By Angelo Lynn
It’s worth pondering what’s in Vermont’s DNA that makes us so agreeable?
Why would Vermonters be the first to surmount an 80% vaccination rate? Why would the state legislature and a Republican governor lead the nation in adopting some of the most generous elections laws to promote easy access to as many voters as possible, while other states are making it harder to vote? Nor is this a new trend unique to this time and specific lawmakers. Recall that Vermont was the first state to embrace civil unions in 2000 after vigorous debate in the late 1990s. Decades before, Vermonters crafted Act 250 in 1970 — an act to preserve the sanctity of place, tradition and culture — and the nation’s first billboard law way back in 1968. Both of those last two measures, by the way, were passed in concert with Republican majorities in the Legislature.
These were all significant acts that put the good of the whole ahead of individual concerns and profit.
What makes Vermonters different? What makes us more civic-minded with a culture that embraces civility?
We’re a small state with a tradition of knowing our neighbors. And we lean on each other when in need. That’s not because we’re weak, but because for generations Vermonters faced long, cold winters together and reveled in lending a hand to each other — whether stacking wood, or pulling each other out of a snow-filled ditch, helping with the harvest or pitching in for a community event. For generations, Vermonters celebrated governing local towns and schools together with day-long Town Meeting extravaganzas, culminating with community suppers, picnics and even dances.
While many of those traditions and acts of togetherness have faded, they’re dear to our hearts and still reflect our best intentions. Yet, to maintain the idea is not for naught. What else guides our collective actions?
You could hear reflections of such thought in Gov. Phil Scott’s speech on Monday in which he dropped the pandemic-imposed state of emergency that had been in effect for the past 15 months. “Vermont has shown the world what’s possible,” the governor said at Monday’s press conference. “We are here only because of the unity of the people of Vermont, whose commitment to their neighbors and care for each other never wavered.”
Scott extended that level of caring, not by declaring victory over Covid-19, but by saying the state would continue to ensure every Vermonter possible would be vaccinated and that all were important. “The people we vaccinate tomorrow,” he said, “are just as important as those we vaccinated yesterday.” In other words, the 80% wasn’t just a number to hit and declare victory, but rather a testament to how many Vermonters have been protected by the vaccines, and yet how many more (1 in 5, after all) still need protection.
Summing up the state’s ability to get 83.6% of Vermonters age 18 and over vaccinated with at least one shot of the vaccine, and 80.3% of Vermonters 12 years old and older, Scott lauded his fellow Vermonters for their effort: “You cared for each other, you followed the science, and you put others first.”
While we stand out, we’re not alone. Hawaii has a similar record. Massachusetts is close. New York and a handful of other states in the Northeast are over 70% vaccinated; even California’s stats say they are over 70%. Vermont, however, also had the lowest number of people infected over the past 15 months and the lowest number of residents (256) to die from the virus on a per capita basis. As the governor said, we did well protecting each other.
More important than numbers, however, Vermont leads the nation in the example of our ideals. We reached the 80% mark first because we recognize strength is about keeping our communities strong and healthy. We recognize that strength isn’t each individual taking a stand of belligerence and defiance, but rather being willing to sacrifice for the common good, and specifically, for the good of your neighbor. We recognize, as a state small in numbers, that we are stronger together than apart.
It’s a simple enough lesson, yet hard (apparently) for so many Americans to embrace.