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Burlington City Council fails to meet the moment on Palestine

Report from the front

Alison Adams reports on the Burlington City Council’s inability to pass a ceasefire resolution despite an overwhelming show of support from residents.

This report initially appeared in the local Vermont publication The Rake. We include here, following Alison Adams’ report, a letter directed to the Mayor and City Councilors for Burlington by the Coordinating Committee of the Vermont Coalition for Palestinian Liberation.

Burlington’s Democratic Party leadership united against a resolution calling for a ceasefire in the City Council on Monday night. Democratic mayoral nominee Joan Shannon and City Council President Karen Paul voted against the resolution, accompanied by councilors Sarah Carpenter, Ben Traverse, Timothy Doherty, and Mark Barlow. Mayor Miro Weinberger had said he would veto the resolution, which was brought forth by councilors Ali Dieng, Joe Magee, and Eugene Bergman, if it passed with fewer than eight votes.

Despite a rally of approximately three hundred Burlington residents and hours of powerful testimony provided by nearly sixty Burlington residents, including UVM Professor of History David Massell and former City Councilor Jack Hanson, in favor of the resolution, many on the City Council remained intransigent. Only 17 residents testified against the resolution. Recent polls suggest that 60-80 percent of Democrats nationwide support a ceasefire.

One resident, a Palestinian doctor, spoke briefly, noting, “I have 52 seconds [of my allotted two minutes] left. It’s a great pleasure to know how much time I have left. The Palestinians in Gaza do not have any time left.”

The resolution condemned the November 25 shooting of three Palestinian students in Burlington, and called for an immediate ceasefire as well as conditions on military aid to Israel. After the vote, the councilors exited Contois Auditorium to chants of “Free Palestine,” “Shame!”, and “We’ll be back.”

“Because of the silence of my representatives in Burlington about Palestine, I’ve never been more ashamed to be a resident of this city,” said Mirza Korajkic, who described fleeing the Bosnian genocide to live in Vermont as he implored the City Council to pass the resolution.

Those who testified against the resolution called it divisive. Some claimed that anti-Zionism is antisemitic—a charge that many Jews testifying in favor of the resolution rejected. Others suggested that Burlington—which withdrew its “sister city” status from the Russian city of Yaroslavl in 2022 in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine—should stay focused on local affairs. Most supported an alternative resolution that only condemned the shooting.

Supporters of a ceasefire are collecting signatures to get a referendum on the ballot for Burlington’s election in March that would declare Burlington an “apartheid-free city” and commit to justice and equity for the Palestinian people. The referendum, if added to the ballot, would provide residents an opportunity to voice their opinion on the City Council’s decision, and demand further action from Burlington’s government to protect Palestinians.

Dear Mayor and City Councilors,
We are writing on behalf of the Vermont Coalition for Palestinian Liberation. Hundreds of us attended the City Council meeting and dozens of us testified in support of the resolution calling for a ceasefire to Israel’s war on Gaza.

We are grateful to Ali Dieng, Joe Magee, and Gene Bergman for putting forward the resolution and for Zoraya Hightower, Melo Grant, and Hannah King voting in favor of it. You all stood up for peace and justice.

But we were dismayed by Joan Shannon, Karen Paul, Sarah Carpenter, Ben Traverse, Tim Doherty Jr., and Mark Barlow voting against it. The resulting 6-6 tie meant that the resolution failed. We were also concerned about reports that if it had passed that Mayor Weinberger had planned to veto it.

This vote puts the City Council at odds with the entire congressional delegation. Representative Becca Balint and Senator Peter Welch had already come out for a ceasefire. And now, Senator Bernie Sanders has joined them.

They have come in line with the majority of world opinion, the majority of U.S. opinion, and the majority of the world’s governments represented in the United Nations. The vote in the UN General Assembly was 153 to 10 in favor of a ceasefire, with many traditional U.S. allies like Canada, New Zealand, and Australia voting for it. In the previous vote in the Security Council, the U.S. vetoed a resolution for a ceasefire, casting the lone vote in opposition.

We urge the six members of the City Council and Mayor Weinberger that opposed the ceasefire resolution to reverse their mistake. The Council should follow the lead of the state’s congressional delegation and represent the democratic will of the majority of Vermont, U.S., and world that is overwhelmingly in favor of a ceasefire to this catastrophic war.

It is time for Burlington to catch up with the majority of the world, the majority of the country, and the growing list of cities and towns across the U.S. that have come out for a ceasefire. We ask you to salvage Burlington’s reputation as a city committed to racial and social justice not only in this city and state but throughout the world, including in Palestine.

Coordinating Committee of the Vermont Coalition for Palestinian Liberation,

Wafic Faour
Ashley Smith
Ashley Eckhoff
Paul Fleckenstein
Vivan Bose-Pyne
Debra Stoleroff
Duncan Nichols
Logan Roots
April Fischer
Sara Brooks
Sophie Cassel
Willow Butler
Antonio Golán
Anita Rapone
Michelle Eddleman McCormick

Opinions expressed in signed articles do not necessarily represent the views of the editors or the Tempest Collective. For more information, see “About Tempest Collective.”

Featured image credit: Onasill-Bill Badzo via Flikr; modified by Tempest.

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Alison Adams View All

Alison Adams is a member of the Vermont Coalition for Palestinian Liberation.