inclusion initiative continues to gain momentum in Vermont | News

An Inclusion Declaration Policy that has its roots in Rutland County is set to be endorsed by 50 municipalities, possibly in time for Vermont Inclusion Week (May 8-14).

It is also the subject of a webinar hosted by Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility scheduled for April 26.

A sample version of the declaration, posted at vtdeclarationofinclusion.org online, gives local leaders a template that can be used by simply adding the name of the municipality.

“The (municipality) condemns racism and welcomes all people, regardless of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, gender identity or expression, age or disability, and wants everyone to feel safe and welcome in our community. As a city, we strongly condemn all forms of discrimination, we are committed to fair and equal treatment of all members of our community, and we will strive to ensure that all of our actions, policies and operating procedures reflect this commitment. The (municipality) has been and will continue to be a place where individuals can live freely and express their opinions,” the statement reads.

Al Wakefield, one of the supporters of the Declaration of Inclusion initiative, said it had been adopted by 44 municipalities with another city close to approval and five more that could join by May. . Some of the newest to join the initiative are Wallingford, Morristown, Newfane and Stowe. Clarendon officials are talking with Wakefield and other developers.

Wakefield said organizers estimated that about a third of the state’s population, or about 210,000 residents, live in towns that are part of the initiative.

“We are working with the governor’s office to hopefully bring more recognition during inclusion week in Vermont,” he said.

Bob Harnish, one of the main organizers, traced the origins of the initiative back to an invitation he received from his cousin, Dave Bennion, to attend a meeting of the Franklin Select Board, where Bennion is vice- President. Franklin adopted a statement of inclusion at the September 2020 meeting.

“I was so intrigued by his moral correctness and economic value to Vermont, so I presented him to the Pittsford board. We presented him at a meeting and at the next board meeting. restricted, there was a motion to pass and it passed unanimously,” he said.

Harnish said the statement was passed in Brandon and around that time he contacted Wakefield.

“I said, ‘Well, I think this thing might have legs,'” he said.

Wakefield and retired attorney Norman Cohen joined the effort.

Wakefield said he thinks part of the success is Vermont’s relatively small size.

“You can make things happen in Vermont that you can’t make happen in other states. Someone is related to someone else in some way, someone is in contact with someone or another. The way we did this work is not because we have political power or incredible influence and contacts, we went to people that we somehow know who know people. They thought this cause was right from a moral point of view and from an economic point of view, and they took it to their cities,” he said.

Harnish said he, Wakefield and Cohen rarely take the policy to towns, but seek community members with “seriousness” and local respect in a municipality whose leaders are considering it, and ask those local residents to endorse the concept.

While Harnish said it’s hoped something like the inclusion initiative will be accepted, he said that with the embrace of the Vermont League of Cities and Towns and the Vermont Chamber of Commerce, the proposal gained “more credibility” and took “a huge step forward”. .”

Another boost could come from the Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility webinar, where Wakefield will be joined on a panel by Betsy Bishop, president of the Vermont Chamber of Commerce; Milton City Manager Don Turner; Jude Smith Rachele, co-founder and CEO of Abundant Sun Limited; and Ted Brady, executive director of the Vermont League of Cities and Towns. The panel will talk about the initiative and how a company or municipality can adopt their own version of the policy.

Roxanne Vought, executive director of Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility, said it was “obvious” to seize the opportunity to bring more visibility and awareness to the business inclusion initiative at the Inclusion Week is approaching.

She said employers have a huge influence on their community.

“They create workplaces, which can be places of welcome, belonging and inclusion and that is what we hope and seek and what our organization aims to support and inspire. … As pillars and cornerstones of their community, businesses also have a huge responsibility for the culture of communities and help create and nurture a welcoming and inclusive culture,” she said.

Vought said about 100 people have already registered for the webinar. She said the event built on insights put forward at an earlier webinar co-hosted by Curtis Reed, of the Vermont Partnership for Fairness and Diversity, on the topic “Bigotry is bad for business.”

“I would like to tie it to our vision which is: ‘A just, prosperous and transformative economy that works for everyone and the planet.’ The only way it will work for everyone and it will be fair, prosperous and transformative is if we create communities of belonging and inclusion,” she said.

The webinar, “Vermont Inclusion Statement: Why It Matters and What It Means for Your Organization,” will begin at 10 a.m. on April 26 and is expected to last one hour. More information can be found at vbsr.org. The webinar which is free and open to the public.

The inclusion initiative has its own webpage at vtdeclarationofinclusion.org which includes a list of municipalities that have already adopted the declaration and a document that can be used for what the organizers hope will be the next phase: Adopting a plan to implement implement the intent of the statement into meaningful action.

“Our vision is for Vermont to become known as the friendliest and safest place for everyone in the country,” Wakefield said.

patrick.mcardle @rutlandherald.com

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