Rice Speaks at Norwich Amid Protests

  Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice speaks at Norwich University

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice speaks at Norwich University

  Protesters gather at the Norwich University entrance

Protesters gather at the Norwich University entrance

Protesters sprinkled throughout a crowd yelled, "They tortured people!" and "Condi lied, people died!" during former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's remarks at Norwich University Thursday morning. A standing ovation from the crowd ultimately interrupted the protesters' shouts and they were escorted outside.

Rice, a key leader in the Bush administration who advocated for invading Iraq, told the audience that the U.S. must continue to be a global influence.

"The U.S. has to lead and step up. Why? Because we're the most powerful country in the world," she said. "We also represent an idea. It doesn't matter where you came from, it's where you're going."

She structured her speech around four shocks that she feels have influenced today's politics: the September 11 attacks, the financial crisis of 2008, the Arab Spring and what she called "Great powers behaving badly." She cited Vladimir Putin as an example, calling him a "humiliator and intimidator," and adding: "He's not the only great power behaving badly."

"People have had enough with an authoritarian, dynastic regime," Rice said. "People are seizing their rights. Democracy takes time, we need to be patient with people on that journey as it continues to be a journey for all of us."

A key topic in Rice's speech, a Q&A that followed and the protesters' shouts was Rice's role in pushing to invade Saddam Hussein's Iraq. 

"We did not invade Iraq to bring democracy. We invaded Iraq because of weapons of mass destruction. It wasn't theoretical. He'd used them before," Rice said.

Although much of her talk focused on foreign affairs, she touched on issues including immigration reform and inequality. "The K-12 crisis is the single greatest crisis the U.S. faces today. Education is the key to fixing inequality," Rice said.

Speaking outside, activists were critical of Rice's justifications for invading Iraq.

"Condoleezza Rice, as national security advisor, authorized the attack on Iraq based on lies. There was no weapon of mass destruction, there were no chemical weapons, there were no al-Qaida terrorists in Iraq, there was no authorization from the United Nations, but she was part of the team that approved that invasion," said protester Andy Schoerke, one of those escorted outside.

Dave Ross, one of two protest organizers, disapproved of Rice speaking at a Norwich lecture series. "She's a war criminal, she should be on trial, not being held up as this wonderful, patriotic citizen to the next generation of American military leaders," he said.

Originally published on the Off Message Blog for Seven Days, June 19, 2014.

Transitioning to a better life

DOVES program helps survivors get back on their feet

Domestic violence survivor Jessica was married to her husband for 31 years. “My husband had gotten increasingly
more abusive — verbally and emotionally — and so I hit the deal breaker when he had an affair,” Jessica said.

Jessica was battling cancer at the time and said her husband was a toxic influence on her life. She needed to remove her daughter and herself from the situation.

Jessica is not her real name. Her name is being withheld for her protection.

“We both had to get out of the circumstance because he allowed my son to be physically and emotionally abusive,” Jessica said.

Jessica’s husband would never lift or lay a finger to her but encouraged their teenage son to grab and punch instead. She recalls one time where her husband and son took $5,500 that was supposed to go toward their daughter’s post-grad cruise. When Jessica’s daughter challenged them on the whereabouts of the vacation money, Jessica’s husband scolded her daughter and let Jessica’s son punch her daughter.

Jessica recalled her husband saying to her daughter, “‘That’ll teach you, you’ll never get in a man’s face again.’ Can you imagine a parent doing that,” Jessica said.

When Jessica left, she didn’t know where to turn. She called 211, which provided her with contact information for DOVES, the domestic violence nonprofit in Big Bear.

“They were really warm and understanding, and they set me up to see a counselor for an intake,” Jessica said about DOVES. “I was, of course, emotionally in a million pieces.”

Jessica started driving up the hill to receive counseling, and helped her daughter receive counseling. She then entered the group pro- gram, where there were other women who could relate to her experiences.

Jessica was a stay-at-home mom for 10 years. That was a tool her husband used to make her completely dependent on him financially. “It’s a slow process, and you don’t see it coming,” Jessica said. “And for some reason they (abusers) make it make sense. I don’t know how to explain that, and you find yourself so vulnerable. And you need to find a way to get out, but it’s hard when you’re not working and haven’t worked for a number of years, and you don’t have information to put on your résumé.”

Jessica married young. She was in her mid- 50s when she started over. “I had given up on my career and my dreams, and his dreams became the priority for the family,” Jessica said.

