Susan Clark

Commentator

Susan Clark is a facilitator, educator, and the co-author of "Slow Democracy: Rediscovering Community, Bringing Decision Making Back Home."  She is also Town Moderator of Middlesex, Vermont.

One recent, wet morning, I shuffled into the meeting room. The coat rack held a cross-section of Vermont outerwear—fancier dress coats, parkas smeared with that gray muck we all get from bumping into our cars, and a good number of gritty Carhartt jackets.

In the wake of one of the most divisive elections in history, a lot of us have a wicked post-election hangover caused by the polarization bender we’ve been on for the past year.

I’m old enough to remember America’s Bicentennial in 1976 – but young enough to have been an impressionable pre-adolescent at the time. I was swept up in the national celebration, and my giggling all-girl birthday party even went to see the new film, adapted from the musical 1776.

I love the Town Meeting Civil Invocation, because it speaks of civility.

In this election year, there’s been an awful lot of yelling about building walls —frankly, I could use a little more conversation about building bridges. And in fact, civic infrastructure is what town meeting is all about.

Act 46 asks questions about education quality, equity and cost. But unless the legislature repairs its flaws, its biggest impact may be on democracy.

Clark: Faces And Vases

Jun 5, 2015

A well-known optical illusion shows two silhouetted faces in profile looking at each other. At first, most viewers just see the faces, then comes the sudden realization that there’s a contoured vase between them. Even though this image is only a simple drawing, it’s compelling. It engages us as we focus, and then focus again. The face? Or the vase?

In considering the school consolidation issue, we would do well to recall Paul Searls’ 2006 book “Two Vermonts.” While his study was about Vermont in the late 1800s, elements of these “two Vermonts” still exist today – with some interesting modern twists.

According to Searls, as the Industrial Era progressed, a split emerged between Vermont’s rural farmers – he calls them “Uphillers” - and village-dwelling professionals – the “Downhillers.” Their differences weren’t just geographical; they were ideological.

The Vermont legislature is considering a bill that would replace Vermont’s local school boards with larger, consolidated, regional control. The potential for either educational benefits or cost savings is hotly debated. But one thing is clear from public reaction: if passed, it would create polarization and push-back for years to come.
 

If we’re serious about making systemic change in Vermont education, mandates aren’t the answer. What we need is an authentic, heart-to-heart conversation.

Fourteen is a magic number at the Vermont Statehouse. With its 14 counties, Vermont was the 14th state to join the union. The number of years between Vermont’s declared independence and our 1791 statehood? Fourteen. And, during the legislative session, the lifeblood of communication at the Capitol is a small army of 14-year-olds.

It was an imaginative promotional gimmick. Early this season, Mike Veeck, independent baseball league executive and part-owner of the St. Paul Saints, hosted an “umpire-less game.”

Was the runner safe or out? The tough calls were crowd-sourced.

From Brooklyn down to the Jersey Shore, Sandy has left its mark. But now, stories abound of community groups shoveling sand out of living rooms, feeding and housing the homeless, and arranging online help through list serves and crowd funding.