Commentary, Opinion

Our moment to lead: Vermont in the wake of SCOTUS decisions

By Roxanne Vought

Editor’s note: Roxanne Vought is the executive director of Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility. She lives in Weybridge.

For those of us who envision — and strive each day toward — a just, thriving, and transformative economy that works for all people and the planet, the final week of June 2022 was devastating.

On June 24,the U.S. Supreme Court held that the Constitution does not confer a right to abortion, eliminating a federal constitutional right and bodily autonomy simultaneously. On June 30, they limited the EPA’s ability to reduce climate pollution from power plants, severely damaging our ability to tackle our escalating climate crisis.

Either one of these callous decisions alone is enough to crush one’s resolve. But the quick succession of these particular, nation-wide gut punches landed unexpectedly hard, even for long-time, savvy, and scarred justice advocates. I know I am not the only American who spent this recent Fourth of July weekend wondering “What aspect of independence, what form of liberty will be next?”

But as a Vermonter and as the executive director of Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility (VBSR) I had parallel thoughts that bore a different weight.

As our member businesses have long understood, while we are steadfastly focused on prioritizing our employees, our communities, and our environment, we only do so in the broader, no-borders context of people, planet and prosperity. We know that our actions have a positive impact beyond our state lines. We recognize — and embrace — our capacity to show leadership outside Vermont.

At this moment we must frame our unique capacity for values-led leadership not just as an opportunity, but as an obligation. We have a duty to inspire. We must be a brave, little state, because as public health and human rights are trampled here and elsewhere, others are studying our example as they perhaps never have before. If we want things to improve nationally, it is our job to show them how it is done locally — by citizens, by communities, by businesses, by legislators, all acting in good faith for the common good.

We can start by doing our part — as voters, as influencers, as advocates — to enshrine reproductive rights in Vermont’s constitution this fall. Proposal 5, a proposed amendment, will be on the November general election ballot and can make this happen. As Gov. Phil Scott’s office made clear this week, “Vermont is regarded as having one of the most difficult constitutional amendment processes in the nation.” In other words, if we can make it happen here, surely other states can find a way.

But there’s much to do before we vote this fall. As our partners at Planned Parenthood of Northern New England (PPNNE) know, the consequences of denying people their right to abortion will be devastating. The SCOTUS decision hurts all genders, incomes, and backgrounds — including workers, businesses, and the economy. Along with PPNNE we are calling on VBSR members and the business community to speak out by walking out on July 13 at 4 p.m., for the Bans Off Our Bodies Walkout.

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