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The world has changed in a very short time. Suddenly all we seem to hear and read about are the divisions that separate us from one another, and how much we and the society we live in need to overcome it. It’s a cultural revolution, and diversity is its principal goal.

Diversity means the practice of including or involving people from a range of different backgrounds and characteristics, according to the dictionary. American history has had a dismal record on that score, through its immigration policies and exclusionary practices, in spite of the promises made in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

But look at Vermont today. We have strong women candidates for federal and state office this year. For the whitest state in the union by population, we are seeing more diversity in race and gender among state officials and legislators. The state has created a Racial Equity Advisory Panel and hired an Executive Director of Racial Equity. Diversity is quickly becoming the word of the hour.

I’m not sure if all Vermonters are ready for these changes. Frankly, I have doubts that the promises of inclusion can be fulfilled easily. We have had a good head start. Laws have protected the rights of people with disabilities. They have made hate crimes illegal. They have punished discrimination in housing and employment. But getting at the root of the problem is going to be more difficult. You can’t change human nature with a statute.

In November we’ll be voting on several constitutional amendments. One is about reproductive rights. Another proposes to make clear that the constitution fully abolishes slavery. I will vote for the second, not the first. Vermont was the first state in the union to abolish slavery, and if the Constitution needs editing on that issue I’m for it.

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I do not believe in abortion once there is a heartbeat. That to me seems like murder, and if we’re going to extend rights to minorities it seems inconsistent to leave out the rights of human beings in the womb. That’s why I won’t vote for the reproductive rights amendment.

Rights is another word that has great popularity today. All people deserve equal treatment and access. That isn’t debatable. There is no excuse for discrimination anywhere at any time. Diversity is part of the cure. Our differences from each other are strengths, not weaknesses. We should celebrate the contributions of different cultures and different beliefs to our society. We are richer for a diverse population.

There will be resistance in some Vermonters to this change in our policies. We are a rural people, and many are set in their ways. We are products of our upbringing, and change isn’t easy no matter where you come from. But there is no point in resisting this shift in policy.

On Memorial Day, we celebrate the sacrifices of men and women who fought to guarantee our freedom and protect our rights. We hold parades and assemblies, honoring the old soldiers who are still with us and those who made the supreme sacrifice. The rights they protected are critical to the survival of our democracy, and we do our soldiers a great disservice if we recognize some rights and deny others.

This Memorial Day all of us should take a moment and say a silent prayer for the soldiers past, present, and future who have kept us free, and secure. In honoring them, couldn’t we also take a moment to think to how to get along with each other. Let’s give diversity a real chance.

Mike Bethel is a resident of Bennington. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Bennington Banner.


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