The Sanders Institute “Gathering”

An Open Letter from Vermont POC Racial Justice Community Organizers, Leaders, & Activists

Just 3 days ago, Tabitha Pohl-Moore and Steffen Guillom of the Rutland Area and Windham County NAACP Chapters, respectively, penned the following open letter that perfectly captures why we are continually working to “pop the bubble” of illusion that Vermont community and politics “has it figured out” when it comes to race. While Tabitha and Steffen penned the letter, it is the thought and feeling of many across the Green Mountain State. We hope this can be a call to action for the many well-meaning “progressives” throughout the state to walk the talk when it comes to organizing and building for true justice.

“Vermont is known as a progressive safe haven. However, some of our citizens struggle to connect personal experience to this sentiment. The purpose of publicizing these feelings is not to throw shade at the national progressive movement that Senator Bernie Sanders is trying to foster, but to point out that Vermonters in marginalized positions- be they poor, disabled, LGBTQ, people of color, indigenous, immigrant or non-mainstream in other facets of identity, help to create this state and make it what it is, yet still, we find ourselves excluded from the movement. This is an awkward juxtaposition. To call out when we have been excluded invariably elicits an accusation of sabotage, selfishness, or saltiness. To ignore it is to relegate ourselves to invisibility, thus fortifying the very systemic inequity the progressive movement works to deconstruct. It is with this in mind that I write the following:

At 9:15 PM on November 19th , Windham Area NAACP President Steffen Gillom sent me a text with a link to the VT Digger article announcing Senator Sanders’ 3-day progressive event in Burlington that was planned for this past week, it was followed by the question, “Did you know about this?” My first response was excitement. A progressive agenda that promised to raise an intersectional approach to ending injustice and oppression? In our backyard? As I read the roster and saw the names of my own idols like Cornel West, my initial response grew into hope. We would finally be heard and seen here in Vermont!  But, as I neared the end of the star-laden roster, I began to wonder.  How many leaders from Vermont were invited to speak? I reviewed the list again and saw only the name of Lieutenant Governor David Zuckerman. Okay. One. Then I wondered how many justice leaders from Vermont had been invited.  Racial? None. Economic? None. LGBTQ? None. Immigrant rights? None. I read the article several times. Maybe I missed something? I thought progressive politics was about lifting the voices of common people. For a group that prides itself on grassroots organization, it seemed that this progressive event had forgotten its roots; the people of Vermont.

My heart began to sink as my curiosity grew. In his remarks, Senator Sanders said that this event was “not just to talk about economic issues, we’re here this weekend to be talking about racial and social justice. We’re here to be talking about ending, in all of its many and varied forms, institutional racism.”

How could Senator Sanders host what is supposed to be an intersectional, progressive event without inviting the very people whom he serves? If this is really about economic justice, where are the poor folks? If it is really about racial justice, why are there no local racial justice leaders?  Chief Don Stevens of the Abenaki?  Disability rights?  Where is Justicia Migrante? I don’t see them on the list.

I had a hard time believing that Senator Sanders would overlook the very people he serves as people who could speak to the issues.  I also know that the Senator’s people had no problem finding me to talk about race in Vermont the day before he met with NAACP President Derrick Johnson last May. But really, there are plenty of other leaders who could speak. Surely someone in Vermont had to have been invited and they just weren’t included in the article because, really. Who here compares to Danny Glover? So I took to social media and posted the article, tagging various justice leaders that I knew. No one knew about it. I asked groups like Rights and Democracy, who posted an article to advertise the event, if they would be speaking. I heard nothing. Even Kiah Morris, who was Vermont’s lone black woman in the legislature—that is, until the racist threats and harassment became so intolerable and intimidating that she not only had to withdraw from an uncontested race, but she stepped down from office just three months ago—was not invited.

I write this not to complain about the fact that none of us were invited; I write this to point out the hypocrisy of the situation. How do you say that you are a person of the people, how can you be “awoken”, in the words of Victor Lee Lewis, when you come home to Vermont to talk about justice and institutional oppression and don’t invite the very people your represent? In speaking with other folks, I learned that I am not the only one who has noticed this omission. We hope that we are missing something, but if we are not, this is a either a major oversight or just one more example of how institutional oppression looks, even among those who are progressive.”


