Obama: Vermont not just a road bump


Editor’s note: This op-ed is by Dylan Giambatista, a political science student at Johnson State College.

Editor’s note: This op-ed is by Dylan Giambatista, a political science student at Johnson State College.


Rejoice! For the first time in 17 years, a sitting president of the United States of America is visiting our beloved Vermont. This is welcomed news for a people that are recovering from a year of countless hardships. Furthermore, it debunks the notion that Vermont is an insignificant bump on the national road to re-election.

The subtext of President Barack Obama’s visit is nowhere near as sweet as the headline. Sure, the president will be making the trek to Vermont, but the odds are you won’t see him.

Why? Because those who have arranged the event have placed it beyond the reach of average Vermonters. That’s right: Unless you can shell out $30,000 to break bread at the Sheraton, or $100 to stand at the back of a rally, you can dash any hope of joining in this momentous occasion. By my count, that precludes 99 percent of us.

I reject the premise set forth by the organizers of the president’s visit. It is not representative of the people’s want for democracy. By charging a premium to take part in history, the organizers are squandering a golden opportunity to engage the hopes and dreams of countless Vermonters.

An occasion such as this ought to be for all of us, not just those who can afford it. That is why I am calling for change. We can change the narrative.

Gov. Shumlin and Vermont’s legislature are positioned to make this happen. They have the power to extend a formal invitation to President Obama so that he might appear before a joint session of the General Assembly and address Vermonters on the Statehouse lawn.

Imagine: President Barack Obama comes to the Green Mountains after a year of historic hardship. He disembarks at Burlington and travels 35 miles to Montpelier along an interstate flanked by well-wishers. Once in the capital city, the president arrives at the Statehouse and is escorted to the steps of the capitol to give a public address, free of charge. 10,000 Vermonters gather to greet him. This is the democratic way. Most importantly, it is the Vermont way.

You may wonder why this matters. First, I should inform my audience that I am an avid historian — self- taught — but passionate all the same. Given my proclivity for sifting through the past, I am often moved by the incredible symbolism of the present. History is made every day, and despite what you might think, we each play a role in crafting our national narrative. Thus, the occasion of a visiting president does not need to be a private affair. History tells us so.

Starting with Jefferson and Madison, presidents have toured Vermont to meet the people. As a native of Rutland County, I learned of this vibrant history at a young age. Theodore Roosevelt’s visit in August 1912 was legendary. Then campaigning for a third term in office, Roosevelt stood at the heart of Rutland to speak to thousands of Vermonters. The scene was repeated in Barre two days later. There was no fee to take part in this historic occasion. The only requirement was a healthy dose of civic engagement.

In the century since Theodore Roosevelt embraced the people of Vermont, how is it that we have lost the message he conveyed? His visit came at a time of great strife. Indeed, the similarities between 1912 and 2012 are many. The difference is that our politics have become too insulated, too exclusive.

Make a phone call and transform President Obama’s March 30 trip into an event that everyone can take part in. This needn’t be a fantasy. You can help make it a reality.

Call Gov. Shumlin: (802) 828-3333. Call your legislator at the Statehouse: (802) 828-2228. Tell the event organizers how common Vermonters are being closed out of this once in a lifetime moment.

Together, we have the power to write a new chapter in Vermont history. All it takes is a little change.