Vermont’s left considers its future under President Trump

Trump protest

Protesters gather outside the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts in Burlington during Donald Trump’s event there in January. File photo by Phoebe Sheehan/VTDigger

(This story was updated at 4:43 p.m. with a statement from Migrant Justice.)

BURLINGTON — Many in largely liberal-progressive Vermont were stunned and anguished by the election of Donald Trump as president.

“It’s a very scary situation for me and my family. I think that’s true for a lot of us,” said Rep. Chris Pearson, P-Burlington, who won a seat in Chittenden County’s Senate delegation Tuesday.
Pearson, who has two children ages 3 and 5, said that when he picked them up from a sleepover Wednesday morning, he and his wife shared the news of his own victory but did not discuss the presidential race.

“Exactly how do you describe this to your children? How much of the fear do you reveal? I think a lot of parents are waking up this morning asking themselves that,” Pearson said.

The former Bernie Sanders staffer, who has become a leader in Vermont’s Progressive Party, laid much of the blame for Tuesday’s outcome at the feet of the national Democratic Party, which he said failed to speak effectively to the anxieties of the working poor.

That created an opening for Trump to scapegoat people of color, immigrants and religious minorities as the source of low-income white workers’ economic insecurity, Pearson said.

Sen. David Zuckerman, a Progressive who is Vermont’s lieutenant governor-elect concurred.

“When people are struggling it’s easy to capitalize politically with finger-pointing that their struggles were caused by other people, often newer immigrants, when the real issue has been unprecedented concentration of wealth,” Zuckerman said.

Zuckerman said it’s the responsibility of elected officials to counter Trump’s message with facts, calling out the misinformation that has made people fearful of Muslims, immigrants or people of color, and keeping the focus on the economic issues that unite most Americans.

Rep. Kesha Ram, D-Burlington, who will not return to the Statehouse after a failed bid for lieutenant governor, said the Democratic Party does have some soul searching to do.

“I think the question is not if Americans’ voices were heard last night. The question is: What are they trying to tell us?” Ram said.

The message Ram said she took from the election is that many Americans are deeply frustrated and feel a loss of dignity and self-worth that has grown out of diminished economic prospects and anxiety about being able to provide for their families.

“I think it should give everyone pause that a candidate who has openly attacked women, Muslims and immigrants, and has a base that has demonstrated open prejudice and bias, has come this far and won this election,” Ram said.

“But I am not ready to stop talking to those Americans who supported (Trump). I think it’s more complex than our media and our current perception will allow us to appreciate right now,” she added.

Several figures on Vermont’s left were ready to accept the result and move forward, seeing Trump’s victory as a call to arms to defend the liberal-progressive values of diversity and multiculturalism.

“I am not going to Canada or Norway or Mexico. I am going to the Vermont statehouse where I am going to fight with everything I’ve got to turn back this wave of hatred, racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia, transphobia and ableism,” read a Facebook post by newly elected state Rep. Selene Colburn, a Burlington city councilor who won a seat in Pearson’s district running as a Progressive/Democrat.

“I am not going to let my children, or your children, see me sitting on the sidelines at this moment in history. I am in this 100% and then some. Who’s with me?” Colburn wrote.

Curtiss Reed Jr., executive director of Vermont Partnership for Diversity and Equity, had a similar message for Vermonters feeling shell shocked by the presidential outcome: “Let’s not anguish on this. It’s done. This is the time where Vermont shows the rest of the nation how to build inclusive and equitable communities.”

Reed said Trump’s campaign has given a small but vocal minority in Vermont license to trade in hate speech, and that needs to be repudiated by community leaders, faith leaders and elected officials.

There are more than 1,500 unauthorized immigrants in Vermont, many of whom work in the dairy industry. It’s incumbent on leaders to do what they can to reassure that community, which already lives in fear and in the shadows, that a President Trump won’t have them deported en masse, Reed said.

Migrant Justice, a group that advocates for undocumented workers in Vermont, issued a statement on Trump’s election Wednesday saying it would complicate the lives of an already marginalized group.

“Now more than ever we must unite in the struggle for justice.  If Trump carries out his election promises, it would forever change the United States.  As a community we have achieved great things.  Together we can fight to achieve much more,” said David Diaz, a dairy worker and member of Migrant Justice’s Farmworker Coordinating Committee.

Senowa Mize-Fox, an activist with the Vermont Workers’ Center and the Vermont chapter of Black Lives Matter, took to social media to share her thoughts on Trump’s election victory.

“Organize. Don’t sit here and say to my black, lady, queer-loving face that we’re doomed and there’s nothing we can do. We QPOC folks don’t have a choice. We fight or we die. See you in the streets,” Mize-Fox said.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled Mize-Fox’s name. It also incorrectly stated that Zuckerman worked for Sanders.

Morgan True

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