Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Marlboro College and Community Politics

This past weekend, I went down to Marlboro College in Southern Vermont, where I graduated from in Southern vermont in 1998. It was parent's day and I had volunteered to be part of a panel discussion about, "What happens after Marlboro?" Marlboro is not your typical college. It's not even your typical small liberal arts college. This college, which is about to celebrate it's 60th birthday has a student population that hovers around 300, largely self-designed majors, and tutorial style classes that encourage intellectual dialogue. Marlboro is one of the few colleges that has continued to focus on its mission, which is quoted below.

"The goal of Marlboro college is to teach students to think clearly and to learn independently through engagement in a structured program of liberal studies. Students are expected to develop a command of concise and correct English and to strive for academic excellence informed by intellectual and artistic creativity; they are encouraged to acquire a passion for learning, discerning judgement, and global perspective. The college promotes independence by requiring students to participate in the planning of their own programs of study and to act responsibly within a self-governing community."

Guess what? They actually fulfill their mission. Unlike other colleges that are focusing on building fancy student centers that resemble an elite country clubs so that students aren't "bored" by the proces of intellectual development, Marlboro actually focuses on creating the type of learning community that is the root of successful democracy. When they say "self-governing community", they mean it. There is a town meeting once a month that all community members including staff, faculty, and students, are invited to attend. The image below is from a town meeting in 2004 and came from the photo gallery at Marlboro's website. There is student select board elected through the town meeting. When I was there, I was on the admissions committee and actually had a real vote. If the idea of giving college students this type of power makes you nervous, perhaps you should pay a visit to the Marlboro College website www.marlboro.edu and see how seriously students take their role in the community and their academic studies. It is pretty well known in basic psychology that there is a direct correspondence between people's behavior and how you treat them. If you treat college students like rebellious adolescents, that is how they will behave. If you treat them like young citizens, they act as such.

So, what is the link between graduating from Marlboro and my current perspective on community politics. Politics, like higher education, has been "dumbed down". Most politicians speak in bullet points and when the occasional politicians begans showing intellect through discussions on real policy issues, they are often criticized for not reaching out to the general public. If the general public can only think in bullet points and make decisions based on charm, maybe we need to re-think civics education from kindergarten straight through college. Let's see, the educational "philosophies" (I put this in quotes because the word philosophy implies that there is some substantial thought put into an idea) that our currently being promoted through such educational policies as No Child Left Behind (NCLB), undermines autonomy and critical thinking at every turn. There is a huge amount of funding for early literacy, as there should be, but adolescent literacy, aka comprehension, is not funded. It is critical that students learn to read and it is equally, if not more important that they are able to understand and question what they are reading. Not surprisingly, George Bush, who clearly lacks comprehension skills himself, is pushing to raise a generation of readers who lack comprehension skills. He has a personal investment in NCLB because it is voters who lack comprehension skills, but are still able to read simple bullet points, that will continue to support unknowingly a government that goes to war on false pretenses.

I had the pleasure of attending another event for Scudder Parker scudderparker.com , democratic candidate for Vermont governor, this evening at the Labor Hall in Barre. Scudder Parker, instead of "dumbing down" politics to the supposedly ignorant masses, is committed to "smarting up" voters by explaining how he plans to help Vermonters through "concise and correct English". Scudder Parker is the type of candidate that knows how smart Vermonters are and provides them with the informaton they need to make informed decisions at home, in their community, and at the polls. He sees the roots of the "affordability crisis" in Vermont and explains how he plans to make Vermont more affordable through energy efficiency initiatives, real health care reform, and a commitment to education for all Vermonters. A 3% wage increase is not sufficient these more deep rooted issues and he knows that. Furthermore, Scudder represents the democratic Vermont community that I learned how to participate in at Marlboro College. I look forward to being an active member of this larger, but equally committed and intelligent state-wide democratic community. Vote for Scudder Parker on November 7th and you might get the chance to experience a real democracy.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Robb on the Campaign Trail

This is Robb on the literal Campaign Trail. He has a Bernie for U.S. Senate and Scudder Parker for Vermont Governor. The tides are changing and little Vermont is known for making ripples in the ocean of America's drowning political system.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Rugged individuals find common trail

So, in my profile I said that Hiking, Robb (human partner), and Ella (my canine companion) are some of my hobbies. Today I spent the day hiking Camel's Hump, one of Vermont's most beautiful peaks with Ella and Robb. It was a perfect crisp fall day. The leaves are this glorious, almost iridescent yellow, ruby red, and some delicious orange color, interspersed with some evergreens. We got a little bit of a late start and didn't get to the trailhead in Duxbury until a little before 2.

Now that I've painted this picture of a perfect Fall day inVermont, back to the whole community piece. Hiking, while many people see it as an opportunity to be alone in the woods, has a big community component. For starters, you are usually hiking on public land. This land is often maintained by committed individuals who see the value of giving people the opportunity to explore the outdoors without overburdening the environment. The whole point of a hiking trail is that the land around it that is so calming for us humans to observe as you trek up the mountain, is able to continue to support a fragile ecosystem. So, even if you are hiking alone, you are a part of a community of people who agree to follow some basic rules such as staying on the trail, not littering, and being respectful to other hikers. People actually follow these rules without people watching over them. Hikers, unlike Representative Foley and some of Washngton's other conservatice "leaders", can be trusted on what is mostly the honor system.

