The move toward independence
Vermont Cynic | Mar 23, 2009
By Katie Gioia
by Andrew Becker
“Vermont could govern itself better.”
In making this statement, Frank Bryan, a UVM political science professor, speaks not just for himself, but voices the opinion of the growing Vermont independence movement.
Vermont secessionists believe the federal government is corrupt and wish to make Vermont an independent republic, according to Bryan.
From 1777 to 1791, before Vermont became the fourteenth state, the federal government was different, freshman Tyler Wilkinson-Ray said.
“The makeup of the U.S. government at that time was a lot different than it is now – it was really the United States,” he said.
“Now we see a very different federal government, where the federal government has a lot of power and designates certain tasks to the states.”
Thomas Naylor, founder of Second Vermont Republic, a think tank promoting Vermont independence based in Charlotte, Vt., said that “over 75 percent of Vermonters said the U.S. government has lost its moral regard.”
“A big part of it for me is not just wanting more power,” he said. “The United States government is morally corrupt.”
Rob Williams, editor and publisher of Vermont Commons, a multimedia independent statewide news journal, said, “The federal government, we believe, has overstepped its constitutional authority in so many different ways. It’s corrupt to the core. It’s too centralized, too bloated, too unresponsive to the needs of most citizens in this country.”
Williams hopes to spread the word about Vermont independence through Vermont Commons, which publishes a newspaper six times a year, along with blogs, video and radio updates daily.
“We founded Vermont Commons in part because a number of us felt like, how are we going to get from here to there? How are we going to get from Vermont in the United States to Vermont as an independent republic?” he said.
UVM political science professor Frank Bryan agrees with the common opinion that Vermont secession is a radical movement.
“I think they [my views] are radical! There’s nothing wrong with that,” he said. “But we’re talking peaceful, we [Vermonters] are a very peaceful bunch. And we’re very safe, because we know [secession] probably isn’t going to happen.”
Wilkinson-Ray said he struggled with the notion of agreeing with a radical view.
“It is a radical idea, but I’m not a very radical person, so I was very hesitant with the whole secession idea,” he said. “It took me a lot of time to think through it and decide that I do support it.”
“I really think it is the best option for Vermont. Vermonters know their own needs. To be honest, Obama might be doing great things down in Washington, but how often do you think he thinks about Vermont?”
“I was amazed to find that I didn’t see any objective criteria that suggested we couldn’t go it alone just fine – if the country were to let us go,” he said.
Williams, who is also a professor at Champlain College, wants people to overcome the connotation of the word “secession.”
“Secession is as American as apple pie,” he said, wearing a hat with the Vermont Republic flag on it. “We’re fond of pointing out that this country was founded on the principle of secession.
“The very first action word in the Declaration of Independence is ‘dissolve,’ which is what secession means. So it’s when a smaller political group decides to leave a larger political group,” he said.
“New Englanders actually were the first group of people in the country to champion secession as an option. One of our jobs at Vermont Commons is to remind New Englanders, and Vermonters, of their own history,” Williams said.
He believes that a real discussion of an independent Vermont can begin after people realize this.
“The first question everyone would ask us once they got over the hurdle of independence is, what’s an independent Vermont going to look like in terms of energy, in terms of food, in terms of politics, in terms of education? So what we’re doing in the newspaper is exploring all of those questions.”
State representative David Zuckerman said he finds the Vermont independence movement to be “appealing.”
“In general, I think it’s an interesting discussion,” he said. “It’s certainly very complicated. In many ways, I disagree with our federal government recently. At the same time, I don’t think certain folks are fully comprehending the challenges we would face financially if we were to secede today.”
“Politically, maybe it could work, but economically, it didn’t seem feasible.” Thomas Martin, president of the College Republicans, said. “We’d have to be too dependent on the U.S. and Canada. I don’t see the point in doing it.”
Bryan agrees that Vermont is not ready to secede at this point in time and Naylor has said that “Frank Bryan is not a secessionist” because of this belief.
“If you said Vermont could secede tomorrow, I would say to you, we’re not ready to secede tomorrow. I’m glad I’m not going to see Vermont secede from the union because I’d be desperately lonely. I don’t think I even want my kids to [see it happen],” Bryan said.
Williams is on Naylor’s side.
“There’s no more critical time than now,” Williams said.
Wilkinson-Ray, who organized a Vermont Independence forum on campus, said he would support other states’ secessions as well.
“If you look at the U.S. – if you look at the people in Vermont, to people in Georgia, to people in Texas, to the Midwest, to the Northeast, to Florida – we’re so different. We all have different ideas of things that we want out of the government.”
Junior Ian Eshelman said that he thinks the Vermont Independence is “absolutely ridiculous.”
“I think it’s stupid,” he said. “I think the people are looking for attention. If you don’t want to be part of the U.S., then move out.
There’s a reason it’s the United States, it’s not the United States minus one state.”
No one is forcing the idea of secession on Vermonters, Naylor said.
“We don’t participate in the Second Vermont Republic and the Vermont independence movement to persuade Vermont to secede,” he said. “They’ll have to decide that for themselves.”
Secessionists don’t see any big difference between the Democratic and Republican parties, Naylor added.
“The great thing about secession is that it’s every American’s birthright,” Williams said. “The conversation about secession just drives a bus through all that liberal-conservative, blue state-red state dichotomy that I think is so absurd.”
For Vermont to secede, two-thirds of the state must pass the vote in a referendum, Wilkinson-Ray said.
“It’s like leaving a marriage,” Bryan said. “You love your kids, and, at a certain level, you love and respect your spouse or your partner.
But for the good of us all, divorce might need to occur – but it shouldn’t be a divorce based on hate. There should be tears.”