I had errands to do in Bennington yesterday. It was gray and cloudy but clear as I drove down Higley Hill and through the town of Wilmington, population 2,225. The fog crept in just past Lake Whitingham and as I drove alongside the Deerfield River it continued to get thicker and soggier. Both the front and back wipers were slapping time to the music on my radio as I made my ascent to the top of the Green Mountains in Searsburg, elevation 2, 198 feet. This is the home of a six megawatt wind turbine farm owned by Green Mountain Power. The state of Vermont has put clean energy at the forefront of its priorities. The state is known for its fresh air, lack of pollution, tremendous stargazing, and brilliant fall foliage. One hundred nine people live in Searsburg.
Bennington is on the New York border and is home to Bennington College, Southern Vermont College, and the Bennington Battle Monument. During the Revolutionary War John Stark and 1400 other men traveled from Charlestown, N.H. to Bennington along what is now Route 9, the road I was traveling, to assist the Green Mountain Boys in defeating two detachments of the British army who were attempting to capture weapons and food stored where the monument now stands. It was a decisive victory for the patriots and eventually led to the surrender of the British at Saratoga, N.Y. John Stark was married to Molly and their home was a hospital for his troops. Molly acted as nurse and doctor and though she never stepped foot in Vermont her name is everywhere around here, immortalized by her husband’s patriotic spirit and his battle cry, “There are the Red Coats and the enemy are ours or this night Molly Stark sleeps a widow.”
Bennington is the most populous town in Southern Vermont and third most populous in Vermont. 15,431 people live here.
Driving through the center of town, I stumbled upon a protest taking place on the corners of Main and North. I parallel parked in front of a bakery and joined the crowd. Young and old were chanting “What does democracy look like? This is what democracy looks like.”
The streets were wet but the rain was now only a drizzle. Cars tooted horns in support of the protestors. A few rolled down their windows and hollered things like, “Go Home” or “Make America Great Again.” The protesters just kept chanting. “My body. My choice.” “No hate. No fear.” So many issues to worry about now, so many freedoms at stake.
Some parents brought their kids, sharing a lesson on lawful exercise of the 1st amendment. Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
A woman standing next to me told me the group had planned to meet in the Walmart parking lot and march from there to the center of town. Walmart told them they couldn’t assemble in their parking lot. “That’s why I boycott Walmart,” she said.
Boycotting Walmart is a tricky one for me. When we lived in Florida, my husband got his second DVT. He has a blood condition called Factor 5 Leiden. His blood is like peanut butter and clots easily. He ended up in the hospital for two days and we ended with a $1700 copay just for the room along with various other deductibles for every doctor who stepped through the door, the CAT scans, and all the rest. I’m still paying down the credit card. After he was released we drove to the drugstore to pick up the blood thinners he will need to take for the rest of his life. The bill was $450 for a three week supply. I almost fainted. The pharmacist knew we couldn’t afford this. It was a Friday night so he gave my husband three pills to get him through the weekend and told us to go to Walmart where we could get a better deal. The pharmacist at Walmart not only got us a better deal, he got my husband on a clinical trial and when he handed me the receipt we owed him three dollars. Every day in America people face these kinds of challenges and I have found most pharmacists on the front lines of soaring prescription drug costs are kind and helpful.
We now drive just over the border to the Walmart in Hinsdale, New Hampshire. For a long time there were no Walmarts in Vermont. The National Trust for Historic Preservation put the entire state on its list of endangered sites, citing big-box developments as a threat to its signature greenness. Now there are five with a new one opening in Derby, population 4,604. The local news reports some of the people of Derby and the surrounding small towns are happy about the jobs. They are out of work and need the paycheck. Eleven assistant managers and two co-managers have salaried positions. Everyone else will be paid by the hour starting at a minimum wage of $9.60. I don’t know if that includes benefits but I do know it’s hard to manage on $9.60 an hour. Others are worried about what will happen to the small local businesses that are so much a part of Vermont’s economy .
Day to day life in America is complicated and difficult in many places. That’s what this election was about. Whether we make life better over the next four years is an experiment we will all be participating in. It’s hard to imagine Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell will deliver on issues the Trump voters are concerned about. One of the protesters signs read “I will not be apathetic I will get involved.” I am just one small voice but I am going to try to reach out with words and share the stories I see in my corner of this deeply divided nation.
***Please share your stories from your communities and how you plan to get involved in the comments below. For those of you who are hesitant or afraid of the nasty rough and tumble internet world, please know this is a safe place. This is my Internet home and I am open to all viewpoints if they are presented with kindness and respect. I have the ability to block any nasty vitriol directed at me or my commenters, so please join me. My voice may be small but together we can turn up the volume.***
“Democracy is not a spectator sport, it’s a participatory event. If we don’t participate in it, it ceases to be a democracy.” – Michael Moore