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February 2021

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COVID-19 has attempted to break the tightly knit bond of our community. Time and time again, we have faced the test of time and reunited. This pandemic has shown us all that our bond is unbreakable. It is stronger than the pulls of this virus.

From faculty baking cookies for students in quarantine to peers creating Valentine’s Day gifts for each other, we are reminded that in times of uncertainty, we have each other.

The scarcity of articles and stories about the pandemic in this issue is representative of a larger motif– there is life beyond COVID. We recognize the severity of COVID-19 and strongly encourage you to follow public health protocols to keep the community safe. However, there is more to life than this virus.

What’s going to happen tomorrow? What about next week? What will the rest of the semester look like? These questions ruminate our minds daily like a record on repeat. The Defender encourages you to deviate your focus from what you don’t know. Focus on what you do know. 

Live in the moment, and enjoy the beauty of what is in front of you.

When former Vice President Joe Biden was declared the President-elect of the United States, much of the local student and greater Burlington community displayed palpable elation. Many took to Church Street and other locations throughout the city to celebrate, relaying above all, extreme relief at the prospect of no longer living under the leadership of Donald Trump. This feeling is understandable, given the more than 400,000 coronavirus deaths and accelerated environmental deregulation that occurred during his tenure, to name just two, of many issues that plague an unstable nation. However, much of the voter base notes their primary reason for supporting Biden, according to a pre-election poll from the Pew Research Center, is because he’s not Trump. In fact, much of the electorate is so satisfied that America chose to vote Trump out, that they are willing to overlook Biden’s  record on important issues, which is questionable at best.

Take the issue of racial justice, which exploded into the public eye over the summer with issues of police brutality against Black Americans,  and the disproportionate percentage of people of color who make up the American prison system. This all too common narrative continues to plague low-income and racially diverse communities across the U.S. Outraged by the ceaseless violence and injustice, civilians took to the streets in masses, calling for a number of changes including cuts to the bloated law enforcement budget, banning the use of excessive force upon civilians, demanding accountability for the growing number of officers who perpetrated violent acts, and reform to hefty sentences for low-level crimes aimed at people of color. Unsurprisingly, animosity toward the 45th President and his administration was common among protesters, given his repeated unwillingness to condemn white supremacy and his history of racially discriminatory rhetoric. Although, many of the same people who condemn Trump’s actions may be surprised to learn of Biden’s involvement in perpetuating, and even creating, many of the laws and policies that are so vehemently opposed today.

Practices such as civil asset forfeiture, law enforcement’s ability to seize someone’s personal belongings if they are suspected of a crime, was  sponsored by Biden and a fellow senator during his time in the Senate. Furthermore, in an attempt to address drug abuse in the 1980s, Biden (in collaboration with Senators from across the aisle penned the “Anti Drug Abuse Act of 1986.” This law  administered harsher sentences for drug possession and distinguished the now infamous disparity between crack and powder cocaine acquisition. In short, those who were caught with crack cocaine received sentences that were 10 times harsher than those who possessed powder. This discretion targeted communities of color because of the prominence of crack cocaine in urban areas. These practices and many more, which Biden supported, have imposed skyrocketing incarceration rates in the US, specifically for Black and Brown men in the last two decades. He helped to create many of the practices and institutions his supporters now rally against. The destruction these decisions have caused are becoming more transparent. Much of this legislation was brought about by the 1994 crime bill which Biden co-authored. In October, he referred to the crime bill as “a mistake” but has gone into little detail regarding how he plans to amend the problems it continues to cause, and has defended it on other occasions.

Additionally, at the start of Trump’s  first term, women across the nation were outraged by his  nomination considering his numerous sexual assault cases and well documented instances of sexism throughout his career, as both a businessman and media personality. However, those who criticize Donald Trump’s crude behavior are less likely to look upon Biden’s record with equal scrutiny. Which includes a sexual assault allegation of his own, brought to light by his former aide Tara Reade. Though he has repeatedly denied the allegation, it brings into question his prior behavior particularly regarding the issue of assault and harassment.

