Commentary Series

Mon-Thurs 8:50 a.m. and 5:50 p.m. Sundays at 10:55 a.m.

More than 50 commentators provide perspective and opinion about current events, topics of interest, and often showcase the work of writers and storytellers. The VPR Commentary Series is produced by Betty Smith-Mastaler.

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Summer is supposed to be a relaxed time of cookouts and softball games, but these days, it feels as if life doesn’t slow down even one little bit for summer. Work is as relentless as always, and while there’s more light in the evenings, there’s still no more time. Our volunteer work at the school may end, but we’re as needed at the soup kitchen as ever.

Migration from Syria to Vermont is, in fact, nothing new.

Let’s get this disclosure out of the way. I taught journalism at Lyndon State College from 2007-2012. I might still be there if, in 2011, the threat of budget cuts had not been real, and my job - even though I hold a doctorate - had not seemed so shaky.

The other day I ran in to my state representative at the grocery store, where we chatted about our kids’ whereabouts as we loaded our carts for the weekend. I’d already hugged one of my state senators when we bumped into each other outside the farm store, where we stopped to talked gardens. “It must be a relief to be home,” I said. She agreed, then said she was on her way to deliver her petition to be on the ballot again in the fall.

I haven’t been able to get the Orlando Pulse’s nightclub shooting out of my mind. Massacres like this one always rattle me, but this one feels closer. It's like the distance got smaller between Orlando and Brattleboro, LBGTQ and straight, Anglo and Hispanic, armed and un-armed. Most analysts blame homophobia and hate. But as soon as I started reading the names of the dead I knew homophobia and hate were not the whole story.

On June 29th 1956, President Dwight Eisenhower signed the “Federal-Aid Highway Act” authorizing “a national system of Interstate and Defense Highways”. Today, and $500 billion later, that system extends almost 48,000 miles through all fifty states and Puerto Rico.

That Saturday, my wife and our two young daughters went to a Pride Family Picnic near our Brattleboro home. It was organized by Green Mountain Crossroads, a regional nonprofit creating community for rural LGBTQ people. We spent a peaceful, misty morning eating potluck food from rainbow-colored plates and swapping stories with other queer families. We felt safe, nurtured, and proud.

After 14 months, villagers in his Tanzanian town of 7500 now call Newfane’s Dan Saynor Babu, which means grandfather. The locals revere elders, and at 62, Saynor is currently the only Peace Corps volunteer in his area over 30.

My father was a difficult man – hard working all his life and hard drinking for much of my youth. We were estranged for many years, until his cancer diagnosis.

With the urging of my sister, I went home. He was in his seventies, me in my forties. Greeting me at the door, he asked, “Why have you come?” I answered, “Because you’re dying.” He let me in, and we began to navigate through a lifetime of hurt.

Following the massacre of mostly queer and transgender Latinos and Latinas at the gay bar in Orlando, we rallied. In Burlington, police estimated that approximately 2,000 lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender, Vermonters, along with our straight allies, marched silently down Church Street, hugged one another, cried together, sang songs, and listened to speeches in City Hall Park.


Yellowstone was the first national park in 1872 and it set the standard for many that followed – Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Sequoia, Mount Rainier and others.


Birthdays are a time to celebrate, but an opportunity to look forward as well.

NPS Archives

Though the national parks have famously been called “America’s best idea," this sentiment is not universally accepted.

Sean Tevebaugh / NPS

The 1964 Wilderness Act was a milestone in American environmental history. After hundreds of years of clearing away the wilderness, the official policy of the nation was now to preserve the country’s remaining wild areas. Much of this wilderness is now protected in the national parks. In fact, more than half the area of the national park system is wilderness.

Neal Herbert / NPS

Visitors to our national parks may notice that the boundaries of many parks are marked by straight lines. These lines are political boundaries that have little relevance to ecological realities.

After the horrifying massacre in Orlando - we search for answers. “Why? Why?” We listen to the radio, turn to social media, and watch TV and see the backs of two men, two women, and a man and woman with their arms around each other. We catch sight of a middle aged woman standing alone, stupefied. Perhaps she is somebody’s mother. What happened in Orlando make us want to embrace one another, to stand together, to march together, each of us attempting to give comfort and to receive comfort as we share our grief.

There’s a short book in the Bible called Lamentations; it’s a collection of poems written after the destruction of Jerusalem in roughly 587 BC. But the Hebrew word for “lamentation,” “ekah,” doesn’t mean to weep or mourn. It doesn’t ask “Why?” but rather “How?” As in “How can this have happened?” “How do we go forward?”

The news bulletin that flashed across my laptop screen seemed all too familiar except for the number involved: an armed gunman killed 50 people in a crowded LGBT night club in Orlando early Sunday morning, making it the largest mass gun massacre in the history of the United States. Armed with an assault rifle and handgun, the killer called 911 to declare his allegiance to ISIS.

It was about 8:30 AM. I was flipping through the Sunday morning shows. The breaking story had not yet hit the air. So I went to work on my laptop, at one point turning to a website to check a fact.

And then I saw it. The number fifty. Fifty - the number of dead in Orlando.

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.