Would a progressive Burlington, Vermont, mayor partner with the Koch brothers? Obviously not. Their well-heeled right-wing legal activism has been condemned by liberal icons including Burlington's own Bernie Sanders and anything they did in liberal Burlington would carry a heavy taint.
Would the same mayor partner with a corporation which, like the Koch brothers, defeats progressive change on a state and federal level? Say that the corporation's work-a-day existence (instead of building Dixie Cups like the Koch brothers), is selling nuclear missiles and cluster bombs, propping up dictators and doing detainee interrogation at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. Say that the corporation, like the Koch brothers, was instrumental in the notorious Citizens United ruling and two controversial Supreme Court decisions in recent weeks. Say one of the court cases was the dismissal of a sex-discrimination lawsuit, brought on behalf of 1.5 million women who have worked at Wal-Mart, which likely will drastically complicate the ability of disempowered victims to stand together in class action suits. The other suit aims at stopping six states from limiting emissions of greenhouse gases under federal common law. One of those six states being prevented from regulating climate change was the mayor's home state, Vermont. Would Burlington's progressive Mayor Bob Kiss partner the City of Burlington with such a corporation? Apparently so. But if Mayor Kiss expected the people of the so-called “People's Republic of Burlington” to be subservient handmaidens, quietly ushering in a new cynical era of corporate greenwashing for Lockheed Martin, he was quite mistaken.
The Big Showdown: The People of Burlington v. Lockheed
After a grassroots-powered victory inside a February City Council meeting and again in City Council Committee earlier this month, Burlington activists hoped to turn out a diluvial flood of concerned citizens to speak out in Burlington City Council's public comment August 8. It was billed as The Big Showdown: The People of Burlington v. Lockheed. After seven and a half months of door to door organizing, media outreach and gathering petition signatures, No Lockheed community organizer Anna Guyton sounded optimistic going into this test of strength for her coalition. “We're hoping many people will come on August 8th.” Guyton made connections between the global struggle to keep money for climate solutions in the public and not the corporate sphere and how local climate change activists are “committed as ever to keeping power in the hands of Burlington citizens.”
Over a hundred people filled the stately Contois auditorium and spilled into the balconies before the showdown even started. The City Council was poised to decide whether Burlington would approve a precedent-setting community standards resolution, calling for the city to not partner on climate change with a corporation which, “Earn the majority of its profit from the production and/or marketing of weapons or warfare technology, including but not limited to nuclear/chemical weapons, land minds, or cluster bombs, as determined by the corporation's most recent annual report.”
In a City Council Committee meeting August 4, Mayor Kiss, lashed out at the non-binding resolution, saying it was “politically motivated” and “not helpful,” and described his partnership with Lockheed as beating “swords into plowshares.” Kiss, a former conscientious objector, “dismisses much of the opposition to the Lockheed partnership as 'theater' designed to simplify and polarize discussion. 'It's a theater I'm familiar with, because I was in it in the '60's.”
The mayor's point about the community standards being politically motivated is complicated, an inconvenient fact. The resolution's two sponsors, City Councilors Emma Mulvaney-Stanak and Vince Brennan, are the only two members of Mayor Kiss' progressive party on the City Council. Councilor Mulvaney-Stanak explained the need for community standards in a December statement:
“When any municipality considers partnering with a corporation there needs to be some sort of conversation around a set of standards and principals that reflect the community. With Burlington those standard would need to include language to reflect issues long enshrined in the fabric of the City's life: human rights issues, equality issues, peace and war issues. Any agreement or discussion needs to be guided by these community standards, be it on a project level or a policy level. Sometimes the money involved in a potential deal or partnership is not enough to compromise these principals. This deal, frankly, considering Lockheed's long track record would violate any reasonable community standards for the City of Burlington.”