DOVES’ transitional housing program helped Jessica for more than a year as she got back on her feet. The program helped with rent and also supplemented food and gas expenses.

“They were there for me when I really need- ed it,” Jessica said. “Because not all women have the support of friends and family, and I didn’t, so they became my support network.”

DOVES offers two options for individuals in its transitional housing program, which lasts for up to two years for each participant. Survivors can opt for the income-based budget program, which subsidizes approximately 30 percent of their income toward rent, utilities, childcare, gas and other needs. This is the program that helped support Jessica during her year and a half with DOVES. The nonprofit organization also leases buildings for individuals or families to rent and is in escrow in its first duplex. In these situations, participants pay a $450 program fee instead of rent.

Individuals often cannot afford to leave their abusive partners, said DOVES transitional advocate Becca Flores. “It is such a complex issue that is more than ‘why doesn’t she just leave,’” she said.

Finding enough reasonably priced housing is a challenge for DOVES. With a limited and often costly housing and rental market in Big Bear, demand exceeds supply. “We’re always brainstorming,” Flores said. “This is going to be a need that feels endless.”

Twenty-three families are participating in the DOVES transitional living program right now. Flores works with real estate agents to find possible rentals or homes for those in the program, and is looking into more manufactured homes, which are a cost-effective option. “We need more properties, period,” she said.

As for Jessica, she and her daughter are doing well three years after leaving Jessica’s husband. “We’re really healthier emotionally,” Jessica said. “We’re safe. We have great futures in front of us.”

Jessica’s daughter is a full-time college student, and Jessica has reestablished a relationship with her son, who left her former husband’s home a little more than a year ago. He is no longer violent.

Jessica said the DOVES program was a blessing for her and her daughter.

“I need women to know, like myself, they don’t have to continue to stay,” Jessica said. “They’re worth something. They’re worthwhile. They’re very important, and they don’t deserve all that negativity. They don’t deserve the abuse.”

For more information on DOVES, visit www.doves4help.org or call 909-866-1546. DOVES’ 24/7 hotline is 800-851-7601.

Originally published in the Big Bear Grizzly, Oct. 11, 2017.

Growing Ideas

It might seem odd that a lover of children's literature and a plant biologist would embark on a professional relationship. But for biology professor Mark Lubkowitz and education professor Valerie Bang-Jensen, both teachers at Saint Michael's College, that was the only logical option.

"So we made a garden. What else would you do?" Lubkowitz jokes.

He's referring to the Teaching Gardens at Saint Mike's — a collection of gardens that spans the quad adjacent to the McCarthy Arts Center. The 10-year-old natural outdoor laboratory represents the collaboration of the two professors and the education, biology and applied linguistics departments. The gardens are designed to promote literature and literacy, Bang-Jensen's specialty, and both professors have their students plan and cultivate the gardens each year as part of their coursework.

As future teachers, Bang-Jensen's education students need to be versed in every discipline, so she asked Lubkowitz to bring his perspective to one of her classes. The two realized that their students see things differently as a result of their training. The professors decided to create an interdisciplinary freshman seminar called "Digging Down to the Roots: The Meaning of Gardens." Their aim is to have undergrads solve what they call "an authentic problem" each semester. The problem? To make and maintain the gardens within the themes set by the two professors.

For instance, the students will select books to represent in the gardens using plants that correspond to the story. The gardens feature classics such as The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (poppy) as well as recent novels like The Hunger Games(primrose).

On the first day of class, the professors have their students to get their hands dirty in the gardens. They enlist their other classes to further collaborate. Lubkowitz's students bring botany and plant biology experience. "My class will have to work with Valerie's class to do something they couldn't have done on their own," he explains.

"Higher education is really good at focusing the way we see the world and creating expertise, which is very appropriate," Lubkowitz says. "At the same time, if you want to solve a complex problem, you have be able to communicate to other experts and see their perspective and integrate it into something that captures many different perspectives."

There are four Teaching Gardens: Books in Bloom, Native Plants of Vermont Garden, International Garden and the Word Garden. The Books in Bloom section looks "metaphorically like a book," says Bang-Jensen, and features flowers from notable children's literature. Native Plants is just that: florae that are native to or thrive in Vermont. The International Garden contains plants arranged like the continents, with a pathway parallel to the equator. The Word Garden features words printed on small stones.

