Monthly Archives: November 2008

Bread & Puppet Livens Gathering of Pro-Secession Advocates at Statehouse

BY SALLY POLLAK • FREE PRESS STAFF WRITER • NOVEMBER 16, 2008

MONTPELIER — A little levity, courtesy of the Bread and Puppet Theater, filled the Statehouse on Nov. 7.

Just in time.

After a morning in which speakers bemoaned the state of the U.S. — and suggested that seceding from the union is Vermont’s best hope — a troupe of puppeteers and musicians from Glover lightened and enlivened the proceedings with music and theater in the Statehouse chambers.

“We have lame policies. We have a lame president. We have a lame Congress. And we can expect lame results,” said speaker Gerald Celente of Rhinebeck, N.Y., founder of the Trends Research Institute. “We envision America breaking up the way the former Soviet Union broke up.”

It was against this backdrop, with a portrait of George Washington overseeing the drama, that Bread and Puppet presented scenes from the “Federal Cookbook” and played a brass band version of “Down by the Riverside.”

The black-painted cookbook was written and illustrated by artist and company founder Peter Schumann. Its recipes echo the spirit (if not the tone) of the talks at last week’s Vermont Independence Convention, a gathering organized by the Second Vermont Republic.
The group advocates the secession of Vermont from the union after 217 years of statehood. The “empire” has served its purpose, they argue. Smaller is better; villages are green and golden; Vermont can lead the way.
“Vermont wants out,” said Thomas Naylor, 72, of Charlotte. He’s the green-jacketed founder of the Republic, a onetime Duke economist.

“We have two objectives,” Naylor said the evening before the convention. “One: The peaceful secession of Vermont from the empire. Two: The peaceful dissolution of the empire itself. This is much bigger than a bunch of guys talking about secession. America needs a new metaphor; Vermont stands ready to provide it.”

At the Statehouse, Bread and Puppet cheerfully served up metaphors, drawing on Schumann’s recipe book. The puppeteers, dressed in chef’s whites, provided a jovial respite from the speakers.

One dish, Election Stew, uses “hardly any ingredients” and calls for scrambling leftovers from the last administration until they “acquire the same old taste.”

The Justice Department Specialty of the House dinner, served in a dining room decorated with razor wire and state-of-the-art surveillance equipment, comes with an after-dinner treat: “Guests are invited to shoot each other with Second Amendment legal protection,” the puppeteers announced, spraying each other to the accompaniment of cheery brass and drums.

“This is brilliant,” said Lynette Clark, chairman of the Alaskan Independence Party (AIP), laughing at the performance. She was one of the convention speakers.
Minutes before the Bread and Puppet show, Clark expressed her support for the Second Amendment in the well of the Statehouse.

“I carry — not here, not now — but at home everyday, a loaded 45-caliber Colt on my hip,” she said. “I don’t have an empty chamber. It is our tool. It is our protection. It is our right to bear arms.” It was unclear how Clark’s heat relates to Vermont’s independence, though early freedom fighters — the Green Mountain Boys — were armed.

Elaborating on her belief that government services should be privatized, Clark used as an example roadkill moose already tenderized by the crash. “Gut it, skin it, cut it up and pass it around to folks who need it on their table,” she said.

Clark called V.P. loser Sarah Palin, whose husband, Todd (aka the First Dude), was a member of the AIP for seven years, “a darn-fine gal with Alaska at her heart.”

About 125 people attended last Friday’s convention, though the audience grew during Bread and Puppet’s performance. Organizers speculated that Barack Obama’s presidential victory kept attendance down as his win infused the nation with a certain hope.

Though not enough to disavow even those who voted for him, like Tom Lackey, 49, of Stowe, from the notion of secession. “I think it’s a good idea because the U.S. has evolved into an empire,” said Lackey, a civil engineer. “This is a way of changing the direction we’re heading in.”

Lackey is not troubled by the prospect of leaving behind one-time compatriots. “It’s sort of like getting a divorce,” he said. “You can still be friends.”

Several students from Montpelier High School decided to attend the convention rather than go to school. Andrew Bullard, 17, called himself a “huge supporter” of Vermont independence.

“I’m a Vermonter, I’m not an American,” Andrew said. He favors a government apparatus that is local and sustainable — one he hopes will be accomplished in Vermont and then shared with “everyone who is willing to listen.”

“As soon as people are cold and hungry, they will be willing to make the change,” Andrew said. “I’m hoping for the economy to crash.”

Zeke Smith, 16, of Montpelier, said the United States has become “unmanageable” and can use a major overhaul. Obama has already brought change to the country, Zeke said. But maybe not enough.

“People are at least happier,” Zeke said. “The president of the United States is someone you look up to. Not just a clown — an admirable person.

Still, Zeke said he’s in favor of Vermont “breaking away” from the rest of the nation. “It’s a very juicy idea,” he said. “Vermont being its own country.”
Naylor calls secession a “radical act of rebellion grounded in anger and fear. We got on the map in Vermont because of the anger. Vermonters really hate George W. Bush.”