“Sustainability Is Another Word for Justice”
Burlington, Vermont, is a liberal college town of 42,000 overflowing with Community Supported Agriculture farm shares, bike lanes and grassroots responses to climate change: from NRG Systems, a leader in the wind industry since 1982, to Seventh Generation, the nation's leader in “household and personal care products” that “protect the environment”; from award-winning energy efficiency work for low-income households at Efficiency Vermont to AgRefresh's environmental accounting, from the University of Vermont's environmental think tank, the Gund Institute to advocacy groups like Burlington Walk/Bike Council fighting for bike lanes throughout the city; from the silver communal Subarus of Carshare Vermont, to global leader on climate 350.org; from Permaculture Burlington to the Localvore movement. Even Burlington's Department of Public Works is involved, installing rainwater gardens which serve as traffic calming measures and capture storm runoff in Burlington's Old North End. Not to put too fine a point on it, but Burlington is a rarefied city: local organic farmers play soul music as they make the rounds giving out free produce in low-income neighborhoods from their solar-powered veggie delivery van and then come to the City Council and deliver testimony about not greenwashing a company like Lockheed. At the Sustainability Academy, an environmentally themed magnet school, deep inside the city's impoverished Old North End, heat comes via geothermal wells and first through fifth graders enter the building under the words “Sustainability is another word for Justice.”
Yet, despite seven and a half months of protest, No Lockheed community organizers have found no justice. Mayor Bob Kiss is still pushing forward with a climate change partnership with Lockheed, despite its intimate relationship with defeating climate change regulation. In an open letter, community organizers called on Lockheed to “quit the US Chamber of Commerce” to “prove [their] commitment to addressing climate change to the citizens of Burlington so someone other than Mayor Kiss might be a little more supportive of this proposed partnership.” The Burlington controversy has garnered national media attention from the likes of The New York Times. Despite his constituents, Mayor Kiss has plowed ahead, using staff time to move forward with Lockheed, seemingly in violation of City Councilor Emma Mulvaney-Stanak's February 7 City Council resolution. The resolution called for “one public meeting at City Hall before the City agrees to proceed with a proposal involving Lockheed Martin,” “establish[ing] community standards,” and CEDO [the city's Community Economic Development Office] “report[ing] to the City Council CD&NR Committee on any proposal developed by the City or Lockheed Martin for possible collaboration.” In a tense June 6 City Council Committee meeting, Councilor Mulvaney-Stanak (who's a member of Mayor Kiss' progressive party) delivered a stinging rebuke:
“Given the attention on this issue I'd hoped things would be a little more public, or at least the Council would be informed about discussions that were still happening with Lockheed in any sort of public way…. I think given the interest the public has shown on this it would have been nice if the Mayor had – and nice is not even the appropriate word – it would have been I think more appropriate for the Mayor to mention it in the public comments or have something that go out, so people have a chance to weigh in. Knowing that this process [drafting community standards] is still going on.”
To the proposal's critics, the contradictions are many: Mayor Kiss, who believes climate change is so urgent that he needs to partner Burlington with one of the worst corporate polluters on the planet, hasn't convened his Mayoral Task Force loaded with local climate change talent since November 14, 2007. The 350.org's Vermont Steering Committee member Keith Brunner compares the local struggle against Lockheed to a larger, global fight to keep money for climate change solutions in the public sphere. “One might ask: 'How could one of the largest weapons manufacturers on the planet be invited to join our community discussion on climate change mitigation and adaptation?' The answer partly lies in the framing of the story. Through the pretext of a crisis of epic proportions, Mayor Kiss has decided to go forward by working with anyone and everyone – regardless of their role in actually creating the crisis. Instead of questioning its ties to a corporate-led world-economy which is busily dismantling the ecological infrastructure of the planet, the City of Burlington has seized upon the narrative of climate chaos as merely an excess of CO2 in the atmosphere and brought in as a consultant one of the largest and most powerful of those corporations. It shouldn't be especially surprising that this 'problem-solution' framing of the problem leads to techno-fixes which only require capital investment to solve – and hence, the search for the deepest pockets begins.”
In this context, if Burlington's mayor moves forward with Lockheed, his critics claim it will not only provide a fig leaf for $44 billion a year in war profiteering and legal efforts to stop climate change legislation, but also a “Shock Doctrine” like privatization of climate solutions. Brunner, who participated in UN 2010 climate conferences in Cancun, says, “Just as global civil society and the dissenting nations call for a global climate fund that is housed within the relatively transparent, accountable and (in theory) democratically governed UNFCCC, concerned members of the Burlington community are demanding a democratically-governed climate action and energy descent plan, which is free of corporate influence or involvement and tailored towards meeting the needs of the poorest in our community. Market-based 'solutions' -read: corporate profit opportunities – that leverage the atmosphere of crisis surrounding climate change have no place in this town. A participatory and locally-controlled process sited firmly in the public realm – now this is real progress.”
