who were subject to this policy were informed about these changes. No one thought to cross the street and tell Lalitha about the change.
So within the 10,080 minutes it took for all this white nonsense to happen, if some folks were turned away during those seven days, let the record show that everyone at City Hall claims this was the policy from the start and that no one was denied food.
How do we account for the fact that Cameron O’Connor, a community member at the Hub who believed the original directive to be in force insisted day after day on adhering to it? 🤷🏻♀️
The message that the City refuses to own–that they discriminated against the workers of color in the way they permitted food distribution–was transmitted loud and clear such that it merited a mention in a VTDigger article a full nine days (15,840 minutes) after food service started.
Photos taken by Lalitha:
Mom and Phady outside making wax flowers using sweet potato molds
So organized! Lalitha and I stacked the flowers for their trip to the temple.
As soon as we arrive, food is spread before us.
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