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Vermonters of the year: People who made 2006 matter

By Shay Totten | Vermont Guardian

Posted December 22, 2006

Pictured above - Dan DeWalt, of Newfane

At this time each year, the Vermont Guardian pauses to reflect upon the achievements of the preceding 11 months, and to honor those people and groups who exemplify the best of Vermont’s values, ingenuity, and leadership on issues facing the country and the globe.

The year 2006 will be remembered for a variety of reasons — the first major change in our Congressional delegation in 15 years, and the first U.S. House and U.S. Senate seat open in a generation; the passage of a health care reform bill; Vermont Yankee approved to boost its power output; and a fixture of Vermont’s media — Chris Graff — becoming a story when he was fired from his post as bureau chief of the Associated Press.

It was the year when the self-proclaimed Socialist Bernie Sanders toppled a multi-millionaire to earn a seat in the U.S. Senate, and when a general-turned-politician couldn’t overcome the anti-Republican tide in Vermont and lost to a leader in the state Senate.

All the while, Vermonters endured rising property taxes, rising health care premiums, a lack of snow, low milk prices, and a soggy spring that made for poor planting.
So, here is our list this year of some of the Vermonters who made a difference in 2006, and will leave an indelible impression on 2007.

CITIZEN ACTIVIST

Dan DeWalt

“It feels like my child’s first steps,” Dan DeWalt told the Guardian on May 1, the day that three petitions urging the impeachment of Pres. George W. Bush were delivered to Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, “simultaneously a huge event, and painfully reflective of the enormous distance yet to go.”

Earlier this year during Town Meeting Day votes, Brookfield, Dummerston, Marlboro, Newfane, Putney, and Brattleboro approved measures calling for Congress to begin impeachment proceedings against Bush. Not all were identical, but all were modeled after Newfane’s resolution, one authored by DeWalt.

More towns have signed to bring such resolutions to voters in 2007 — roughly 40 so far.

More importantly, towns and cities across the country, from New Hampshire to California, and plenty of states in between, have taken up the issue. As John Nichols points out in his new book (Story, page 10), Vermont’s effort is fueling a national movement to investigate whether Bush should be impeached for misleading the nation about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction and ties between Iraq and al-Qaeda; using falsehoods to lead our nation into war unsupported by international law; lying about U.S. policy to use torture; and directing the government to engage in domestic spying.

DeWalt’s effort has brought the global media to his doorstep, and he has been lauded by elements of the liberal blogosphere and lampooned by some of the traditional, conservative media.

Ever the populist, DeWalt was not deterred as he told the Guardian: “Anything we as citizens can do is important because it makes those courageous congressmen take pause even that much longer before they are willing to go along with him. We’re at a tipping point.”

Look for DeWalt’s effort to continue to make headlines in 2007, and with Democrats like John Conyers, D-MI, sitting in key positions it might mean someone in Washington is listening.

CITIZEN WATCHDOG

New England Coalition

In a rare concession, a key federal panel in September agreed to hear contentions filed by the state of Vermont and a citizen watchdog group as part of its review of Vermont Yankee’s bid to operate beyond 2012.

The Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB) issued a 107-page ruling allowing one of the state Department of Public Service’s three contentions, and four of the six contentions filed by the New England Coalition (NEC).

The ASLB, a quasi-judicial panel of judges within the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), has only allowed several outside groups to contest license extensions.

Vermont Yankee’s 40-year license expires on March 21, 2012. Entergy, the plant’s owner, has formally asked to extend that term for 20 years. If approved, the extension — coupled with a 20 percent uprate that has been implemented at the plant — would increase the output of radioactive waste, and it may also add stress to the plant beyond its original design, critics contend.

The ASLB agreed to hear NEC’s concerns about Entergy’s plans to monitor key components as the plant ages and produces power at a higher rate than originally licensed.

Without groups like NEC, many of these key questions would not be raised, or addressed, since the NRC has yet to turn down a request for a license extension, or power uprate.

Key to their success is that of Ray Shadis (Story, page 8), who, though a Mainer, can still share in the spotlight.

YOUTH

The youth of Project Harmony

Today’s global geopolitical tensions are no longer focused on the former Soviet Union, but rather on China and the Middle East, on one hand due to economics and on the other hand due to a mix of politics and policy.

After more than two decades of fostering mutual understanding between citizens of the United States and countries of the former Soviet Union, to improve U.S. relations with and understanding of people in the Middle East, Project Harmony, based in Waitsfield, is partnering with the United Palestinian Appeal, which provides humanitarian relief to the needy.

This year, 10 Vermont students from around the state visited Amman, Jordan, in April. In July, 10 Jordanian students and their faculty came to Vermont (and paid a memorable visit to the Guardian).

These Vermont teens, and the staff at Project Harmony, deserve kudos for not only breaking down cultural barriers, but boosting understanding among the greatest asset of the future — today’s youth.

The students taking part in the Project Harmony trip were picked for their interest in media, and media literacy, as well as their thirst to meet and learn from peers in different countries.

In the United States and the Middle East, media plays a dominant role in the lives of young people, shaping their views of themselves and the world around them. The proliferation of the Internet, satellite TV, and global product brands have allowed media images and messages to penetrate nearly all facets of youths’ lives.

Teaching young people to be smart information consumers is important to building vibrant and healthy societies, and is key to Project Harmony’s work.

