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Letters to the Editor (9/20/23) 

Published September 20, 2023 at 10:00 a.m. | Updated September 20, 2023 at 10:10 a.m.

Bread and Puppet Beliefs

Chelsea Edgar's prizeworthy story on Bread and Puppet Theater and its creative genius, Peter Schumann, is both entertainingly informative and astute ["Circus of Life," August 30]. The revelation that Schumann's work is partly inspired by the Oberammergau, a German religious pageant from the Middle Ages, helps to explain some of the troupe's imagery, practices and politics.

From conversations I've had with a Schumann family member, I gather that the family is spiritually devout, if not overtly Catholic. Surely, the free rye bread provided to pageant-goers is Schumann's take on the much blander Communion wafer. The anti-capitalist imagery has distant echoes of the early church's prohibition against banking (money lending), and the very name Resurrection Circus has an obvious religious connotation.

As Edgar's story points out, performers tend to lose their individual identities in bringing Schumann's singular vision to life. Such surrender of ego can be dangerous, however. I share Schumann's anti-war view and reverence for nature, but I find some of his other political positions simply wrong. Other recent movements have used pageantry and trancelike participant loyalty to horrible effect, notably both Nazism and Communism. The movie Midsommar portrays an intentional community in a remote part of Sweden that is based on ancient practices and rituals, with the goal of escaping the deadening distractions of the modern world. The white clothes and disturbingly cryptic posters remind me of Bread and Puppet, but the movie gradually reveals the horror this particular single-minded community generates.

Schumann is a phenomenally gifted and energetic master creator, and his contributions to art and to the Vermont ethos are immense, but we shouldn't overlook the pre-Enlightenment, pre-humanist roots of his vision.

Andy Leader

North Middlesex

Deinstitutionalization Didn't Work

I had tears in my eyes and an ache in my gut while reading the tragic saga of Mbyayenge "Robbie" Mafuta ["From Room 37 to Cell 17: A Young Man's Path Through the Mental Health Care System Led to Prison — and a Fatal Encounter," September 6]. Surely, all of us have failed him.

I was in nursing school in the 1970s when the mass deinstitutionalization of patients in residential treatment centers occurred across the country. This was considered the next great idea in mental health, given the expense of "warehousing" and the fact that some residents were not appropriate for this level of care.

Some, but not all. Since then, I have worked in emergency rooms, college campuses, homeless shelters, a community mental health center and, now, in an opioid treatment program. All of this qualifies me to state, without reservation, that the "great idea" of 50 years ago has been a massive failure.

There are two miracles in the story of Robbie.

1. He is still alive

2. "Only" one person has been seriously harmed by him, after several years of encounters with our legal and medical systems.

If I may wish for a third miracle, it would be that our communities make a deeper commitment to protect some of our most vulnerable citizens and, in doing so, protect others who are at risk of being harmed. Why are individuals who are so obviously ill still sleeping on our streets or in jail cells? Why can we not create mandated residential care for more than a few days at a time? I have no answers, only a willingness to be part of the solution.

Rebecca Hill


Welcome All Freeloaders

[Re "Burlington Council Moves to Declare the Drug Crisis a Top Priority," September 7]: Burlington's city council need only look in the mirror and not be shocked that its very policies of the past few years have resulted in a Church Street with more druggies shooting up in broad daylight and panhandlers looking for funds for their next high than local shoppers or tourists. (Those who do come are shocked.)

Gutting our dedicated and responsive Burlington Police Department and opening many homeless shelters without work requirements, along with the state's huge safety net catching those with no means to contribute nor duty to do so, have resulted in the city of Burlington being known across the country as the City That Welcomes All Freeloaders.

Many of us who regularly enjoyed heading to Church Street to shop or dine now go downtown only when we must, and the many local retailers who rely on robust foot traffic — with money, not drugs, in their pockets — are the true losers. Some of those very city council members who created this current crisis are no longer setting policy and making decisions, but the result of past city council decisions is evident by walking down Church Street or passing the dreadful YMCA or Memorial Auditorium buildings.