The separation would mean Vermonters could “disengage from the Wall Street global economy” and cease contributing tax dollars to the federal government’s $700 billion bailout and its military operations, Naylor said.

The Statehouse chambers where the Vermont Independence Convention took place is the very place formal proceedings toward secession would likely be held, Naylor said.

The process would involve the legislature calling for a statewide convention, made up of Vermont citizens, to consider articles of secession, Naylor said. Should a two-thirds vote of the conventioneers favor secession, the articles would be presented to government officials in the nation’s capitol.

“We think the empire is going down,” Naylor said. “Everyday it gets worse and worse and the leaders are clueless.”

At the convention, Naylor called on U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., to resign, run for governor of Vermont, and lead the state to independence.

The senator Thursday declined the offer, saying through his spokesman thanks, but no thanks.

“Obviously I do not believe in secession,” Sanders said in an e-mail. “I think, however, that in the midst of these enormously difficult problems facing the United States, the state of Vermont can and should be a leader in moving our country in a very different direction from where we have been in recent years.

“My hope is that Vermont will be the first state in the country to provide health care for all of its citizens, the leader in energy efficiency and sustainable energy, the leader in creating good-paying, environmentally sound jobs and in leading our state and country to a more peaceful world.”

Dale Manning of Hardwick witnessed much of last Friday’s convention. He, too, wants Vermont to remain in the union.

Manning commutes to Montpelier, where he’s a member of the capitol police force.

“I know that Vermont was an independent republic at one time and then we joined the United States and I’m very happy to be a member of the United States,” Manning, 45, said. “This is our great country that we live in and I’ve taken an oath to defend the Constitution. If I wanted to be in a different country, I’d leave the U.S.”
One of the great things about the Constitution is the right to free speech it guarantees and protects, Manning said. This includes the right to discuss secession in the halls of state government, he noted.

And to sing and dance there — in an historic room that Bread and Puppet played for the first time in more than 35 years in Vermont.

“It’s a wonderful space,” Schumann, the theater’s founder, said. “It’s how it should be: That the Statehouse is so open to this.”

Contact Sally Pollak at spollak@bfp.burlingtonfreepress.com or 660-1859.

Highlights of the Vermont Independence Convention

Over 200 people visited the House Chamber of the Vermont State House on November 7 for a festive event sponsored by the Second Vermont Republic. The Vermont Independence Convention took the form of an all-day forum, circus, and medicine show entitled “The Vermont Village Green: Alternative to Empire.” It consisted of a potpourri of radical music, art, theater, circus, conversation, politics, and community aimed at fomenting a Genteel Revolution against the American Empire. The Irreverend Ben T. Matchstick presided.

Some of the convention highlights included:

The Obama Myth: Trends forecaster Gerald Celente opened the convention by casting doubt on whether Barack Obama will be the political, economic, and foreign policy savior many Vermonters expect him to become. “Yes we can,” says Obama. “No we can’t,” says Celente.

Women for Independence: Author Chellis Glendinning and Alaskan Independence Party leader Lynette Clark were among five women calling for more political independence.

Bread & Puppet: The Bread & Puppet Theater troupe provided a lively, humorous skit attacking the American Empire as well as a rousing marching band.

Vermont Independence Song: Fiddler, folk musician Pete Sutherland played his Vermont secession song “Two Hundred Years Is Enough.”

Peak Oil: James Howard Kunstler, author of The Long Emergency, reminded participants that although the price of oil is down, the problem of peak oil has not gone away.

Rural Vermont: Amy Shollenberger’s call for Vermont to become more self-sufficient in the production of food drew a standing ovation from the audience.

Invitation to Obama: Vermont Commons editor Rob Williams invited President-elect Obama to visit Vermont, the only state in the Empire not visited by George W. Bush.

College Campus Appeal: Perhaps the high point of the convention was the address made by UVM freshman Tyler Wilkinson-Ray challenging the forty to fifty UVM students in the audience to consider what life would be like after graduation under the Empire. The student response was little short of electrifying.

Green Mountain Brigade: Kirby businessman Dennis Steele invoked a very positive response from the convention when he introduced the Green Mountain Brigade, the new grassroots citizens’ movement committed to Vermont independence. The GMB will focus on town meetings, legislative support, the Internet, college campus participation, art and entertainment, and public service. Visit http://www.greenmountainbrigade.org.

Message to Bernie: It’s time for Senator Bernie Sanders to come clean. Where do his real loyalties lie? With the Empire or with the people of Vermont? He should resign from the U.S. Senate, run for governor in 2010, and lead Vermont out of the Empire. So proposed Second Vermont Founder, Thomas H. Naylor.

Benediction: “In the name of the flounder, the sunfish, and the holy mackerel.” The Irreverend Ben T. Matchstick.

Happy Hour: The Langdon Street Café.

You Tube videos of the convention will be posted on http://www.vtcommons.org and http://www.vermontrepubic.org.