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Adrian: Talking Turkey

Ancient wisdom dictates that neither politics nor religion should be discussed in “polite” company. Unfortunately, polite or not, many of us just can’t seem to help it – especially during the holidays.

Beginning with Thanksgiving, just the right “primordial succotash” for delving into these forbidden topics is created – in a combination of friends, both new and old; family both wanted and tolerated; copious amounts of food; and of course an abundance of beverage. Many Thanksgiving dinners have gone awry because faith and the affairs of state simply could not be resisted.

Perhaps we should remember that, while details of the 1621 Thanksgiving Dinner of the Pilgrims and Wampanoag tribe have been replaced with layers of metaphor and symbolism, one thing is clear. The feast was intended to cement a military alliance, and the Pilgrims, refugees fleeing religious persecution in England, were strangers in a strange land. But for the good grace of their native neighbors, the Pilgrims may never have survived to establish a viable colony. Politics certainly preceded the feast, but generosity and tolerance defined the day itself.

All of which reminds me of a question the Burlington City Council recently placed on the ballot for Town Meeting Day 2015. It reads, “Shall the Vermont Constitution be amended to give residents of Vermont who are not currently citizens of the United States of America the right to vote in municipal and school elections.” If this initiative passes in Burlington it will be forwarded to the legislature to determine whether to commence the long process of amending the Vermont Constitution.

Worth noting is that Vermont’s 1789 Constitution originally allowed for so called “alien suffrage” or the rights of non-citizens to vote so long as they lived in Vermont for a year; owned property and took the Freeman’s Oath. This was presumably a conscious effort to promote immigration in a sparsely populated nation. In 1828 the Vermont Council of Censors amended the Vermont Constitution to end alien suffrage and require US Citizenship to vote.

Burlington, and maybe all of Vermont, will soon be engaged in debating whether to allow for the resurrection of alien suffrage. Over the past two decades the influx of new Americans from a panoply of nationalities and ethnicities have unquestionably helped to make the fabric of Vermont – and our nation - more adaptive to the changes of an increasingly global society. Some day, all global citizens may simply be known as Terran.

But until then, we will continue to hash-out the issues of suffrage, citizenship and public participation: in the legislature, in the community, and for those of us who just can’t seem to help it, at the Thanksgiving Table.

Ed Adrian is an attorney at the law firm Monaghan Safar Ducham PLLC. He previously served on the Burlington City Council for five years and currently sits on the Burlington Library Commission.
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