Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Occupy Gov. Peter Shumlin's State of the State Address at the Vermont Statehouse?

Well, maybe not so much.

Occupiers issued a press release today about a planned action at the Vermont Statehouse for the occasion of Gov. Peter Shumlin's. Here's what it says:


Montpelier, Vermont, 5 January 2012 — Silently displaying their feelings about details of the Governor’s assessment of the state of the State, using hand signals indicating approval, disapproval or withheld judgment, Vermonters from around the state will line the House chamber to occupy the state of the State address on the third day of the 2012 legislative session.

Dressed in green, with personal messages for the Governor taped to their chests, Vermonters identifying themselves as the 99% will make themselves visible in a peaceful and respectful demonstration of their position at the center of government.

“It cannot ever hurt to remind our elected representatives of their obligation to the people of Vermont,” said Del Waterhouse, a member of the Occupy Central Vermont General Assembly. “Democratic government is the result of community members joining together to satisfy our needs, so it is the obligation of government to satisfy the needs of the people in our communities. As cuts are made to LIHEAP, mental health services, affordable housing programs and more, I feel the need to be visible at events such as these, to let the decision-makers know that I am paying attention. It sends a strong message to see so many of us standing together representing the 99%. We are engaged, and we want to work together to create change.”

The Occupy Central Vermont General Assembly meets every Saturday at 3:00 PM and is open to all members of the community. Updated location information can be found at Members work together to address issues in the community related to economic justice, inequality and democracy. Other local General Assemblies take place regularly in Brattleboro, Burlington, Rutland, and the Upper Valley.
I've spent time at the Statehouse, as have many Vermonters, and one distinguishing fact that I'd point out to the group (I can't bring myself to call this an "occupation" - more on that below) is that unlike them, the legislators in the Vermont Statehouse General Assembly chamber were all elected to represent 100% of Vermonters in their respective districts and counties and are not self-appointed to serve a limited political agenda. And unlike the unelected occupiers, the executive and legislative members in the chamber have all taken an oath to "not, directly or indirectly, do any act or thing injurious to the (Vermont) Constitution or Government thereof... and will therein do equal right and justice to all persons, to the best of (their) judgment and ability, according to law."

In addition to announcing their intent to engineer a quasi-disruption of a governmental proceeding, they've issued instructions and press talking points that include advice on how to evade reporter's questions:
Occupy the State of the State Address Event Plan!

Below is the text from a handout we will be distributing tomorrow at the State of the State address. Please see the comments for a couple more updates.

The Event

This will be a peaceful and non-disruptive action. NO MIC CHECKING! Occupiers will listen to the speech, using General Assembly hand signals to give instant feedback on what we hear. If you are not familiar with these, ask someone! Basically it is this:

•Wiggly fingered jazz hands = approval, I like what I hear
•Level hands in front of you= I’m unsure, I’m neutral or I need more information.
•Down hands= I don’t like it, I want more information.

Write your message to the Governor on a 8 ½ x 11 piece of paper; tape it to your shirt, and deliver after the event. Message collectors will be circulating after the event and by the exits on the way out. You can also drop it off yourself in the Sergeant-at-Arms office. NO SIGNS ALLOWED in the State House.

Our message: your message

More than 70,000 Vermonters lived at or below the poverty level in 2010. Gov. Shumlin campaigned on a promise to rebuild Vermont’s Middle Class, yet we are in the slowest job growth rate on record in Vermont, and public policy continues to deepen the income disparities, dismantling the middle class and undercutting the poor. Real wages at all income levels in the state dropped over the past year, except for the top 10%. People in the bottom 20th percentile saw wages decrease an average of 5%; while the top 10% of income recipients saw a 1% increase.

We hope that, in expressing your vision and focusing on the specific issues of greatest concern to you, you will make an effort to frame issues in terms of economic and social justice, to connect the specific to the general and show the unity of our movement.

As a movement of many leaders, we have many spokespeople, and we hope that you will feel empowered to express your awareness of the problem and your vision of a solution. But please be clear that — like each of us — you are a spokesperson for yourself, not for the movement. Use “I” statements when talking to media and decision-makers. Here are some other tips:

How to talk to the media:

Talking to members of the media is an opportunity to convey a message to a large number of people and to frame and inform public conversation. It is important to know that talking with reporters is not like normal conversations.

•Reporters are not looking for a conversation at all. They are looking for a quotation, and that quotation is generally limited to a sound bite. Talk in brief statements that can be quoted.
•Focus on the message that you are trying to convey, regardless of the question a reporter might ask you. Take control of the story. Do not be afraid to repeat your message.
•Relax. You are involved because your values encouraged you to be. You need no more justification or authority than that. Talk about your values, tell your story, personal impacts- you are the expert on that!
•If you do not know an answer to a question,admit it. The truth is on your side, do not make things up.
•Be friendly, positive and accessible. Do not give the media help in marginalizing or vilifying us.
Be a character in your story. Explain how your issues affect you. Be quotable.

Quick Facts:

EDUCATION: The Legislature has cut the annual General Fund appropriation to support education for the past few years; shifting the burden onto local school boards. The shift means property taxes, which still fall harder on middle-income Vermonters than on the wealthy, are $77 million higher this year.

TAXES: The progressive income tax in Vermont was cut for those at the top of the wealth bracket. There is support from wealthy Vermonters to increase revenues from them. Many of the top 10% in Vermont want to pay their share!

JOBS:Even before the start of the Great Recession in 2007, Vermont was creating jobs at the slowest rate since records have been kept. By 2010, Vermont was seeing a net loss of jobs. This poor job-creation performance occurred in a decade when the wealthiest Vermonters — the so-called “job creators” — saved hundreds of millions of dollars in federal taxes, thanks to the Bush tax cuts.

WAGES:Median household income has only risen 1.5% over the last 20 years, while the State’s domestic product has risen almost 65%.

In 2009, the Vermont livable wage was calculated to be $16.75 an hour for a single person with no children to pay their bills and have a rainy day fund. Just a couple of days ago the minimum wage in Vermont rose to just under $8.50/hour.

Jazz hands? Really? Well, I'm sure that'll make an impression.
1/04/2012 - 1:34 PM

FYI for those coming, we have been notified that bags will be searched upon entering the building, and again, no large signs on things on sticks will be allowed in. Our goal is to be non-disruptive of this event. NO MIC CHECKING during the governor’s address. We have been working with capital police to ensure safety for all involved, they have been really helpful and accommodating and are working on reserving a number of seats in the House Chamber for us.

It is unlikely that most of us will fit in the Chamber and they have new(ish) rules that there is no standing allowed, which means many of us will be in the hallways outside. They pipe the speech through the speaker system so we should all be able to hear and use our hand signals to express our feelings about things being said.
Apparently the organizers of this yawn inducing event have been working with law enforcement assigned to the Vermont Statehouse to reduce the chance of being carted off, so no tedious mic checking, no signs, just notes taped to their chests like ones that school groups' moms do for their kids that show up at the Statehouse for outings and (groan) jazz hands.

Meanwhile, back in Burlington the local occupiers continued to purge participants on their Facebook page over the New Year's weekend, while still promoting the work of the racist anti-Semite, Eustace Mullins and claiming to "Know the Secrets of the Federal Reserve" based on Mullins' screed. Mullins was also infamous for having perpetrated a "Protocols of the Elders of Zion"-like racist hoax in the 1950's called "A Racial Program for the Twentieth Century", as well as his classic racist, anti-Semitic tomes, "Adolph Hitler An Appreciation" and "The Biological Jew".

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