Corporate Power Versus Vermont's Right to Regulate Climate Change
Beyond their $44 billion a year in cluster bombs, trident nuclear missiles and Abu Ghraib detainee interrogation; beyond their 57 instances of contractor misconduct, toxic spills and racial discrimination; what makes Lockheed a truly curious partner for liberal Burlington is their Koch brother-like right-wing legal activism. On June 20, the US Supreme Court in American Electric Power Co, et al v. Connecticut, et al decided not to let six states – including Vermont- regulate the emissions of electric power companies, which the ruling defines several times as “the largest emitters of carbon dioxide in the nation.” These corporations' “collective annual emissions of 650 million tons constitute 25 percent of emissions from the domestic electric power sector, 10 percent of emissions from all domestic human activities and 2.5 percent of all anthropogenic emissions worldwide.” As one environmental group stated about the case, “Despite having reasonable ways to reduce their emissions and ample knowledge of their effects on the environment, these five entities have emitted such staggering amounts of carbon dioxide as to set them apart from the vast majority of other emitters.” Inside the Supreme Court decision, the dire consequences of not taking action are outlined: “Consequent dangers of greenhouse gas emissions, the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] determined, included increases in heat-related deaths; coastal inundation and erosion caused by melting icecaps and rising sea levels; more frequent and intense hurricanes, floods and other 'extreme weather events' that cause death and destroy infrastructure; drought due to reductions in mountain snowpack and shifting precipitation patterns; destruction of ecosystems supporting animals and plants; and potentially 'significant disruptions' of food production.”
A legal brief filed by eight leading environmental law professors claims these mega-polluters are currently unregulated: “No Federal statute or regulation now limits greenhouse gas emissions from the Petitioners' [“the largest emitters of carbon dioxide in the nation”] and TVA's existing facilities.” According to the environmental law professors, the Supreme Court's rationale for dismissing the case was grounded in the idea that someday in the future the EPA might take some action, which might apply to current power plants, but likely won't:
“Petitioners' [the five power companies'] and TVA's Title V [Clean Air Act] permits likewise impose no obligation to limit greenhouse gas emissions. Petitioners and TVA also identify a potential future EPA action with respect to greenhouse gases from large stationary facilities like Petitioners' and TVA's, but again, that still-unrealized action imposes no present limits on Petitioners' and TVA's greenhouse gas emissions. The agency has indicated that more than a year from now, in May 2012, it may issue a final rule under Section 111 of the CA If issued, that rule might limit greenhouse gas emissions from new and modified power plants and it might also require – by a date in the still more distant future – that States impose similar limits on existing power plants. Again, however, no current Section 111 regulation imposes greenhouse gas emissions limits on Petitioners, TVA, or anyone else and TVA's brief emphasizes that EPA has reserved the right not to impose any such limits at the end of the rulemaking. ('A commitment to complete a [Section 111] rulemaking will not mean that EPA has prejudged the question of what, if any, [greenhouse gas emissions standard] will be appropriate; EPA could ultimately exercise its judgment to find the imposition of such standards inappropriate.' Moreover, some members of the current Congress disapprove of the proposed settlement; they have made legislative proposals that, if enacted, would bar EPA from using funds to complete a Section 111 rulemaking or, more broadly, from regulating greenhouse gases.”
It words like these that add layers of cynicism to the Supreme Court ruling, as well as layers of indignation to Burlington Mayor Kiss' actions.
This Sweeping Victory for Corporate Polluters Is Brought to You by …
Representing corporate mega-polluters, the US Chamber of Commerce's activist law firm called the National Chamber Litigation Center (NCLC) filed a legal brief asking for the case's dismissal. Though the chamber refuses to disclose the identity of those members which fund it (and the NCLC), the powerful ties between the Lockheed and the chamber are numerous: Lockheed's vice president of Washington operations sits on the chamber's board. Additionally, according to a 2009 press release from the chamber, “The Board of Directors of the U.S. Chamber's National Chamber Litigation Center (NCLC) elected James B. Comey as Chairman of the Board today. Mr. Comey is currently Senior Vice President and General Counsel of Lockheed Martin Corporation and has been a member of NCLC's Board of Directors since 2005.”