The legacy their decisions has created will take more years to fix than the rapid deterioration of our beloved Burlington has taken.

Policies that enable drug use, such as safe injection sites, certainly aren't the answer. Nor is providing more services with little or no accountability. And while I am glad that I no longer pay Burlington property taxes, the tragic condition of downtown Burlington has profound consequences for every Vermonter.

Nancy Berger


Paying Plenty in Brandon

[Re "Fiber for Few: Some Vermonters Find the Cost of Newly Expanded Broadband Is Too High," September 13]: I think it's worth mentioning that expensive broadband isn't a Northeast Kingdom issue; it's a Vermont issue. I live in Rutland County, and my service (Comcast) is $80 a month for internet only, not including fees and taxes.

Brandon is certainly a "remote area." I think the cost is a touch on the high side (my rate doubled every three years after I subscribed), but it's what you get when you live in a state that makes it very expensive for these monopolies to operate. Just my two cents.

Miles Krans


Road Worriers

We got lots of feedback — mostly in one concentrated, possibly coordinated burst — about our August 23 "Ask the Reverend" column, in which the Rev responded to a letter signed "Self-Righteous Cyclist." Readers questioned the intention and authenticity of the query, which, although playfully sarcastic, was real indeed. It was sent anonymously, though, as all questions for the Rev typically are. We thought her advice was sound and fair — and still do! The exchange was headlined: "I Think I'm a Great Cyclist, but Drivers Don't Think So."

I was not at all surprised by the status quo positions in "Ask the Rev." I personally know many boomers and often hear such arguments. I do hope, however, that after perusing online reactions on separate forums wherein motorist after motorist wishes violence upon a person who dares to take up space in the public right-of-way, the Reverend reconsiders her biases and the actual source of our ever-present traffic dangers. It's cars, of course. More specifically, cars driven by people with the attitude that their right to not be inconvenienced by other road users is more sacred than the lives of their neighbors and fellow humans.

The Reverend's unfortunate decision to blame bicyclists for the violence inflicted upon them only aggravates such attitudes and makes our streets even less safe than they were yesterday.

Ryan Thornton


I find it hard to believe that any 25-year-old who was actually a cyclist would describe himself as a "Self-Righteous Cyclist" and his behavior as "having fun, flouting rules and benefiting from it." This tone struck me more as trolling from a frustrated motorist looking for validation.

All that aside, the issue of whether cyclists should obey the rules of the road is far more nuanced than stated in the column. In many states, Vermont included, cyclists actually do not have the same legal obligations on the road as cars do. They are entitled to ride two abreast, for example, and cross on pedestrian signals instead of green lights.

The driving factor behind these reforms is that, fundamentally, bicycles are not cars. They do not kill 40,000 Americans per year. They do not cause hundreds of millions of dollars in damage. They do not degrade local air quality. Public policy — and the public itself — should not treat the two modes as equivalent.

I have been physically threatened by drivers when riding my bike. Neighbors on Facebook have gleefully wished for some bike riders to be killed by drivers for the crime of "not following the rules."

The danger to the public is from drivers, not cyclists. I am, quite frankly, sick of hearing arguments to the contrary.

Colin Larsen


The Reverend's words about cyclists "zipping around town on a bicycle and ignoring rules" ring as tone-deaf and misinformed, particularly in the wake of several cyclist and pedestrian deaths at the hands of drivers in South Burlington, Shelburne and Milton in the past year.

Almost everywhere, infrastructure in this county and state is designed to prioritize automobile traffic flow above the safe and comfortable movement of people who don't want to drive or can't afford a car. Cyclists take their lives into their hands when they ride in these conditions, and it is drivers breaking the rules who put them in danger.

