Burlington is a strange place, where oftentimes we put more effort into appearances over substance, intentions over impact. This situation is best exemplified in the recent South End District Burlington city council race. While Jafar, a low-income man of color, was held responsible for his actions, Councilor Shannon, a wealthy white woman who has been a councilor for 16 years, has never been seriously asked to reckon with her hurtful votes and policy decisions, never been called to task for her own biases.
During this race the local press focused less on policies and experience differences, less on Shannon’s track record, and mostly on Jafar’s high school and college-aged private tweets, which had leaked to the press. These tweets, which were private thoughts shared among a small group of friends, were violent, vile, and misogynistic. It was universally good and important that so many people came out to publicly condemn these tweets, including Jafar himself, who recognized the hurt these tweets caused. Shannon responded to Jafar by questioning his relatively recent move towards feminism as a ‘position of convenience‘.
As a community we are great at rallying around and critiquing bigoted language. But when it comes to systemic problems that will cost us money and social standing, we regularly abdicate responsibility. While Councilor Shannon exemplifies this behavior, her position is not unique to Burlington or elsewhere. Mayor Weinberger, the City Council, the Democratic and Progressive Parties – all who have real power to make change in Burlington – have also done little in the past decades to alleviate systematic harm and suffering.
Councilor Shannon should be held responsible for her actions in the same way Jafar was held responsible for his – by her constituents and her political party – for her repeated and consistent inability to use her position to help vulnerable constituents and alleviate suffering. She should be held responsible for saying the politically correct thing but then quickly backpedaling to protect wealth, ignore the negative impacts of her policy decisions on marginalized communities, or both. The examples are varied and many.
- Shannon supported sanctuary city status but only on the condition the city did not lose federal funding.
- She opposed the downtown mural as long as there was no costly legal battle.
- She supported public health items like a smoking ban but ignored the disproportionately negative impacts on marginalized communities.
- She spoke up in favor of a higher minimum wage for low income women of color in 2016, then did nothing to follow through on raising wages for low-income workers.
- Even though we face a housing crises for low-income and homeless Burlington residents, she has ‘all-housing matters‘ed the crises, saying we need to build more housing types equally.
- She stayed silent when a low-income constituent was evicted and made homeless after illegal pressure by the city on the landlord, leading to a $30,000 winning lawsuit by the ACLU.
- She stayed absolutely silent when several of her homeless constituents were evicted by city officials from public land.
- And the majority of councilors and the Mayor have supported her action and inaction every step of the way.
While it is difficult to discern from Jafar’s single action whether his feminism is based on personal values or political convenience, Shannon’s 16 years on the council have made it clear she regularly votes for her own personal and political convenience. Isn’t it about time she is held responsible for wielding 16 years worth of power in a way that does little to alleviate suffering of Burlington’s most vulnerable residents?