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Vermont Independence Convention: Confronting the Empire

by maslauskas Saturday, Nov. 05, 2005 at 7:29 AM

On October 28 a statewide convention on state secession and running on the theme “Vermont Independence: An Impossible Dream or a Vision of the Future?” was held in the State House in Montpelier, VT. The last time a convention similar to this was held took place in North Carolina in 1861 when the state decided to secede from the US.

Vermont Independence...
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The group that organized the convention in Vermont was the Second Vermont Republic (SVR), formed in large part during the last few years. The SVR, according to its web site, “is a peaceful, democratic, grassroots solidarity movement committed to the return of Vermont to its rightful status as an independent republic as was the case in 1791 and to support Vermont's future development as a separate, sustainable nation-state.”

Vermont was once a sovereign nation-state between the years 1777 and 1791 (a little known fact in US history) and Second Vermont Republicans are figuring out how to cut Vermont loose from the Empire so it can build on its more democratic and communitarian way of life.

Over three hundred people from Vermont and from various areas in the States and Canada filed into the State House that brisk Vermont morning, walking past “Ethan Allen” (aka Jim Hogue) dressed in full continental regalia, sitting atop a horse. A fellow Vermonter, also in continental garb, was holding the famed green and blue flag of the Green Mountain Boys which has also been adopted by the SVR.

The convention began when the “Irreverand” Ben Matchstick opened with a very poetic “prayer” calling for secession.

Matchstick was followed by “Ethan Allen” who gave a grandiose speech recounting his takeover of Fort Ticonderoga during the American Revolution.

Thomas Naylor then took the floor. Naylor is unarguably the architect of the secessionist/independence movement, having come to the decision of secession after realizing, along with fellow Vermonters, that the US Empire “has become too big, too centralized, too powerful, too intrusive, too materialistic, too high-tech, too globalized, too militarized, too imperialistic, too violent, too undemocratic, and too unresponsive to the needs of individual citizens and small communities” as he stated in his most recent book “The Vermont Manifesto”.

Naylor pointed out the rationale for secession. In sum, the two main problems are that the US government “has lost its soul and has become both unsustainable and unfixable.”

Naylor made comparisons between the USSR and the USA, citing among other things that the USSR “pretended to have a multiparty political system”; similarly, the US “has gone down the same path and has one party taking the guise of two.”

After Naylor’s brief introduction, executive director of the Vermont Historical Society, J. Kevin Graffagnino spoke about the historical significance of Vermont’s “larger-than-life frontier hero” Ethan Allen. He pointed out that Ethan Allen’s departure from the norm of the so-called “founding fathers” of the US has caused much celebration and adoration of the historical figure by Vermonters of “all political stripes and persuasions”. Interestingly, in what is commonly known as “Ethan Allen’s Bible”, Ethan declared that “we must return to the religion of nature and reason.” Apart from Vermont taking a different road of independence, no wonder many of the more puritan “founding fathers” loathed Ethan.

A professor at UVM was next to speak – Dr. Frank Bryan. Bryan is a veteran secessionist and in the 1970s was even involved with the Decentralist League in Vermont which he founded along with none other than prominent Anarchist theorist and activist Murray Bookchin, also a Vermonter.

Bryan pointed out the historical tradition of secession in Vermont. In 1990 he raised the issue of secession into the public lime light and seven Vermont towns voted to secede from the US. He also spoke of his personal feelings on the issue of secession. He had become a Republican in the past because the Democrats “were anti-small town and were proponents of the [much hated] interstate highway system” in Vermont. He was quick to point out that “being a Republican in Vermont is really being a decentralist communitarian.” But he left the Republican Party during Reagan’s anti-states’ rights years, among other things.

Some of the most important aspects of Bryan’s speech were his calls for smaller scale. “Scale is critical to tolerance and stability,” Bryan pointed out. “Government needs to become small and local” in order for things to work better. He also vocalized some of his well-grounded fears that the Vermont independence movement would lose strength and momentum whenever a liberal Democrat comes to power as president. He urged Second Vermont Republicans not to make the issue of secession into “that type of thing.”

The keynote address was given by author of “The Long Emergency”, Howard Kunstler. He gave a damning speech against certain aspects of the current system, especially that of suburbia.

“Suburbs represent the greatest misrepresentation of allocation of funds in the history of the world,” Kunstler cried out to the cheering throngs in the State House. Similar to Naylor, he made allusions to the decadent, corrupt and failed system in the USSR and the overwhelming similarities it has with the US. “I’ve traveled all over the country. Travel it! You’ll see a country that looks like a former soviet republic… go to Elmira and Utica, NY! You’ll see what I mean!”