In an e-mail exchange with student participants, the Guardian learned that teens in Jordan and Vermont are acutely aware of the media’s role in shaping their cultural worldview.

Mira Yaseen, who attends Al Ahliyyah School for Girls, hoped the personal connection she made with peers would allow her to give them “the right idea about us and make them see us as we are not as the violent media has shown us. In their trip to Jordan, they will create a different image of us; they will understand our lifestyles, our principles and culture.”

Yasseen’s Vermont counterpart, Taylor Dobbs, who attends Montpelier High School, agrees.

“Currently all we are seeing on the news is bodies, riots, and people running around with AK-47s,” Dobbs told the Guardian before his trip. “A big reason I want to go on this trip was to alter the common misconception of myself and others that everyone in the Middle East is like that.”

AGRICULTURE

The Vermont Milk Company

For Chantale Nadeau, getting a better price for the milk she produces on her 600-acre farm in Holland is not just good economics for her and her family.

“Paying a fair price for milk doesn’t just help the farmer, it also helps the community at large,” said Nadeau. “We keep the landscape working; we keep it in production. When we talk about the number of farms that are part of the Vermont Milk Company, I think it’s also important to step back and think about how many acres of land we’re keeping open and working.”

Nadeau is one of the farmers who recently helped launch the Vermont Milk Company, a farmer-owned company that promises to pay no less than $15 per hundredweight of milk. Other farmers pay all shipping costs out of the lesser price they receive for their milk, which can cost farmers as low as 50 cents to a high of $1 per hundredweight.

For more than three years, a handful of farmers and supporters have tried to find a way to get farmers a fairer price for their milk, and to give them more leverage in the market.

The company is currently making cheddar cheese curds, ricotta cheese, and curd for the hand-stretched mozzarella for Maplebrook Farm, and is also working on its own brand of yogurt to hit retail shelves after the first of the year. The yogurt, a whole milk variety with a hint of vanilla, is already being sold in some restaurants around the state, including the Coffee Corner in downtown Montpelier. The popular eatery is using 10 to 12 pounds a week.

The Vermont Milk Company is filling a void left by the buyouts of these smaller dairies by larger food conglomerates. They help other companies in Vermont, and add value to their own products by sourcing in-state dairy products.

ENVIRONMENT

Karen Coshof

Al Gore has nothing on a Vermont-based movie producer when it comes to putting the issue of global warming on the big screen.

The Great Warming, a dramatic documentary about climate change, narrated by Alanis Morissette and Keanu Reeves, made its Vermont debut in June, just as Gore’s movie, An Inconvenient Truth, hit screens as a political fundraiser.

While Gore was launching a presidential bid in 2000, Karen Coshof, who lives in Morrisville, began working on a series of programs for Discovery Channel Canada on the topic of global warming after being handed a copy of the book Storm Warning — Gambling with the Climate of our Planet by Lydia Dotto.

The film doesn’t pull any punches, examining evidence that human activities are provoking an unprecedented era of atmospheric warming and climatic events: more drought, wildfires, and flooding; polar melting; and more powerful storms and variable weather. Tropical diseases are moving north, childhood respiratory illnesses are skyrocketing, and in the last three decades more than 30 diseases new to science have emerged.

The film isn’t just a litany of what’s gone wrong with the world, it offers some solutions, such as investing more government funding into research to produce more fuel-efficient cars, to an ingenious effort to soak up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

CULTURE

Jay Craven

Northeast Kingdom filmmaker Jay Craven embarked on a 100-town tour earlier this year to take his film Disappearances to as many communities as possible, making community centers, school gyms, and town halls their own movie theaters for an evening. Thousands of people turned out to see the movie, in far flung places and urban centers, making the tour a success.

“Two Sundays ago, we played to nearly 300 people in Enosburg Falls. Two days later, we played Montgomery, only 11 miles away. Many assumed that we’d exhausted the audience, but 170 people showed in Montgomery, a town of 950,” Craven wrote in the Guardian on July 21.

Disappearances was made in Vermont and completes a trilogy (preceded by Where the Rivers Flow North and A Stranger in the Kingdom) of north country “frontier films” as Craven calls them, and that were based on novels by Irasburg writer Howard Frank Mosher. Craven defines these films as “Vermont westerns” that contradict prevailing notions of a Puritan New England nestled into sleepy towns with pristine greens.

MEDIA

WDEV

It’s known as the “friendly pioneer,” and it is an apt description of Ken Squier and the crew at WDEV in Waterbury. This AM-FM station celebrated its 75th birthday this year, and exemplifies the best of media ownership and community programming.

Since the very first day of WDEV-AM 550 — July 16, 1931 — the station has been dedicated to “Live & Local” broadcasting of service to Vermont. During the station’s anniversary tour, it hopes to visit 75 towns in its listening area by next summer.

The station is home to some of the best in local talk and news programming — from The Mark Johnson Show to Music to go to the Dump By — along with an eclectic music mix of rock, jazz, and more local and national sports broadcasting than a person could fit on their iPod.

Truly, WDEV and its staff are a Vermont treasure, and take their license to use the public airwaves seriously.

In this day and age of cookie-cutter radio formatting and out-of-touch management, WDEV stands out. Squier’s best attribute is that the station responds to the community at large.