Maryanne Lavan was named by the National Law Journal as one of “Washington D.C.'s 20 Most Influential In-House Attorneys.” According to corporate counsel, Lavan “cruised like a Hellfire missile up the corporate chain of command,” so perhaps it's no surprise the NCLC chose her to help the chamber defeat climate legislation, racial, age and gender discrimination lawsuits. The chamber's NCLC proudly touts itself as “the voice of business in the courts on issues of national concern to the business community,” and having “become more aggressive in challenging anti-business measures in court, setting a new record for cases entered in each of the last six years.” Inside a December 2010 New York Times exposé, “Carter G. Phillips, who often represents the chamber and has argued more Supreme Court cases than any active lawyer in private practice, reflected on its influence. 'I know from personal experience that the chamber's support carries significant weight with the justices,' he wrote. 'Except for the solicitor general representing the United States, no single entity has more influence on what cases the Supreme Court decides and how it decides them than the National Chamber Litigation Center.'”
According to the liberal watchdog group the Center for Constitutional Accountability, the NCLC “prevails in 68 percent of the cases heard by the Roberts court, compared to a 56 percent success rate over the last 11 years of the Rehnquist Court.” In practice, this means that the NCLC frequently goes to bat for its favorite war profiteer, filing legal briefs, providing legal council and eventual victory in employment discrimination cases, sex and age discrimination cases, whistleblower retaliation cases, discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and much more.
To No Lockheed community organizer Anna Guyton, Burlington partnering with a corporation which engages in such legal activism is, “a grave hypocrisy.” Guyton says Lockheed “is well-known for their 'revolving-door' with the Pentagon, Department of Defense and other major corporations. Although it is riddled with conflicts of interest, Lockheed's 'legal activism' extends widely and deeply into our representative democracy. The only way to combat this corruption in our system is to decentralize power and put it back into the hands of small, local business owners, local governments and the citizens themselves.”
Activism Causes Corporations to Say “the US Chamber Doesn't Speak for Me”
The chambers' and thereby its members' legal activism have been drawing increasing scrutiny from a coalition of businesses and climate change activists, judicial watchdog groups, corporate watch dog groups, and more. According to a January New York Times exposé, the NCLC, the chamber's activist legal arm, has helped reshape corporate power in the judicial system for its largest members like Lockheed Martin:
The Roberts court, which has completed five terms, ruled for business interests 61 percent of the time, compared with 46 percent in the last five years of the court led by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, who died in 2005 and 42 percent by all courts since 1953…. The chamber now files briefs in most major business cases. The side it supported in the last term won 13 of 16 cases. Six of those were decided with a majority vote of five justices and five of those decisions favored the chamber's side. One of the them was Citizens United, in which the chamber successfully urged the court to guarantee what it called “free corporate speech” by lifting restrictions on campaign spending.
Investigative journalism and grassroots organizing which calls out the chamber's chilling effect on climate legislation has caused a succession of corporate defections. Enter “Apple iPhone” and “worker suicide” into Google and the portrait painted isn't exactly one of a socially responsible company. Yet, Apple quit the US Chamber of Commerce over its successful lobbying which helped defeat Congress' 2009 federal climate change legislation (Waxman-Markey). Catherine Novelli, vice president of worldwide government affairs at Apple, said in a statement, “We strongly object to the chamber's recent comments opposing the E.P.A.'s effort to limit greenhouse gases…. We would prefer that the chamber take a more progressive stance on this critical issue and play a constructive role in addressing the climate crisis.” Similarly, Nike's brutal labor practices are so well known, that its “swoosh” logo is almost synonymous with sweatshops. Yet, Nike pulled no punches in the statement it issues as it quit the chamber's board over it's efforts to block climate change legislation, stating, “We fundamentally disagree with the US Chamber of Commerce on the issue of climate change and their recent action to challenge the EPA is inconsistent with our view that climate change is an issue in need of urgent action.” Even Excelon, a massive $18.6 billion a year energy utility corporation which owns and operates 17 nuclear reactors, including Three Mile Island, announced they are “so committed to climate legislation” that “Exelon will not be renewing its membership in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce due to the organization's opposition to climate legislation.”
