For more than 20 years at the Vermont Council on Rural Development, we have hosted community conversations with the goal of helping Vermonters come together, consider their local assets and challenges, decide on priorities for action, and then get to work making those priorities happen. At these “Community Visits,” as we call them, one of the most decisive moments comes when community members have chosen areas of action to drive forward together. As folks celebrate their collective decisions and stand up from their folding chairs, we make one more request — we ask them to consider putting themselves on the line, to sign on to a task force to move priorities forward. Deciding on future direction is only the beginning. It takes a team of committed individuals to then develop and implement action plans – to turn collective directions into concrete results that make our communities better.
For VCRD’s initiative to develop the Vermont Proposition, we have now reached this decisive moment. The Vermont Proposition is a statewide public engagement effort that aims to answer the question – what should Vermont do in the next two to three years to secure our future for the next generation? On May 26 and 27, we welcomed 700 participants from all backgrounds and corners of the state to the Summit on the Future of Vermont. A diverse lineup of over 100 panelists provided perspective on the 9 elements that currently make up the Vermont Proposition, and participants provided input, both on the content of the Propositions and action strategies to move them forward.
The Summit, and the Proposition itself, are the result of a deep and wide statewide conversation. The first draft of the Proposition was based on some 60 early interviews, and all we’ve learned from our engagement with Vermonters for Covid recovery and our long history of community and policy convening. We turned the draft into a survey and then interviewed almost 500 people in groups ranging from the board of the Lake Champlain Chamber of Commerce to the New American Advisory Council and Vermont Woodlands Association. Over 1,200 people took the survey and corrected or added ideas to the first draft list — giving us 400 pages of dense ideas — at least 5,000 of them! To see the results of all this, the current edition of the Proposition can be reviewed here: www.futureofvermont.org.
Just like in our Community Visits, for the Vermont Proposition, this is the moment for Vermonters to line up for action. Each of us has a role to play in making our communities and our state better. If you want to be involved in the Proposition effort moving forward, one simple way is to join the Partnership for the Futureof Vermont, a non-partisan network of individuals, businesses and organizations who will help advance these Proposition ideas in action. All are welcome to join! Over time we’ll invite members to work with us to:
• Improve and prioritize ideas and strategies for action;
• Participate in collective action around prioritized strategies;
• Partner to advance key ideas;
• Lend voices in non-partisan advocacy; and
• Consider ways businesses or organizations can partner to drive needed change.
As a central point of leadership to drive the work forward, a new Future of Vermont Action Team will be developed to coordinate this effort. As the leadership team for the Partnership, this team will:
• Finalize a working Proposition document;
• Prioritize strategic actions to advance Proposition elements;
• Convene partnerships and advance public engagement and communications; and
• Lead non-partisan and aspirational policy advocacy to drive priorities forward.
We recognize the audacity of this task and have a great deal of humility in the knowledge of our own limitations. We know the draft is imperfect and needs improvement. We know it currently lacks grounding in effective data. We know that no one will agree with every idea or every detail. Many elements need deeper and more balanced strategies requiring expertise beyond our own. And inevitably, we will have made mistakes. We also know that you can’t do 30 things at once and that priorities need to be established to move these ideas forward.
We also recognize that some of these proposition elements are tactical and financial, and others are cultural. For example: As a state, we must and will advance the roll out of last mile broadband with federal and state funding and the public/private partnership of current providers, Communications Union Districts, and electric utilities. But there is also the cultural side — how do we use the internet to expand local purchasing and commerce, and how to we use digital tools to work together to better our communities — and break with negative social media that deliberately provokes us to look at the worst in each other, to keep us in front of the revenue-building ads in our feeds? This will require policies and investments, but also our cultural commitments and personal decisions. A Vermonter who is committed to this element of the Proposition might join the board of their local Communications Union District. Or, they might make a personal commitment to minimize some of the more divisive aspects of social media and choose to make more purchases downtown. All levels of action are needed if we are going to make progress with each element of the Proposition.
Together Vermonters want to see progress! We want to see our long-term goals for broadband fulfilled. We want a more just, welcoming place where all of us feel that we belong, are safe, included in decision-making and have equitable opportunities. Vermonters want to protect the environment and successfully adapt to a post-carbon future. We want local agriculture, protected natural areas, successful farm, forest and value-adding businesses. We want to advance creative innovations in businesses, seizing global and local opportunities. We want to strengthen democracy, participation, engagement — especially for those who have been historically excluded, and for a new generation of leadership.
We need to add up what we stand for in our time to tell a new story of Vermont. The Vermont Proposition proposes that together our story is of reinvented progress, built on our best ideals and values, dedicated to our next and future generations, a story we hold based on our hopes, common faith and commitment, and carried forward in hard work, and in marketing the state as a destination and model of common purpose and innovation for a vital future.
We have much work to do. Part of that work is raising our hopes and having the courage to embrace new ideals, new partnerships, new responsibilities, new roles; for a renewal of Vermont.