Democracy’s great, but sure can be ugly


The Tuesday, July 15, meeting of the Bennington Development Review Board brought us grandstanding politicians (there’s an election coming) reckless and seemingly slanderous accusations and a frustrated, yet representative minority of the local electorate. A basic inability to understand or comply with the very rules designed to make discussion possible and effective only complicated matters. This happened despite repeated explanations regarding the limits and structure of addressing the board. Knowing full well what the legal and legislated restrictions are regarding this kind of meeting wasn’t going to deter this group. Their zealous opposition to a housing project that would benefit working families, seniors and the disabled was mind-boggling in its venom.

Those who would deny affordable housing to working families, seniors and the disabled were willing to overthrow due process. No matter that they were, at the same time, accusing the board of denying them that very same due process.

Affordable housing for working families, seniors and the disabled is in crisis not only here, but across our nation. A stagnant wage structure, the destruction of the union movement and the evisceration of the public school system has created a docile, obedient and low-skilled work pool. Unemployment is a crisis. Teen pregnancy is a crisis, alcohol and opiate abuse are crises.

And yet, when someone steps up and addresses one of these crises, we attack them with full force and little reason? We are a nation which prides itself on responding to a crisis. As Vermonters we showed how a crisis like Hurricane Irene can sneak up on us but, still, we rose to the challenge and prevailed. We can do this because we’re Vermonters; heck, we got a "Vermont Strong" license plate out of the thing.

Vermont is a place where a kind gesture takes an outsider by surprise. Vermont courtesy and generosity of spirit is something we all take pride in. Vermont is a place where the democratic spirit is a beacon to all. Sanders, Leahy and Welch represent us as a state that puts the welfare of all its citizens first. Not just the landed, not just the vocal, but all. The patience and polite manner that the representatives of Shires Housing displayed, while responding to those very few questions that qualified for discussion, was inspiring and admirable. The Shires group should be commended for their fortitude and determination to help those in need. They should be feted and applauded, not vilified with vague and repulsive innuendo.

And why are we not talking about the job creation that is attendant with projects of this kind? These units aren’t going to build themselves, they’re not going to maintain or repair themselves, either. Maybe a few of those obviously unemployed young adults that seem to be so bothersome to some residents can have a chance to dig themselves out of that cycle of poverty. These aren’t going to be minimum wage, service positions, but solid, honorable work. New hires will have a chance for on-the-job learning, the best teacher. How do we bemoan the condition of the economy and lack of good jobs while, at the same time, chasing jobs from our town? So, let’s get this straight: A small and vocal group of closed-minded individuals, with nothing but the preservation of the status quo at heart, is willing to loudly, and with little regard to common decency, resist a legal and fully permitted construction project. The real issue is that project intends to help working families, seniors and the disabled live in decent housing that they can afford and take pride in. Have I got that right? Working families, seniors and the disabled, who will be screened to within an inch of their lives with credit checks, housing history and criminal background checks before qualifying, should be denied the basic human right of decent housing? If that’s the case, then there’s going to be a real market for "Vermont Stingy" and "Vermont Grinch" license plates.

David Crowley is a resident of Bennington.


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