Vermont-based climate change author and founder of climate change nonprofit 350.org Bill McKibben says of how this legal activism of the chamber affects the proposed partnership between Burlington and Lockheed, “The fear that [Lockheed] could be just greenwashing is real – for instance, these guys belong to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has opposed every single good idea on energy and climate for decades; to me, that's a sign they're willing to make money on climate, but still work in Washington to prevent meaningful progress.” So, perhaps it's no surprise McKibben helped promote No Lockheed's challenge asking the war profiteer to quit the chamber. Needless to say, Lockheed hasn't responded.
Speaking Inconvenient Truth to Power
Many of the 100-plus Burlingtonians who packed City Hall spoke out during the public comment section of the big showdown challenged claims by Mayor Kiss's administration. Just as with February, the March, April, May, June and August City Council Committee meetings, not a single person spoke against community standards. Local business owner and art director of the No Lockheed campaign counters Liza Cowan drew laughs, using a bit of humor to make her point, “The mayor has said that this partnership will provide a way for an arms manufacturer to beat their swords into plowshares. There is no indication that Lockheed has any intention of beating their enormously profitable, lethal and polluting weapons into plowshares or even into snowplows. There is neither evidence nor indication that they have ceased manufacturing any weapons, or begun conversion to a peace economy.”
Vermont State Rep. and author Suzi Wiziwaty, a Democrat representing 8,000 South End Burlingtonians, set the tone early. Wiziwaty, through horned-rimmed glasses and patient, intellectual speech patterns, said “recognize” when “they've made a mistake,” and to “listen to your people.”
“I'm speaking in favor of the resolution on community standards. Speaking as an elected official I know what it is like to make decisions under pressure, on behalf of constituents. Citizens elect us to represent them and we do the best we can with the information that we have at the time. Sometimes we get information later and realize we made a mistake. And sometimes we're lucky enough to be able to undo that mistake. Now speaking as a citizen myself, as well as an elected representative, I know that watching government in action can occasionally leave me feeling helpless and disempowered. It can feel like once a process has been started and a path entered upon there is nothing we can do. This is why this resolution is so important. The fact that Burlington residents have worked together to find a constructive way to say, 'Stop! Wrong direction! Mistake!' Is both heartening and inspiring. The resolution offers City Councilors and the Mayor a terrific opportunity to reconsider the proposed alliance with Lockheed Martin. And perhaps even more importantly, to involve citizen who obviously care a lot about our city, in thinking about and creating the kind of city we want to have in the future. This resolution is about more than Lockheed Martin, it is about honoring citizen participation in setting public policy and I urge you to support it.”
The 350.org's social media coordinator Joe Solomon spends much of his time driving web traffic to cause people to take action on the climate crisis, but it was verbal rhetorical flourishes he used to try and drive the politicians to action, saying, “But we have a small thing we can do tonight – a timid non-binding resolution we can pass on that journey that calls for much more courage and boldness. We have a moment this evening to set up standards so as to start to heed this call from the frontlines. No to Lockheed, No to Big Coal and Oil and no to war-profiteers. Yes to integrity, yes to justice, yes to our future.”
Speaking from her “background of global economic systems, international business and sustainable business practices,” Anna Guyton outlined the need to set a precedent to keep climate solution in the public and not the private sphere by passing the resolution:
“Why is it that some corporations manage to get away with fraud, misconduct, toxic pollution, child labor and human trafficking? Why is it that time after time, crime after crime, these corporations continue to do damage to people and places? The answer lies in concentrated power without checks and balances. Sure, these corporations are prosecuted, fined and made to pay for clean-up efforts (sometimes) – but does this serve as a check? No – again and again we see them commit more crimes. Does it prevent contractors from getting more contracts? No – the corruption is so deep and so broad, that their power is completely unbalanced. These are the types of corporations that we don't want to see Burlington tied to in partnership.” Guyton continued, “We simply can't take that risk with an issue as important as climate change. Instead, what is needed for a city and a world without corruption is a de-concentration of that power, a decentralization of that power. The only way to do that is to build our own power and empower those who have a proven track record of sustainable business practices, like many of our Vermont companies and organizations do. And you must acknowledge the voice of the people – all these people here tonight (and many more who couldn't make it) care about community standards. Honor our voice, honor Burlington's democratic values and please pass this resolution as a first step toward ensuring good business partners for the city of Burlington.”