Kunstler warned of the coming days ahead where America, even during peak oil and its aftermath, will continue to be a car-dependent society. The result? Suburbs will crumble, the federal government will become impotent and people will be forced to live in small-scale societies, much like what Vermonters have been used to over the years. He said that in the future, there will be “a clearer distinction between town and country… we won’t be able to afford to abide by building codes… [and] turbulence will be the rule.”

His book “The Long Emergency” gives a fuller description of the end of the American Empire during peak oil. Hopefully, Vermonters are making the right moves in getting out of the Empire while they can and scaling down in size to avoid future destruction and disaster.

After a brief lunch break, Naylor spoke again. He argued for Vermont’s right to self-determination, direct democracy and self preservation. He also laid out the constitutional legality for Vermont’s secession.

He made sure to drive home the point that neither he nor Vermonters are or will decide Vermont’s independence; rather, it will be “Bush, Rice, Hillary Clinton [etc.], the cheap oil end game, the collapse of the dollar, etc.”

Naylor also answered some very important questions on whether or not Vermont would even be able to sustain itself if secession became a reality. His manifesto goes into further detail but he did point out that there are 50 nations that are the same size or smaller than Vermont in population; some of these nations also happen to be 5 of the 10 richest in the world.

Fellow Second Vermont Republicans spoke throughout the afternoon to discuss some very important issues at hand.

The last main speaker was Kirkpatrick Sale, author of “Human Scale” among many other books. Sale is perhaps one of the greatest decentralist writers in the twentieth century. He focused his talk on organizing the Middlebury Institute which would be dedicated in promoting “the serious study of separatism, secession, self-determination and similar devolutionary trends and developments, on both national and international scales.”

A member in the audience asked Sale if Vermonters will ever use violence to achieve the goal of secession. Sale responded that although the SVR encourages non-violence and a peaceful dissolution, it would have to be Vermonters themselves who make their decisions.

At the end of the daylong convention, a majority of people present voted in favor of supporting two resolutions that were brought to the table: one calling for Vermont’s return to an independent Vermont republic and the other urging the SVR to apply for membership in the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO).

The SVR is not, as some critics may argue, a vanguardist group – members of the SVR have no interest in running in elections on a secessionist party ticket. It can perhaps be best described as “a movement.” And maybe this struggle, when it gains more ground, may be described as a “national liberation struggle”; of course, not in the sense of the struggles that shook the world throughout the middle and latter parts of the twentieth century.

The makeup of SVR’s membership is quite interesting: progressives, libertarians, greens, conservatives and even radicals make up the motley crew that is the SVR. This makes it possible for a large variation of ideas to enter the independence debate.

However, if Vermont ever declares its independence officially, what type of government will take its place? Some Second Vermont Republicans envision a system that combines a federal structure with Vermont’s long history of direct democracy and town meetings. A president will still be in place and so will a congress. But why end there? Why should Vermonters detach themselves from the shackles of one state apparatus and place themselves under the weight of a new state? Don’t Vermonters deserve better than that?

The SVR appears to be taking a similar road to that of national liberation struggles in the past. However well meaning national liberation struggles and groups may have been in the past, the name of their struggle (emphasis on NATIONAL liberation) describes well the intentions and eventual outcome of their situations. Some advice for the SVR: read Frantz Fanon’s “The Wretched of The Earth” to get a sense of the kind of nationalist struggle he wrote of – one that is internationalist in perspective.

Or if Fanon isn’t what SVR folk are looking for, they don’t have to look far to find answers. After all, Solzhenitsyn lived in Vermont as did Bookchin.

Maybe the type of democracy the SVR is looking for can be found in the Langdon Street Café in Montpelier, where many SVR meetings have taken place in the past. Langdon has been in existence for a year. It’s a worker’s owned and controlled collective where all the workers are also bosses. The Café sells a wide variety of organic food and local brews and beverages. Local bands perform quite often. Local artists auction off or display their work. And on the second floor, a small, radical bookstore named Black Sheep Books has set up shop.

This is just what, or so it appears, Kunstler, Sale, Bryan and Naylor were talking about throughout the day: a sustainable, small scale, democratic alternative to the Empire surrounding them and they had to look no farther than a few blocks down the street. Whatever road the Vermont independence movement takes, the possibilities are indeed infinite.

For some audio coverage, visit:

It should be up on the site this Thursday I believe. Just look for Dan Goossen’s show.

and extensive coverage can be found here:

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