Vermont artist Chris Cleary made signs marking each of the gardens with text blasted in stone. When Bang-Jensen visited his studio in Jericho, she says, she fell in love with Cleary's "word salad" in his yard, an arrangement that showcases all the fonts he uses. "And we said that we need this on a college campus," she recalls. "This is life-size magnetic poetry and more artistically done."

The Word Garden also holds a chessboard etched into a stone, on which visitors can use little rocks as checkers pieces, or their own chess sets (students with SMC IDs can check one out). Visitors can also write comments with chalk on a piece of slate.

This outdoor classroom is not just for college students. The gardens are open to all visitors, from theater patrons waiting for a show to kids from one of the many elementary classrooms Bang-Jensen and Lubkowitz have visited. When college classes are in session, students give tours of the space, but in the summer they can be self-guided.

Bang-Jensen admits that when she and Lubkowitz started the gardens, they had no idea whether the concept would take root. She soon discovered that "this is the kind of community that can handle this." Even so, she adds, "Every now and then something disappears."

She's referring to a specific disappearance a few years ago: a stone bearing the word "Weed" went missing. "I went to email Mark and say, 'Weed is gone,' and my husband said, 'What do you expect? It's 4/20!'" Bang-Jensen recalls. "So we sent out an email to everyone on campus." The subject heading was "We're Looking for Weed."

The professors got their stone back that year, though "Weed" has since disappeared again, apparently for good.

Minor theft aside, Bang-Jensen and Lubkowitz are pleased with the garden's first successful decade and are looking forward to the completion of a new addition this month.

"It's a giant stone arch! It will be seven feet in the center," Lubkowitz says. "Imagine if a giant had built an arch and then pushed out the center piece. The plinth will be further out, so when you stand there you can see through."

Morrisville sculptor and stonemason Thea Alvin is creating the stone arch in an empty plot next to the gardens. The permanent installation will require 28 pallets of stone and weigh 40 tons. With the help of students, Alvin aims to complete the sculpture in mid-September.

In a phone conversation, Alvin explains that she's using Pennsylvania fieldstone — a blue stone with a purple cast. "We wanted a contrast with the green of the gardens and the red of the brick," she says. Alvin is known for her arches and other massive installations created from numerous pieces of stone; the New York Times featured her in an article last year.

The Teaching Gardens are not the only thing Bang-Jensen and Lubkowitz have cultivated together. They coauthored a book titled Books in Bloom, published this year by the National Gardening Association. Heavily inspired by their garden of the same name, it is intended to teach children about science and provides lesson plans for elementary school teachers through an interdisciplinary lens.

At Saint Michael's, Bang-Jensen and Lubkowitz hope that their gardens will continue to grow, but joke that future caretakers "probably haven't been hired yet." For now, they intend to keep spreading literacy through gardening and bridging the gap between the critical thinking methods of their two disciplines.

"The school gardening movement is burgeoning," Bang-Jensen says. "One of the main areas of focus is food and health, and that's wonderful; at the same time, they could be doing much more with literacy, and so that's sort of been our aim."

Originally published in Seven Days, Sept. 3, 2014.

  The mural at the Crate Escape, Too in South Burlington

The mural at the Crate Escape, Too in South Burlington

Daycare With a View: A Muralist Goes to the Dogs

A daycare center for dogs might not seem like an obvious location for artwork, but the Crate Escape, Too in South Burlington is upending expectations. Soon "Champlain Valley Pawnorama," by local muralist Tara Goreau, will greet canines and their humans along a 140-foot wall in the facility's playroom. It will open for public viewing this Saturday, June 28.

"It's a great wall, and there is so much room to paint in there," says Goreau. "I was surprised because at first I thought the main audience would be dogs, who are possibly colorblind. But after being there for a while, I noticed that [the mural] might just brighten the space."

The decision to add the artwork came about during a series of updates and renovations at the Crate Escape, Too. "I knew that there could be a lot of growth in this business — especially if you add ... beautification projects to a dog facility," explains facilities manager Colin Dunn. "You know, dogs don't want to look at cement. Dogs want to look at what we want to look at."

The mural actually spans five walls in the main playroom at the daycare and depicts four seasons of Vermont — somewhat like the mural Goreau painted earlier this year at the entrance of Burlington's City Market. In this one, of course, plenty of dogs roam the scene.

  Artist Tara Goreau in her studio on Pine Street

Artist Tara Goreau in her studio on Pine Street

Goreau says this is the biggest mural she's ever created. It's painted on a series of 4-by-8-foot wooden boards so that, if the company ever changes locations, the owners can take the mural with them.