Local activist Amanda Caulder said, “It seems like a very basic thing to require that our city only partner with companies that aren't known for fraud, crimes against humanity, major discrimination issues, child labor, promoting and profiting from war and major fines for environmental violations…. Companies like Lockheed Martin and other large polluting corporations are not friends of the climate movement. When they say they are going to do something to help out it is always a false solution. They have an interest in maintaining the status quo.”
Local organic farmer Hilary Martin, who sells vegetables from the aforementioned solar-powered veggie van, stated her “wider concern” is that, “as we move into a situation of budget shortfalls that corporate sponsorship is going to become more of a standard that we find ourselves needing to accept, not unlike the apparent need for climate action. I think there is a real fine line between accepting gifts and partnerships with corporations that forward the issues Burlington has stood against historically. I would also speak in favor of them being binding. I would say not only to prevent Lockheed Martin's partnership with Burlington, but also to set a precedent that puts Burlington's values forward into the future.”
Information technology professional Bryan Parmalee used heaps of Socratic irony to make his case: “Recently John McCain who loves himself some war, said that Lockheed's performance delivering the F-35 was deplorable. You know something is wrong when John McCain of all people is telling you you're doing a bad job making weapons. Recently you may have heard the Pentagon was hacked and over 24,000 documents were stolen by a foreign source likely China. How is this possible? The Pentagon's database is built up of a bunch of defense contractors mini-databases. Which means you're only as strong as your weakest link. Let's guess who their weakest link was. Two months prior to the Pentagon being hacked, Lockheed Martin revealed they had been hacked due to a vulnerability in their network. Really ironic that a global security company would have a network that is so insecure. I can't wait to see what sort of vulnerabilities they bring to Burlington if we choose to work with them.”
Lewis Holmes, with his Noam Chomsky-esque gun-metal bifocals, issued a castigation of what he perceived as the city's political mechanization's. “The signing of an agreement last December with the weapons company Lockheed Martin unleashed a political storm and led to the formation of a well justified protest movement. An appropriate City Council response would be to approve a one line resolution which states city council advises the city not to partner with armaments manufacturers. Instead you are voting tonight on a much longer text. Which a city attorney has weakened by trading specific recommendations for a list of neutral queries which the city should quote consider unquote. The result looks for all the world like a cynical attempt to take the wind out of the sails of the protest movement while allowing city free rein to consider on business as usual.”
Mercedes Mack, an African-American community leader and Burlington School District diversity coordinator, turned her public comment into a direct address to Mayor Kiss: “It's hard for me now to see you and not think about this situation … You have this bumper sticker on your truck that says 'Fight Racism' and every time I see that bumper sticker and think about this deal with Lockheed Martin, I have a hard time figuring out the logic of behind that bumper sticker 'Fight Racism' and going and engaging in this situation with Lockheed. This isn't about personal attacks, I want to have a lot of compassion for you as a person and as someone I see in the schools talking to students about what it means to be a good citizen…. I know you know about the connections between racism and classism and war. I'm wondering how we can say that we have a livable city and not think about these connections.”
Following over 70 minutes of public testimony, at two minutes a speaker, the City Council made final tweaks to the bill and launched into their debate. During the debate and despite his critics, Mayor Kiss raised eyebrows, saying cryptically, “We've had continued conversation with Lockheed Martin in regard to the letter of co-operation. Beyond sort of maintaining that conversation we haven't proposed to do anything. At least up until now [Lockheed has] been prepared to move forward with co-operation whatever we define that to be.” Speaking to the advisory community standards resolution his fellow progressive party members brought forward the Mayor said, “What we have is front of us is a disproportionate response.” And still later, over a chorus of boos, Mayor Kiss hammered away on his set of sound bites describing swords into plowshares. The City Council's three conservative Republicans jumped to the progressive mayor's defense. One of those Republicans, Vince Dober, a military veteran resplendent in a Hawaiian shirt and slicked-back hair said, “I don't say this often but I agree whole heartedly with the Mayor. This resolution isn't good practice. It will only stop progress.”
