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Vermont in Search of Culture and Regional Identity

159

USA - May 23, 2018
Vermont which means “green” in French is at once a spectacle of great natural beauty, but also a region like a smoldering volcano that now and then releases ash plume and lava on the political scene, as the state has always had an uneasy peace with being a part of the United States.  

 Vermont, in Search of Culture and Regional  Identity

If one could draw a parallel with such independent and secessionist behavior by many of the citizens of Vermont, one could look at the new nation-states of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, who ironically would break away from the country of Georgia with the help of the Russian Army, after the demise of the Soviet Union.

The first European explorer to see Vermont was Jacques Cartier in 1535, and who made a record of exploring that region of North America.  However, it was on July 30, 1609, that the French explorer Samuel de Champlain claimed Vermont as part of New France. In 1666, French settlers erected Fort Sainte Anne on Isle La Motte, the first European settlement in Vermont, and thus the first political tensions and drama would be begin not only with the Native Americans who lived in what is now Vermont, but would eventually bring about two important wars, the so-called French and Indian War which was really a part of the Seven Years War and the American Revolution. Once the British and their American colonial allies were able to bring up Protestant settlers from Massachusetts, including the colony provinces from New Hampshire and New York, the yoke of Anglo-American dominance over the Mohawk and Abenaki natives, as well as the French Canadian settlers who had lived in the region since almost the beginning of New France, became an imperialist fact. Thus the actual people who had lived first in the region of Vermont found themselves as outsiders in their own domain of birth or home steading.  They would have to live with the Anglo-Americans within the Vermont Republic which was established in 1777 during the American Revolutionary War.

The dialectics of history regarding a country’s history can be strewn with political, economic and cultural confusion, and only slowly through the rumblings of political reaction, political upheaval and revolt, as if it were the rumblings of an earthquake, can one understand the possibilities for a peoples’ quest for Self-Determination and Independence.  In the case of the people of Vermont, the search for cultural and regional identity is part of a long process that should be studied by historians and political leaders here and abroad, who observe such regional, political distress or unsettling culture problems that are not resolved strictly be the illusion of national unity.

Vermont is rich in social contradictions that are not always publically addressed. There is homelessness in Vermont, there is also lack of work at times, and when there is work the jobs are not always stable, and amid this economic instability, there is also culture and racial tensions. In the Vermont Community Foundation which is one of many factual websites or editorial links that one can gleam the factual make-up of the state of Vermont, there was a study that was completed in 2007 in which it was admitted that “In 2005, the Vermont Business Roundtable’s Pulse of Vermont: Quality of Life study reported that Vermonters felt their quality of life was threatened by a lack of financial security and/or problems with affordable access to healthcare. Generally, Vermonters believed that their quality of life would improve with economic growth in the state.”  However, there is a labor movement in Burlington, Vermont led by the nurses and medical professionals of the Vermont Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals (VFNHP), and they are part of the vanguard of workers who struggle for a decent living wage. Vermonters, from my observation, are creative and disciplined workers, but the patrician class, the wealthy and elements of the Vermont middle class take the Vermont working class for granted and rarely acknowledge their social and creative contributions.  As a historian, who has lived in Vermont for twenty-eight years, I personally have seen many homeless workers on the streets of Burlington, who do not want to live by hand-outs, for they are a proud, hard-working people, but they are also neglected by the Vermont patrician class which rules over them since the days that proceeded the American Revolution.

 I have also talked to Abenaki Vermonters as well as French Canadian Americans who see themselves as economically and culturally outsiders, along with those Anglo-Vermonters, who do not feel a part of the Vermont communities that exist in the rural as well as in the city of Burlington. Even the youth of Vermont can find themselves in a state of economic distress or feel a lack of culture of identity and therefore they resort to drug usage.  As one document that the website Understanding Vermont quoted “Vermont ranks highest in the nation for illicit drug dependence or abuse in the past year in both the12 to 17 and 18 to 25 age groups.”  Finally, according to the United State Census as of 2016 only 66.2 % of Vermonters from the age of 16 + makes-up what is called civilian labor force, while there is 11.9% of citizens of Vermont in poverty.”  There was a University of Professor of Economics who professed about the economic instability in Vermont in which he wrote “Our population is aging, help wanted signs show that businesses are looking for workers and can’t find them, and state revenue growth is weaker than it would be if we had more people working and earning incomes. That’s the new normal for Vermont.”  Although I have only presented a few facts about the people in Vermont, these facts do not entirely do justice to the overall picture of Vermont. Therefore, I will also comment as a personal observer, something that the French historian, Alexis de Tocqueville understood, when writing about a country, as when he described his observations about the peoples and customs of the United States.

It should be understood that Les Verts Monts, that is “the Green Mountains” of Vermont is linked to French Québec by history, political struggle and identity.  Although the majority of the population are Anglo-Americans, what is not recognized by the Vermont bourgeoisie and its academic historians is that there are national minorities, refugees from South and Central America, as well as hundreds of political refugees from the Middle East and Africa who have sought a place to live in Vermont with the political dissent they came with from the countries they fled.  There have even been internationally famous dissidents who have lived in Vermont. It should be remembered that it was the CIA who helped the Soviet dissident, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, to settle in Vermont, after he was exchanged in a political swap during the so-called Cold War. The Russian novelist, being the extreme opinated man that he was, never contributed to the community landscape of Vermont. I mention the dissent from Russia, because the Russians who are curious about Vermont should know about the Vermont culture that Solzhenitsyn did not have the intellectual maturity to write about.

Culture identity and a regional sense of identity in Vermont is one of a long historical process. The regional, political nuances can be subtle in nature.  Hence, what is not understood is that the link between the state of Vermont and the Provence of Québec are tied together by French Canadian culture and Native Abenaki culture that goes back not only to the explorations of Samuel de Champlain, but also to the very Battle of Québec in 1759. That memorable battle, which has not always been understood, brought about the defeat of the impetuous Montcalm and his small French Canadian army against a larger force led by a terroristic and narcissistic, Major General Wolfe with his British naval and army forces. In less than thirty minutes, as that's about how long the battle lasted, French imperialism had its last breath, and British Imperialism began its rule not only of New France, but also to a regional area that would be known eventually as the state of Vermont, whose actual culture and regional identity are rooted with the people of Québec.

But history has its dialectical force which has its own irony and political redemption. There is now a small, but defiant and growing number of Vermonters who want to see a “Second Vermont Republic” that seeks "a nonviolent citizens' network and think tank opposed to the tyranny of Corporate America and the U.S. government, and committed to the peaceful return of Vermont to its status as an independent republic and more broadly the dissolution of the Union." The organization, the Second Vermont Republic, is an idealistic movement as such, and has no actual strategy or tactical polices to bring about such a democratic republic that it espouses in its declarations. It has yet to fully mature and understand the National Question and Self-Determination in the broadest political sense. However, the Second Vermont Republic group does sense the eventual dissolution of the United States whose break-up could be a more powerful and violent political earthquake than even occurred with the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Remember, that at the beginning of this essay, I had mentioned the political fight in similar struggles in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Vermont and Québec are forged together in wars of imperialism and history.  Vermont culture and regional identity is a historical process that is part of the world political landscape.

Author: Luis Lázaro Tijerina