Student-led BLM resolution passes in Manchester

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MANCHESTER — The town of Manchester passed a student-led resolution June 12 that asked the town to take a stand affirming solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and ring the town bell for 6 minutes the following evening, June 13, during a planned protest in Manchester.

About three dozen people joined the Zoom meeting online to share their thoughts and support the measure. Nobody spoke against the idea.

Select Board chair Ivan Beattie read the resolution before people began speaking on the issue.

Burr and Burton Academy junior Mylee Downey read a prepared statement representing the student's position and asking the town to support the issue.

"We live in a time when silence is no longer an option. Simply not being racist isn't enough anymore. One needs to be actively anti-racist," Downey said. "You will be actively uniting the community and sending a powerful message of inclusion and hope for the people of color in our town and beyond."

Wesley Stannard, who with his wife May, owns the Moonwink restaurant in Manchester, called the topic a nonissue said he and his family supported.

"In my eyes there's no reason the town should not support this cause," Stannard said. "Either you get it, or you don't get it. It's kind of like, what side of this do you want to be on?"

Stannard was one of several adults — business owners, community members and BBA faculty — who backed the youth's plan.

The only real debate came over the bell-ringing plan and whether it would set a precedent the town didn't want and might risk groups the town residents wouldn't support requesting the same privilege.

Town Manager John O'Keefe asked the board about the risk of saying yes and then having a racist group want the same opportunity.

"Our attorney is concerned that if you ring it for one cause, then another group comes forward that has absolutely no local support, even a group rooted in racism, if we say no we could get a first amendment challenge and lose that," O'Keefe said.

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For the most part, the meeting was a string of supporters voicing support for the measure.

Aisha Navarette, who was one of the young leaders who brought the issue to the town and one of close to a dozen students who spoke on the issue, told the board it was a human rights issue.

"While we understand this can be seen as a controversial issue, we see it as a human rights issue," Navarette said. "With all due respect, if the resolution isn't passed and the bell isn't rung, I think you will be taking a stand, whether that's in a negative way or not."

Recent BBA graduate Sage Lalor said the process made her sad.

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"It makes me really sad that our little town of Manchester, with a population of just over 4,000 people, can't get something as simple as this passed when other towns are doing so much more than us," Lalor said.

Iren Hangen Vasquez spoke passionately about being a student of color.

As a student of color, I've lived in Vermont for more than half of my life and it's been very difficult being one of the only people of color in my classes," Vasquez said. "The town's support would mean so much to all of the people of color."

In a written comment on Zoom, Emma Putney said she wanted the town to make the statement to take a leadership role.

"We would like our town to make this statement," Putney wrote. "This is not a request from a group to ring the bell in support of a cause. This is a request that our town make a statement."

Beattie, the board chair, said he loved that so many young people were participating and explained his philosophy that government decisions should be made slowly and carefully, but that should not be construed as not wanting to support the resolution.

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"Your voice and your thoughts touch me, deeply," Beattie said. "People who know me know that I listen, and I'm listening to every single one of you."

In the end, the board voted unanimously to accept the proposed resolution without change.

It reads:

"WHEREAS, Manchester shows a willingness to grow by acknowledging its responsibility to take conscious strides to progress and better the community by taking a stand in this worldwide fight for racial justice.

WHEREAS, we show support to the Black Lives Matter movement by acknowledging our need for change. Change must not come solely from awareness by our community of the issue but also from within the system itself due to the fact that it continuously has been a system of racial oppression and inequality.

WHEREAS, although the majority of Manchester residents are white, there is diversity in the community. It is important to show these members of our town that we support them and acknowledge the struggles they have faced while setting the standard for all people to respect them in the same ways.

WHEREAS, Manchester supports human rights. By the town ringing the bell, they are simultaneously showing that they care about the rights of each citizen — regardless of the color of their skin.

WHEREAS, Manchester stands firm during a time of controversies. Staying neutral in situations of oppression is ultimately taking the side of the oppressor. Manchester needs to stand by those who have been treated unjustly in order to create systemic change.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that Manchester, Vermont supports this demonstration by ringing the city bell from 12:00-12:06 on June 13, 2020, to symbolize George Floyd's struggle. While we understand that having the town taking a stand on topics that can be seen as controversial, we see this as a human rights issue and therefore see it only fit for our local government to take a stand."

Contact Darren Marcy at dmarcy@manchesterjournal.com or by cell at 802-681-6534.


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