When people hike alone, they are part of a community that they may or may not see. Still, they show respect for this community through their actions on the trail. Many people hike together, either with one other person or in a larger group. Unlike many other social activities in the modern world, hiking actually encourages dialogue. As you relax, you are able to talk about things that you care about, whether it is the environment, music, education, or any other passion and/or concern. Something about the silence of the woods, brings out a more honest voice from within. Also, when you run into other people on the trail, there are often some common values that you already share, the obvious of which is a concern for the environment. Yesterday, when Robb and I were on the trail, we ran into a couple from North Carolina. In our five minute conversation we touched on some important issues such as global warming and urban sprawl. We skipped all the small talk that is often part of getting to know people because we only wanted to stop for a few minutes and because we already had this common interest and experience of the woods that surrounded us.

So, perhaps we all need to step away from the chaos of our daily lives every now and again to find our voice. Some people find their voice through meditation or prayer. Some find their voice through music. One of the places that I find my voice and find community is when I am on a hiking trail. Oh, and look at that gorgeous view that we were able to enjoy at the summit of Camel's Hump.

That view is a great reminder of why I am so committed to taking action to protect our environment. I hope it reminds you to do the same.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Scudder, Vermont's Next Grassroots Governor

I never thought I would have a title for my post that resembled a campaign slogan because political cheerleading is not my thing, but every now and then there are people who run for political office that are actually natural leaders. Scudder Parker http://scudderparker.com is that type of leader. I'm reading the companion book to the Eyes on the Prize PBS series about the Civil Rights Movement http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/eyesontheprize/ and there is this wonderful quote about social change and leadership. In the introduction by Julian Bond (While Martha Rainville's staff does not feel obligated to site sources, I was taught that plagiarism is illegal-see MLA style guide) he reflects on how this printed companion to the documentary Eyes on the Prize series, emphasizes the grassroots nature of the Civil Rights Movement. (This is where you use quotation marks) "First, it takes readers beyond the popular belief that larger than life figures such Martin Luther King, Jr. and John F. Kennedy were the movements important players. That is not to diminish those men, but, as you will learn, they were not solely responsible for this era or its successes. That insight is important because, nowadays, few people believe it."

With his people-powered engine (PPE-see picture at left), which is a vehicle that is powered by people pedalling bicycles inside the "engine", Scudder has created a beautiful literal and metaphorical representation of people power. Scudder Parker and his supporters recognize that the only way for real change is through leaders that represent the grassroots movements. Bond goes on to explain why the turning point for the Civil Rights movement came when it did. "When people stopped waiting for someone else and formed their own movement in the 1950s, the problem of legal segregation was overcome. That movement molded a Martin Luther King, and perhaps a future movement will create another leader of comparable stature." At his 60th birthday party at the shelter in Montpelier's Hubbard Park, Scudder articulated a sentiment that reflects his commitment to his leadership role in grassroots change. I am para-phrasing, but the thrust of Scudder's statement was that a leader comes about when the need arises out of a people powered movement and he is honored to be that leader. Leadership that emerges from the people instead of the corporations! Wow, what a novel concept. Maybe that's what our fore-people meant by a representative democracy.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Community and Grassroots Politics in Vermont

I moved back to Vermont last April and couldn't have come at a better time in terms of political activism. I moved away from Vermont a year after I graduated from Marlboro College marlboro.edu in 1999 to go graduate school. For a small state, Vermont is certainly good at staying on the politcal radar. Vermont was particularly in the spotlight when they legalized Civil Unions in 2000. This piece of legislation set the precedent for other states to pass similar measures that recognize long term partnerships of same gender couples. Would other states have been brave enough to pass similar legislation had it not been for Vermont paving the road? Vermont did have somewhat of a conservative backlash after this legislative, with the motto "Take Back Vermont" dotting the lawns of Vermonters who opposed civil unions. As it becomes more and more clear to the general American populace that the Republican administration is only interested in corporate profits, this conservative backlash seems to be losing steam.

Now Vermont is at it again, by rejuvinating grassroots politics. Despite a more than 6 million dollar political campaign Republican millionaire Richard Tarrant has not been able to take the lead in the race for US senate against eight term U.S. House Rep Bernie Sanders bernie.org. Guess why? Bernie's supporters have a strong community and are adept at the grassroots organizing that is essential to win a campaign in a state where people still discuss politics on line at the grocery store. Bernie's supporters may not write big checks, but they show up to events, volunteer to distribute literature, and can discuss Bernie's history and stance on key political issues. Yes, politics by and for the people actually still exist in this country.

I will write more about other Vermont candidates to keep an eye on in future blogs. For now, take a look at their websites. Scudder Parker scudderparker.com , a former minister from Vermont's Northeast Kingdom and expert on energy efficiency is gaining the lead over current Republican Governor Jim Douglas. Peter Welch welchforcongress.com is gaining steam in the race for US house against Martha Rainville. Finally, Matt Dunne mattdunne.com is running one of the most creative and people centered political campaigns for Lieutensent Governor I have ever witnessed. Politics by and for the people! It still happens here in Vermont and we plan to be a model for the rest of the country so watch out.