Tabitha Pohl-Moore
President, Rutland Area Branch of the NAACP

Steffen Glenn Gillom
President, Windham County Branch of the NAACP

Amanda Garces
Founder, Vermont Coalition for Ethnic and Social Equity in Schools

Curtiss Reed, Jr.
Executive Director, Vermont Partnership for Fairness and Diversity

Kiah Morris
Former State Representative

Katrina Battle
POC Caucus Coordinator, Black Lives Matter of Greater Burlington

Jabari Jones
Organizer, Black Lives Matter of Greater Burlington

Wafic Faour
Vermonters for Justice in Palestine
Member, BLM of Greater Burlington

Marita Canedo
Migrant Justice

Shela Linton
Co-Coordinator BIPOC Caucus, Root Social Justice Center

Sha’an Mouliert
Co-Coordinator, I am Vermont Too

Mark Hughes
Exectutive Director, Justice for All

Beverly Little Thunder
Activist, founder of Kunsi Keya Tamakoce, Peace and Justice Board Member

Gemma Seymour
Vermont Vision for a Multicultural Future

Nico Amador
Community Organizer, ACLU of Vermont

​Etan Nassredin-Longo
Co-chair, Fair and Impartial policing committee of the Vermont State Police Chair, Racial Disparities in the Criminal and Juvenile Justice System Advisory Panel

In peace, hope, love, and active, energized solidarity,

 Black Lives Matter of Greater Burlington

Solidarity with Migrant Justice

Black Lives Matter of Greater Burlington stands in solidarity with Migrant Justice in the fight against ICE and Border Patrol. We recognize that their struggle is our struggle and we are united in this fight.

Our vision of the Greater Burlington area is one where black folks can thrive bodily, socially, and economically. This cannot become a reality as long as our comrades are being targeted, monitored, and deported. This cannot become a reality as long as immigrants are criminalized and terrorized by ICE, border patrol, and our militarized police force. We join Migrant Justice in demanding #Not1More deportation and an end to the targeting of immigrants.

The Black Lives Matter movement has its origins in part in the struggle against the over-policing and monitoring of black folks. As more police officers enter our schools, and more canines and tactical gear enter our police departments, one must ask: Who is it that they are hunting? This excessive and growing police presence, coupled with increasingly militarized officers in areas with higher black and brown populations in Vermont is a thinly-veiled tactic to oppress and control people of color in Vermont. Over-policing inevitably leads to racial profiling, violence, and over-incarceration, leaving us with 1 in 14 black men and a disproportionate number of hispanic and latino people incarcerated in Vermont.

Greg Zullo was left on the side of the road in Rutland to walk 8 miles home after a stop the officer claimed was for a registration sticker hidden by snow. Eli Calvo Cruz was accosted by ICE while standing outside of a gas station and was put back at risk of being deported after an immigration judge agreed that he posed no danger to his community and should not be deported. Meanwhile Christopher Hayden, who has a history of racially motivated aggravated assault, continues to directly threaten the wellbeing of people of color right here in the Greater Burlington area without accountability.

Law enforcement in Vermont consistently dehumanize people of color while forgiving and protecting violent and racist white people. Officers cannot operate in a racially just manner when our policing system has never strayed from its roots of returning the contraband of escaped slaves to their white “owners.” And to arm those within that system under the myth of objectivity, in a society steeped in racialized oppression, is something not even the best implicit bias “training” can overcome.

The criminalization of people of color in Vermont will not stop without a struggle. Migrant Justice has stopped deportations and freed immigrants from detention, fought tirelessly to hold dairy farm owners accountable to safer working conditions through the Milk with Dignity Campaign, worked towards the separation of the police from border patrol and ICE, and more. We support their work in fighting for the liberation of immigrants in Vermont.

We call on folks to stand in solidarity with Migrant Justice and demand #Not1More deportation and an end to the targeting of immigrants that is based in racism, xenophobia, and hatred because no human is illegal!