VWC's Statement on Police Violence and Social Inequality

STATEMENT ON POLICE VIOLENCE AND SOCIAL INEQUALITY
Text of full statement below
August 1, 2012

The Vermont Workers’ Center is dedicated to organizing and fighting for human rights. We seek an economically just and democratic world in which everyone’s human needs are met. The NEG/ECP conference offered a different vision of the world. Our region’s political leaders met with industry representatives behind closed doors to develop policies focused on the interests of powerful corporate entities who paid up to $20,000 each for an “invitation”.

Denied a seat at the table and even a message from across the street, people whose lives will be most affected by the decisions being made inside the hotel had to participate from the outside. Our needs — not corporate desires — should be the focus of the process. Blocking the delegates’ buses was an act of non-violent civil disobedience, an act intended to hold decision-makers accountable to the people they purport to represent.

While the commercial media tend to focus on the conflict between protesters and police, we should not lose sight of the root problems that bring us to the streets in the first place. Community members converged to confront the root causes of our crises: an economic system that relies on the exploitation of people and the planet to profit the very few, and the political system that enables it. This weekend’s chain of events demands answers not only to the question of whose safety the police really protect but more generally whose interests our governmental institutions actually serve.

The Vermont Workers' Center believe that the most effective means of change is people engaging in collective struggle to place direct demands upon those who hold power. We stand in solidarity with all who struggle for social justice.

The Vermont Workers’ Center

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Text of full statement:

STATEMENT ON POLICE VIOLENCE AND SOCIAL INEQUALITY
August 1, 2012

The Vermont Workers’ Center is dedicated to organizing and fighting for human rights. We seek an economically just and democratic world in which everyone’s human needs are met. We are committed to taking action on the full range of issues of concern to the working people of Vermont and to building alliances locally, regionally, and internationally. We believe that the most effective means of change is people engaging in collective struggle to place direct demands upon those who hold power. We stand in solidarity with all who struggle for social justice.

On Sunday, July 29th members of the Vermont Workers’ Center participated in “Converge on the Conference,” the first of several days of collective action protesting the Conference of New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers (NEG/ECP). The Convergence brought together an unprecedented variety of environmental and social justice groups from across our region. Representatives of the Innu people of Eastern Quebec shared stories from their struggle against Hydro Quebec’s relentless growth. Power line opponents from northern New Hampshire stood together with members of 350.org, the Sierra Club and others from across New England to oppose tar sands oil. The local labor movement, Vermont students, strikers from Quebec, Occupiers, rights advocates, along with so many others joined forces to rally and march in solidarity. Many leaders of the Vermont Workers’ Center participated, to share our vision of a world that runs according to human rights principles, in a just manner that is transparent, democratic, and equitable for all.

The NEG/ECP conference offered a different vision of the world, one in which resources are extracted and infrastructures are built to prioritize profit over the needs of the people. During the NEG/ECP conference, our region’s political leaders met with industry representatives behind closed doors to develop policies focused on the interests of powerful corporate entities who, according to the Burlington Free Press, paid up to $20,000 each for an “invitation” to join “state and provincial officials and business representatives who have a stake in the policies.” People of the region, who have the most at stake, since we are the ones who will pay for the implementation of these policies and live under their consequences, were never invited.

With no possible public scrutiny of the deals made during this corporate-sponsored meeting, our allies and members organized the Convergence as the people’s counterpart to the conference — a time for all of us who were kept out of this decision-making process to raise our collective voices and air our concerns directly to those who we see as chipping away at our future and at our democratic society. We are building a grassroots movement for people and the planet, and much of the business discussed at the conference threatens the safety and stability of both.

As the NEG/ECP conference commenced, people who rallied in front of the hotel to demand participation in that process were blocked by security forces in full paramilitary gear, and they were not allowed to deliver a collaboratively-crafted message to the governors and premiers. Denied a seat at the table and even a message from across the street, people whose lives will be most affected by the decisions being made inside the hotel had to participate from the outside. Protesters had to make their voices heard in a manner that could not be ignored, to make it clear to the delegates inside that our needs — not corporate desires — should be the focus of the process. Blocking the delegates’ buses was an act of non-violent civil disobedience, an act intended to hold decision-makers accountable to the people they purport to represent.

After failing to disperse those in protest, Burlington Police Department officers overreacted with violence, which is unacceptable. The BPD’s official narrative of the events minimized the severity of police violence. The BPD’s characterization of its violence as a reasonable response to non-existent aggression by civil disobedience participants has been discredited by video and photographic evidence captured by independent media sources. Police officers punched and kicked demonstrators who were fleeing and attacked those lying down on the sidewalk. They fired guns at non-violent protesters to expedite the buses’ departure. This escalated use of force has a chilling effect on our communities and on democracy itself. The Burlington Police Department did not stop violence; they initiated it.

On Sunday, we witnessed State violence deployed in order to escort the powerful and their entourage to dine on luxury meals. Those who bravely stood up and non-violently fought back against policies that cause millions to go hungry and destroy our natural environment were punched, kicked, choked, stomped and fired upon. While the commercial media tend to focus on the conflict between protesters and police, we should not lose sight of the root problems that bring us to the streets in the first place. Environmentalists, workers, students, farmers, activists and community members from different walks of life converged in Burlington to confront the root causes of our crises: an economic system that relies on the exploitation of people and the planet to profit the very few, and the political system that enables it.

Our society’s law-making mechanisms, as the NEG/ECP demonstrated, are already dominated by moneyed interests and closed off to all but the well-funded. Violence perpetrated by enforcers of the law further weakens our communities and deprives us of our right to democracy, by discouraging people from open and active participation in the decision-making processes of our society. This weekend’s chain of events demands answers not only to the question of whose safety the police really protect but more generally whose interests our governmental institutions actually serve.

In solidarity with all who struggle for social justice,

The Vermont Workers’ Center