Two Project VISION members are continuing to promote what they are calling a “Declaration of Inclusion,” with the hope all Vermont municipalities will eventually pass their own version.
In December a sample version of the declaration, intended to show Vermonters value diversity and reject bias, was read as an example towns may want to follow.
“The Rutland region condemns racism and welcomes all persons regardless of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, gender identity or expression, age or disability and will protect those classes to the fullest extent of the law,” said Bob Harnish, who brought a similar version to his town of Pittsford.
During the Project VISION meeting, member Al Wakefield, who has been working with Harnish, described the goal as a way “to get exposed to all towns and counties in Vermont as well as in the governor’s office.”
Wakefield said a few days before the meeting, he and Harnish spoke to Xusana Davis, executive director for racial equity for the state.
“She found the statement to align itself with her goals and objectives,” he said.
By email on Monday, Davis said she hadn’t studied the declaration enough to be prepared to comment on it.
“But I can say generally that I was very excited about the fact that this is an effort by community to engage communities, and I would love to see these efforts grow and be incorporated into state initiatives,” she said.
Wakefield noted that when the proposal to spread the declaration to other counties was discussed at VISION in December, it has been passed in Franklin in Franklin County and Brandon and Pittsford in Rutland County. Since then, it has been approved by the select board in Waterbury in Washington County.
“Only 247 towns to go,” Wakefield said.
Wakefield, Harnish and Liz DiMarco Weinmann are working on a position paper.
Wakefield said the paper can be provided to residents of other towns who are interested in adopting it or adapting it so it’s appropriate for their own municipality.
The paper also provides some advice on how to present the idea, to whom it should be presented and how to generate support.
Mark Stockton, chairman of VISION, urged Wakefield to make sure the supporters reached out to multiple towns.
Wakefield responded that was one reason they were seeking support from Gov. Phil Scott’s office.
“Our real goal and mine is to get the governor to one day say, ‘This state welcomes everybody regardless of all the categories we’re talking about of all the people we’re talking about. We welcome them here. We’ll give them support while they’re here. We’ll protect them from injustices and inequality, etc., etc.,’” he said.
Wakefield called it a “marvelous opportunity” to be a “leader” in promising equity to all people in the state.
Weinmann added the declaration would also promote the economy.
“Considering that we’ve been getting — that the Herald has been getting — letters about let’s keep Vermont, Vermont and our downtowns still have dark retail establishments, the more that we can welcome people, in a way that helps them start businesses in Vermont, whether it be a Cuban restaurant, a Mexican restaurant, an Ethiopian restaurant … That’s what we need to with this diversity and inclusion,” she said during the VISION meeting.
Weinmann said businesses were a goal of the declaration she is helping to write.
“Think about that when people write letters to the Herald saying, ‘Oh we like Vermont just the way it is, we don’t need anything outside,’ Well, we kinda do because our economy will not continue if we don’t have it,” she said.
Harnish said he had learned about Franklin’s declaration, the first one passed in Vermont, from a cousin on the Franklin board. Harnish then brought it to Pittsford, where he lives.
He contacted Wakefield and asked whether Wakefield was willing to help spread the word.
“I knew it was an uphill battle, but maybe we could get other towns to adopt it and eventually, if it gains some momentum, we could get some recognition on the state level,” he said.
Harnish said he and Wakefield are talking about a next step that would “add some teeth” to the declaration by “having it become a guiding principle for each town and the state.”