Kalish: Showing Compassion

Jan 10, 2017

You didn’t hear a lot from me in 2016.

I mostly write about the law, specifically the Supreme Court. I look for connections to Vermont and share my thoughts when I find them. Many times the issues are controversial and often they can be disheartening. I write, though, to offer signs of encouragement, ways we can work together for change.

But, 2016 got to me. And I felt very much at a loss.

We saw so much hatred in 2016. It started early, and then got worse, ending with an unnerving crescendo of intolerance – including here in Vermont.

According to The Southern Poverty Law Center, between November 9th and December 12th, there were one thousand and ninety-four bias-related incidents recorded. Three hundred and fifteen were anti-immigrant; two hundred and twenty one were anti-black, one hundred and twelve were anti-Muslim, one hundred and nine were anti-LGBT, and twenty-six were anti-Trump. Two of these incidents happened here.

But, there were many incidents those numbers didn’t include – like the friend who had homophobic slurs shouted at her on the street in Burlington, or the two women chatting in a grocery store parking lot, who were berated by a man driving by who simply assumed they were Clinton supporters.

I’ve seen people in public places reminding each other to keep their voices down, as they look around warily before offering their thoughts on politics. But whether someone is Republican, Democrat, Progressive, Libertarian – or even Anarchist – no-one should live in fear of being attacked for who they are or what they think.

Fortunately, Vermont is still Vermont. Groups all over the state – from yoga studios to bars to bluegrass bands – have been hosting events to support causes that run the gamut from civil rights, to environmental protection, women’s health, immigrant rights, and more.

We’re also seeing official acts of solidarity, as resolutions spring up in towns like Winooski, which proclaimed itself a sanctuary city. Burlington’s City Council passed a resolution welcoming Syrian refugees into its community, and, despite the debate, Rutland is preparing to receive a group of refugees this month.

But, oddly, perhaps the most heartening moment, to me, happened in an incident in Burlington, in late December. When someone distributed anti-Semitic leaflets to the City Council, city leaders roundly condemned the hate-filled sentiments. But when it became clear the writer suffered from mental illness, they showed compassion and worked to get that person help.