by Kesha Ram, July 1st, 2021.
Dear Friends and Neighbors,
With the 4th of July approaching, this time of year calls upon each of us to think about our relationship to our country, our state, and one another. Personally, I am thinking about how we define patriotism coming out of a year that saw us go to extraordinary lengths to take care of our fellow human beings, and also saw us question the strength of our shared humanity in the face of great hostility and violence, including an insurrection in our Capitol. Mostly, I am deeply grateful to be in a state that is a model for compassion, common sense, and care for our community.
As we have just come through a veto session focused on the question of citizenship and voting, I particularly want to honor the City of Winooski. Winooski, now entering its 100th year as a chartered city, was built on the hopes, dreams, and hard work of immigrants, from textile mills during the merino wool boom to the soap-making and biotech instruments of today, and always with unique markets, small businesses, and religious and cultural centers that continue to make it a unique, vibrant destination in our state.
Winooski advanced all-resident voting by a 70 percent majority so that, in the future, 10 percent more residents can vote in local elections. This is an incredible and historic advance for democracy, voting rights, and civic participation, and we just overrode the Governor's veto of this charter change, so it will take effect next Town Meeting Day. This change will also take place in the City of Montpelier, as well.
All-resident voting is not new in the United States. Up until the start of the 20th century, when anti-immigrant sentiment began to rise, at least 22 states formally allowed non-citizens to vote in local, state, and federal elections. By 1926, all states had abolished the practice of allowing all residents to vote. We have now joined Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle, and Maryland in restoring the rights of immigrants to vote in local elections.
All-resident voting does not diminish who we are as citizens, it reminds us that citizenship is not static, that exercising citizenship is a verb and not a noun. As Alexis de Tocqueville once wrote about our beloved local democracy: "The native of New England is attached to his township because it is independent and free: his co-operation in its affairs ensures his attachment to its interest; the well-being it affords him secures his affection; and its welfare is the aim of his ambition and of his future exertions: he takes a part in every occurrence in the place; he practices the art of government in the small sphere within his reach; he accustoms himself to those forms which can alone ensure the steady progress of liberty; he imbibes their spirit; he acquires a taste for order, comprehends the union or the balance of powers, and collects clear practical notions on the nature of his duties and the extent of his rights."
Thank you, Winooski, for helping us to think differently about what 'citizenship' and 'patriotism' mean, and how we treat them as a verb and not a noun, as we approach Independence Day. For us as Vermonters, this allows us to think about how we fully live into our motto of "Freedom and Unity," which can sometimes seem confounding, and other times liberating, and is at all times what we strive for in our beloved state.
Happy 4th of July,