"Instead of just putting in drywall, [Dunn] installed panels that can be easily removed, just in case," she says. "It is a bit of an investment." Goreau was paid "around $4,000" for her work.

Although the two had only planned for the four-seasons mural, Goreau had some extra time and added a Burlington sunset. "I think my favorite part is the sunset scene and Burlington skyline," she says. "I usually don't do sunsets, and I was just kind of having fun."

Goreau normally uses house paint, but to make the work dog-friendly, she added "basically a floor varnish, just to protect it," she says.

Dunn, who is all too familiar with messes dogs can make, is pleased. "You can spray it with whatever you want; it's super durable," he notes.

Aesthetically, Dunn says he just thought that having some art on the walls would be a good idea — "first of all for the dogs, second of all for everyone that works here, and third, just to get everyone interested in the Crate Escape," he says. "It's a great way to show that we are involved in where we live."

Tara Goreau's mural will be revealed at an open house on Saturday, June 28, noon to 5 p.m. at the Crate Escape, Too, 5 Green Mountain Drive, in South Burlington.

Originally published in Seven Days, June 25, 2014.


Civic Cloud Collaborative Makes Headway

 Jim Lockridge of Big Heavy World

Jim Lockridge of Big Heavy World

Burlington’s Civic Cloud is now up and running, according the members of the Civic Cloud Collaborative. The volunteer-run group hosted a press conference on Wednesday, June 11, to report their progress.

“The Civic Cloud is a platform for public, non-commercial Internet applications and digital creative works,” Code for BTV Captain Bradley Holt said. “It’s built on the city’s fiber-optic gigabit network, it provides Internet speeds of over 100 times the average national broadband speed.”

Recently the Civic Cloud was installed in the Burlington Telecom colocation facility.

“Applications already running on the Civic Cloud include high-definition live-streaming of public meetings and cultural events, a collection of volunteer-developed applications that preserve and promote Vermont-made music, and a multi-user educational game about the Lake Champlain basin,” Holt said.

Jim Lockridge is the executive director of Big Heavy World, an organization that supports Vermont-made music. Big Heavy World has collaborated with the group to launch their website and music library application.

“Recently we’ve accomplished construction of an audio app that plays 10,000 or more songs from our music archive of Vermont-made music. It operates in the fashion of a library so when you check music out and you listen to it yourself, it’s not available to others,” Lockridge said. “You can’t download it freely; you can only experience it in the virtual library setting. These are features that volunteers helped us construct.”

In the future, Big Heavy World hopes to expand further and be able to live stream concerts and shows through their website and multi-platform radio station.

Bradley Holt credits collaboration and community effort for much of the Civic Cloud success.

“The Civic Cloud has its roots in community media as well as the maker movement and the civic hacking movement. Over the past year, we’ve worked with numerous individuals to define a vision for civic and public uses of our city’s gigabit network,” Holt said. “From this vision came the cultivation and nurturing of the Civic Cloud Collaborative, a group of local individuals and organizations with deeply aligned values.”

The Civic Cloud is different from other, more commercial clouds. Gigabit speeds, respect for user privacy and space for free expression as a few of the most notable elements of the Civic Cloud that make it unique. In January, the project won a $35,000 prototype grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which helped fund the creation of its infrastructure.

“There’s a lot of talk about the cloud in the industry and pretty much anywhere you look and how all of our work and everything we’re doing is moving into the cloud. And it’s important that we’re hearing today how that is the commercial cloud, that is controlled by interests who are storing our content and are charging us for it and the more we use, the more we pay,” Lauren-Glenn Davitian from the Center for Media and Democracy said. “And what is important and unique about the Civic Cloud is that it’s not only community-controlled but it would be privacy-protected, but it also is a locally accessible and usable resource that will be available for reasonable rates if at all.”

Holt is focused on the ability to grow and feels they have the resources to expand outreach and education about the project.

“We’ll continue our outreach efforts through our local Code for America brigade, hacker spaces, maker spaces, educational institutions and community media centers,” he said. “We invite civic hackers, software developers and makers to use the Civic Cloud as a platform on which to build civic and public applications that will benefit our community.”

“We recognize that the cloud represents an opportunity for basically an infinite rise of creativity and construction of applications that help us accomplish our mission and we’re intensely grateful to be a part of it,” Lockridge said.

Originally published on the Vermont Tech Jam blog, June 13, 2014.