On Native Ground
VERMONTERS TAKE UP IRAQ QUESTION AT TOWN MEETINGS
by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- President George W. Bush may think he had his "accountability moment" regarding the invasion of Iraq by narrowly winning a second term.
However, not everyone agrees that things are going just swell in Iraq. And, as usual, Vermonters are showing the way.
Direct democracy is a sacred thing in Vermont, and the first Tuesday in March - Town Meeting Day - is a holy day for those who care about having their say - not just how things are run in their towns, but also on bigger issues like war and peace.
In 51 towns across Vermont, including Dummerston, Town Meeting voters this week had a chance to vote on a non-binding referendum regarding the deployment of the Vermont National Guard in Iraq.
Of the towns that voted on it, 43 approved the measure. Four towns voted no, three passed over the question and one town had enough signatures to bring it to a vote, but it never made it onto the town meeting warrant.
The Iraq resolution calls for the state Legislature to establish a committee to study the effects on Vermont by the deployments. It also asks Vermont's Congressional delegation "to work to restore a proper balance between the powers of the states and that of the federal government over state National Guard units," and calls on President Bush and Congress to withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq.
The resolution passed on a voice vote at my town meeting. There was no debate over the need for the resolution, because people in Vermont are all too aware of the war.
For a tiny state with about 600,000 people, Vermont has paid a high price in Iraq. More than 1,100 Vermont Army National Guard members - about half of the total force - have been called up to active duty. Of the state's 242 towns, 200 have sent Guard members to war - the largest deployment since World War II.
Vermont ranks second in the nation in per capita enrollment in the military and leads the nation in combat deaths per capita. Fifteen Vermonters, including four Vermont Guard members, have died in Iraq.
Neither figure is startling when you consider that more than 40 percent of the dead in Iraq have come from towns with populations of 20,000 or less. In small town America, the military is one of the few ways one has to move up the economic ladder.
Vermont is the first state to debate the deployment of the National Guard. That too, isn't surprising, considering the state's tradition of using Town Meeting Day to consider issues beyond road repair and school funding.
In 1974, several Vermont towns had town meeting votes calling for the impeachment of Richard Nixon. In the early 1980s, Vermont kick- started the nuclear freeze movement with town meeting votes that eventually inspired other states to debate the need for more nuclear weapons. The vote on Iraq follows this pattern of voting locally to act globally.
While this referendum has no legal weight, since states have almost no jurisdiction over the deployment of National Guard troops, the goal of was to start a dialogue about the impact of the war on Vermont's communities and talk about the war itself.
That dialogue seems to have caught the attention of the rest of the nation. At the Dummerston town meeting, we had a reporter from The New York Times and the Tokyo daily Asahi Shimbun. Other members of the national press popped up in other Vermont towns.
President Bush thinks the nation is in his corner, but nearly two years after invading Iraq, support is fading. Too many people have died and too much of our nation's honor has been lost in waging an illegal and immoral war that was based upon lies.
In a place where elections can't be stolen and the spinmeisters have no effect, people stood up and said, "Enough!" I only hope that more Americans will follow our example and join us in seeking an honest debate over Iraq and what our actions there are costing us.
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 20 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at email@example.com. For more information about the Vermont Iraq resolution, visit www.iraqresolution.org.