There is no mention of or advocacy for proven, effective infrastructure and legal changes, including protected bike lanes, separated bike paths or the Idaho stop. Instead, the Reverend suggests that any cyclist who is murdered by a driver probably had it coming ("How do you think you're going to feel if a motorist hits you — likely due to your reckless ways?").

Remember, cyclists are people trying to get around, just like drivers, and for every driver off the road and on a bike, there's one less car clogging you up in a traffic jam.

Jake Twarog


I find it perplexing that the same Reverend who has publicly condoned MDMA usage and sex work solicitation decided to draw the line at ... riding a bike? Bike safety and bike etiquette are important topics of conversation with implications for thousands of Vermonters who live without a private automobile at their disposal.

The Reverend's suggestions to "slow down" and "follow the rules" are patronizing and ring hollow when the rules in question unambiguously prioritize vehicle traffic while barely accommodating other road and sidewalk users. I wonder how often the Reverend — and the people crowing on Facebook about the Reverend's response — use our roads outside the safety of a 6,000-pound GMC Suburban. Just this year, we've had pedestrians killed by car drivers in Milton and Shelburne and a cyclist killed by a car driver in South Burlington. Cyclists need protection, not admonition.

If the Reverend was suddenly unable to express support for "illegal" activities like jaywalking or rolling a stop sign, she could have at least acknowledged the injustice that exists in our traffic laws or suggested legal remedies, like reforming our automobile-centric laws to decriminalize human movement. Getting the state to adopt the Idaho stop or acknowledge pedestrian right-of-way in unsignalized crossings are sorely needed steps toward pedestrian and cyclist safety in our state and could benefit from some good press!

A little research and empathy on the Reverend's part could have helped provide a useful response instead of fanning the flames of weird online anti-cyclist sentiment.

Marty Gillies


The tiniest bit of scrutiny should reveal the "Ask the Rev" letter was written entirely in bad faith to engage with so-called "dangerous cyclist" stereotypes. I am confused as to why you chose to engage with it. Did you not realize that the letter was penned to make people taking alternative transportation methods sound bad? Or did you share the writer's prejudice and want to partake?

Here's the thing: People who ride bikes are seriously vulnerable. Two days after your column was published, someone riding across the Winooski bridge on their bike was struck by a motorist and then on the pavement while the driver sped off. These kinds of collisions are happening all the time, and no one gets punished!

My work in part involves pleading with drivers, the state, city planners, etc. to slow down and stop threatening bike riders. This column seriously undermines the progress that's possible in that realm.

Wylie Dulmage


I was disappointed by the Reverend's response to "Self-Righteous Cyclist," who resonated with me entirely. The behavior the cyclist described is reasonable, not reckless. What isn't reasonable, and which the Reverend reinforced in their caustic response, is our runaway car culture that harms cyclists, pedestrians and motorists alike.

Saying that the cyclist "[doesn't] really care much about others" is misguided and frankly self-righteous. Their mode of transportation contributes in myriad ways to the health of their community and environment, and they have to constantly mitigate profound risks: The amount of carelessness I encounter in car drivers every day is staggering, especially when you consider the thousands of pounds of destruction at their distracted, often texting fingertips. Maneuvers the cyclist described, like rolling a clear stop sign, are actually much safer because they mean you aren't interacting with a car for the same space at the same moment.

I have often enjoyed the empathy and reflection that the Reverend brings to her responses and wish that her admonishment had been directed not at a righteous bike commuter but at the dearth of people-oriented infrastructure that forces so many people to drive and makes life more dangerous for all of us.

Wes Dunn


I applaud the Reverend's response to the Self-Righteous Cyclist. I am both a runner and a cyclist, and I am very aware of and practice the rules of the road. I have so often said cyclists are very quick to point a finger — sometimes middle! — at motorists who do not give them the courtesy that they believe they deserve while, at the same time, breaking every rule that cyclists are supposed to live and ride by.

Thank you for this and for "Ask the Rev" each week. It is always my first read.

Steve Salls


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