In any case, even if Biden’s strongest supporters considered these factors and criticized his decisions on a variety of issues, many may overlook them because they believed his running mate, and now Vice President, Kamala Harris, will provide enough of a forward thinking balance to keep him from making similar choices. However, her record as Attorney General of California shows this inclination to be unlikely. During her time as a prosecutor, she kept people in prison beyond their sentence to exploit their labor, and threatened the parents of students who failed to attend school with prosecution. Most notably, she charged a Black man with murder and life in prison on insufficient evidence, after six years in prison he was proven innocent. These decisions as attorney general could prove to be  somewhat detrimental to Harris given the excitement expressed by many of her supporters as she is the first Black, Asian, female vice president, because her diverse background on its own does not negate her past decisions that imposed negative consequences on communities of color.

In spite of all of this, much of the greater New England area is outwardly pleased with Biden’s nomination. More importantly, they are satisfied with a repudiation of Trump’s chaotic, political brand. While this perspective is understandable, as a populace we must be able to scrutinize our elected officials when their decision-making has the potential to be harmful to marginalized communities, the environment, and the country as a whole. 

There remains a pervasive sense, particularly among white, upper-middle-class and affluent communities in the Northeast, that with Trump gone, unfavorable circumstances will cease. With Biden in office, we can all go back to brunch, assuming the politicians in charge have our best interest in mind. As freethinking citizens, we must not allow this narrative to continue. 

Just because many happen to agree with Biden on a larger number of issues doesn’t mean he is guaranteed to make the right decisions or even have the right objectives in mind. We must continue fighting for the policies and values that matter to us and be critical of elected officials when they do not represent them. To ensure that  reform focused policies designed to check the power of  corrupt institutions, communities  fought for over the summer, and over multiple decades are properly implemented, we must continually pressure Biden and his team to make cogent decisions the same way we would Trump. 

The first step was voting Trump out of office. Now, the real work begins.

A look at the candidates for Burlington’s mayoral race

By Jackson Stoever

Online & Video Editor

     In the coming weeks, the city of Burlington will vote for a mayor. Incumbent Mayor Miro Weinberger is opposed by Progressive city counselor Max Tracy, Independent city counselor Ali Dieng and Independent Patrick White for the leadership role in the Vermont city.

     In office since 2012, Mayor Weinberger aims to continue his role and will further his abilities to combat COVID-19 and lead Burlington into an economy and community that is, as his website claims, “stronger, more racially just, greener and more affordable” than the city had before the pandemic began. Under Weinberger’s leadership, Burlington became the first city in the country to be powered with 100% renewably sourced energy and plans to become a net zero energy city within the next 10-15 years. His website claims that with 1,300 new homes built in the city and millions of taxpayer dollars saved across the span of nine years, there is expectation to deliver again and an urgency that now, true leadership is important, more than ever before.

     On the city council since 2012, Max Tracy currently serves as Field Organizer for the Nurse’s Union at the University of Vermont Medical Center where he works with front-line health care workers to assure that they have all that they need to treat patients. 

     “I was focused on doing good in this role, especially during the pandemic, and have long felt Burlington needs new leadership” Tracy said. With the pandemic still surging, Tracy added he intends on pushing hazard pay, no City employee layoffs, a universal mask distribution program and a Hunger Action Plan to combat the virus. According to his website, if elected, Tracy promises to eradicate systemic racism that spans across city government and institutions. By expanding BIPOC business, land and home ownership, Tracy intends on cultural and economic empowerment for BIPOC residents in Burlington.

     In addition to his role as city counselor, Ali Dieng is the family outreach coordinator for the Burlington School District, in which he aids families in filling out paperwork and processes to access after-school programs for their children. For eight years, Dieng has worked for Burlington Kids and has been an involved community member and a board member at the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity. On his website, it is stated that Dieng believes that children are the greatest resource for the future and will fight for all Burlington children to have access to safe schools, a quality education and an opportunity to strive for higher education, no matter their background. According to the same source, Burlington has allocated $90,000 a year to support low-barrier housing, however, under Dieng’s leadership, he will establish a ‘tiny home village’ program for the homeless and those that are displaced.