Joan Shannon, a South End conservative Democrat, noted, “I don't know if it's secrecy or a lack of information with what's going on. I have a lack of information. I have a lot of frustration about whether to move forward or even keep this option open.” Then the conservative Democrat, like a welterweight boxer training on a speed bag, went to work throwing combinations of punches at the resolution. Shannon critiqued the resolution for being overbroad, saying, “I think we have to recognize that is the policy we're setting, that we're not going to enter into partnerships with defense contractors. Which may be the policy we want, but I don't think anyone should kid themselves that this is just advisory and we can still contract with defense contractors. I don't think anyone in this room 6 months from now is going to be satisfied if Lockheed Martin or General Dynamics comes up and offers us whatever, ten million dollars for emissions controls on the McNeil [biomass woodchip burning] plant. I don't think that is the expectation in this room.” Several times a young mother in the gallery interrupted Councilor Shannon saying, “she's misrepresenting the truth.”
Now, over two hours in, with the local cable access the only video camera still filming and the hour growing late, Councilor Mulvaney-Stanak defended her resolution, “We want to start the conversation about what kind of framework to use when we go into very important partnerships that are significant in size and significant in number of years that the city ventures into…. I wonder without this framework, on such a big topic, I don't think it's responsible to be completely wide open for business. That brings pros and cons. Without this framework there are very limited numbers of people who are making that very big decision.” Republicans immediately called the question asking for it to be a voice vote and, suddenly, the proverbial moment of truth arrived. Needing a simple majority, eight of the 14 councilors, a city staffer called the city councilors in alphabetical order by last name.
“Councilor Adrian?” “Yes.”
“Councilor Brezniak?” “Yes.”
“Councilor Blais?” “Yes.”
“Councilor Brennan? “Yes.”
“Councilor Bushor?” “Yes.”
“Councilor Descelles?” “No.”
“Councilor Dober?” “No.”
“Councilor Hartnett?” “No.”
“Councilor Kranichfeld?” “Yes.”
“Councilor Mulvaney-Stanak?” “Yes.”
“Councilor Paul?” “Yes.”
“Councilor Shannon?” “No.”
“Councilor Wright?” “No.”
“President Keough?” “No.”
The clerk's voice intoned flatly, “the motioned passes eight to six.” After a pregnant pause, the chamber erupted into jubilant applause, whistles and high fives. Anxiety gave way to hugs, as the triumphal Burlington grassroots spilled through the stately, wooden doors, out into the midsummer night, bringing every last handmade sign with them, just in case. Tiny Vermont's history is a steady march of bold precedents for the remainder of the United States: the first state to outlaw slavery; the first state to institute civil unions (which prefigured several states' marriage equality bills); the first state legislature which voted to shutter its nuclear reactor and the first state to grant single-payer health care. It seemed inside City Council Monday, again a precedent had been set, this time for public-private partnerships on climate change to promote sustainable and just climate solutions, not greenwashing for mega-polluters.
The celebration would be short-lived however. Less than 48 hours later, Mayor Kiss would issue a press release, which according to a Burlington Free Press article, stated in plainsong, “Burlington's climate-change collaboration with Lockheed-Martin will 'forge ahead' despite City Council concerns.” That “discussions are ongoing,” and, what's more, that Mayor Kiss “hasn't decided whether he'll veto” the resolution members of his own party put forward.
Ever since Burlington's grassroots helped propel an unknown Bernie Sanders to an improbable defeat of six-term Democratic incumbent Mayor Gordon Paquette by 12 votes in 1981, community organizers have occupied a mythic space in Burlington folklore. With Mayor Kiss signaling he'll move forward devil may care with Lockheed no matter what his constituents or his government tell him, it seems the next move in this dance belongs to those grassroots. When Mayor Kiss was on the re-election trail in 2009, he frequently invoked the words of former Burlington Mayor Bernie Sanders, saying, “Burlington is open for business but not for sale.” If the community organizers keep organizing and growing their movement, hopefully, they can help him live up to those words.
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