The one good thing about long plane journeys is that I can watch a movie or two. On my first trip to the United States I decided to watch a movie I had heard a lot about, yet could not find the time to see in Dhaka. The unimaginatively named pseudo epic was “I am Legend.” For those who have not seen the movie this is a spoiler warning, don't waste your time. A weak story with unbelievable computer generated images seems to be the recipe for success in Hollywood, and in a way movies like this are part of the opinion I had formed about America, a lot of hype with very little substance. The only thing of interest I could take out of the movie was a personal anecdote. The cure for the killer virus that had potentially wiped out the world lay in the state of Vermont, which as fate would have it was my destination in the US. Over 30 hours of travelling, more than a few bad in-flight movies and finally something to smile about.
Vermont is a state like none other and its identity is hard to pin down, which I suppose is a good thing. A little known fact is that up till 1792 it remained an independent country and that sense of independence can still be felt to this day. There are still people who argue for secessionism and apparently at any given point in time up to 12% of the population agree with them. But simply being secessionist is not a true gauge of the independent spirit of Vermont. Possibly the most interesting tid-bit about the state is that in the eight years Dubya has been president of the world (it's the truth, whether we choose to accept it or not), he has been all over the world and to every state in America except Vermont. The reasons are simple, he is not welcome and it would be wholly embarrassing if he showed up and got booed from pillar to post. Aside from that I am told by a reliable source that if he were to set foot in Vermont he could be arrested for war crimes.
Vermonters for Obama rallying
Vermont may be part of America, but it is definitely not part of Dubya's America. It seems to be the single state that has stood in unison against his war mongering ways. Other states may have larger numbers of people who denounce Dubya, but the uniqueness of Vermont is that they stand united against his megalomaniacal ways. Their response to eight years of Bush was to choose Barack Obama as their democratic nominee and to the outsider it would seem an interesting move, as over 95% of the population is white. While I am not insinuating that white people will only vote for a fellow Caucasian, one must admit the choice of Obama was intriguing in such a white majority state. And that is the essence of the spirit of independence in Vermont, the people chose the person they believed to be the best man for the job and in doing so left everything else out of the picture, race religion and colour.
The progressive state of Vermont can also claim to be a state that was not swayed by the Obama tsunami that took off a year and a half ago. Long before he was even thinking of the presidency, in early 2006 he came down to Vermont to speak on behalf of Peter Welch and Bernie Sanders and spoke at the University of Vermont. People lined up for over half a mile to catch a glimpse of him speaking, and those who managed to get into the Ira Allen chapel were not disappointed. Philip Baruth, a well known novelist and political commentator, wrote of the experience, “And that conversation ranges over poverty, war, and the fraying of the American dream. It is by turns impassioned, and ironic, and heartfelt, and it is impossible not to be moved by the simplicity of the man's vision: “It turns out that the American people's expectations are extraordinarily modest. They know that government can't do everything for them. They know they have to work hard. But government can help, and that's all they're asking.”
Howard Dean, a former governor of Vermont, was always vocal about a planned invasion in Iraq
As the audience applauds, the students glued to the windows outside begin to drum again on the glass, with both hands, and as the volume rises, I'm really worried that the glass will shatter and one or more of them will come crashing down into the pews below.
Only then do I truly understand the Obama effect: I realise how hungry we are, all of us gathered inside and outside this consecrated place, to hear someone in a position of authority say something that makes some sort of sense, any sort of sense at all.”
While Obama seems like the only possible choice now, Vermont's support for him and his progressive change has been around much longer than the 15 minute hoopla which has surrounded his current campaign. But Vermont and politics cannot be talked about without one Howard Dean. We currently know him better as the Chairman of the Democratic National Committee and a one time front runner for the Democratic nomination in 2004 but his political roots are firmly planted in Vermont where he was their second longest running Governor. While people now talk of Obama and his stance against the Iraq war, it is easily forgotten that Dean was the loudest and most vocal of the Democrats against a planned invasion of Iraq. While it's “cool” for a politician to have that historically retrospective stance now, he spoke from the heart, and sensibly well before the Muppets in Washington even thought about the mess they were getting themselves into. If Barack Obama is elected in November then he will have a huge debt to pay to Dean, who was the person that revolutionised small donors and the internet and tapped them for their fundraising capabilities, a strategy that has proved very successful for Obama.
Vermont is progressive, close knit and constantly looking towards the future. They can proudly say they voted Blue in 2000 and 2004 and that Dubya has never stepped foot in the state. As I sat by the waterfront in downtown Burlington, Vermont on the 3rd of July and saw the fireworks which seemingly recreated the start of the universe, rather than celebrating American independence, a friend poked me and said, “these vermonsters really know how to celebrate independence.” I chuckled at his gaffe and remembered the movie I was watching while up in the skies. There the monsters were to be defeated in Vermont and it would be the start of the new world. And with that I thought maybe the next generation of independent free thinkers anywhere in the world could be called vermonsters. They need not come from Vermont as long as they have the same spirit.
Copyright (R) thedailystar.net 2008