     As a life-long Vermonter, Patrick White uses his free time to get out and utilize everything Burlington has to offer. On his website, White calls for a police reform and aims to abolish the “us vs. them” mentality on both sides. He then states that these officers are members of the community and the general public of Burlington should feel safe with trained law enforcement officers. Offering to lead by accountability, White also plans to bring attention to Lake Champlain and the authorized dumping of untreated sewage into the waters. Demanding a change, White promises to bring anyone who has allowed this to happen to task, if he is elected. The candidate compares his feelings toward this issue with how he feels about all city government. White’s goal is to reduce the overall cost of running a business in Burlington as this is a necessary action to relieve small businesses and their employees.     Mayor Weinberger urges registration for polling at the town hall meeting on March 2nd. Students with Vermont citizenship can register to vote by visiting https://mvp.vermont.gov/.

By Mikey Halligan

Managing & Visual Design Editor

The Vermont International Film Festival (VTIFF) along with the Middlebury New Filmmakers Festival (MNFF) will be hosting their Split/Screen series on Feb. 19 to Feb 28.

Saint Michael’s College along with Middlebury College and Champlain College will be hosting the event which features 6 films directed by African American women as well as two separate recorded conversations with the directors Natasha NGaiza and Ashley O’Shay.

“As February is Black History month, sponsoring this month’s series felt like an important thing for the college to support”, said Alex Bertoni, Director of Marketing and Communications. “We hope that students, faculty and staff will take advantage of this opportunity to see and discuss these films.”

Split/Screen Monthly Passes are usually $40 but because of the school sponsorship, 250 students, faculty and staff will be able to view the event for free via a virtual screening site on both the VTIFF and MNFF websites.

  • VTIFF Now: watch.vtiff.org
  • MNFF Online: watch.midfilmfest.org 

The films that will be featured include:

  • LOSING GROUND by Kathleen Collins | 1982 | Fiction
    • One of the first movies directed by an African American woman. Sara Rogers (Seret Scott), a black professor of philosophy, is embarking on an intellectual quest to understand “ecstasy” just as her painter husband, Victor (Bill Gunn), sets off on a more earthy exploration of joy. Over the course of a summer idyll in upstate New York, the two each experience profound emotional and romantic awakenings. 

  • FAREWELL AMOR by Ekwa Msangi | 2020 | Fiction
    • After 17 years apart, Angolan immigrant Walter is joined in the U.S. by his wife and teen daughter. Now absolute strangers sharing a one-bedroom Brooklyn apartment, they struggle to overcome the emotional distance between them.

  • ILLUSIONS by Julie Dash | 1982 | Short Film
    • The time is 1942, a year after Pearl Harbor; the place is National Studios, a fictitious Hollywood motion picture studio. Mignon Duprée, a Black woman studio executive who appears to be white and Ester Jeeter, an African American woman who is the singing voice for a white Hollywood star are forced to come to grips with a society that perpetuates false images as status quo.

  • BLACKOUT by Natasha NGaiza | 2013 | Short Film
    • A sudden power outage leads to an impromptu shadow performance that inspires an African immigrant to revisit the past and confront her marriage. Blackout explores the intricacies of transnational African identity, motherhood and memory.

  • A MOTHER by Natasha NGaiza | 2020 | Short Film
    • As a town copes with the disappearance of a little girl, a mother of two must come to terms with her own decision to abort an unexpected pregnancy.

  • UNAPOLOGETIC by Ashley O’Shay | 2020 | Documentary
    • captures tensions between a police board led by Lori Lightfoot (now Chicago Mayor) and abolitionist organizers at Chicago Police Department Headquarters in a polarizing moment in Chicago’s fight against racial injustice after the slaying by police of two Black Chicagoans – Rekia Boyd and Laquan McDonald.

For more information about the event, go to: https://vtiff.org/vtiff-now/splitscreen/