Normally reserved for displaying advertisements for upcoming Stowe events, the power lines in the center of town will showcase a message borne from tragic events that have been occurring since well before Stowe was even incorporated.
Town officials Monday approved displaying a Black Lives Matter banner over Mountain Road.
The banner declares BLACK LIVES MATTER on one side, and shares a message on the other side: “Building a safe community of inclusion, equity, justice, dignity and respect. All are welcome with kindness and belonging.”
It was created by the Racial Equity Alliance of Lamoille (REAL), a group formed two years ago shortly after a series of racially motivated slurs jolted the town and whose influence has grown as calls for racial justice sound across the country following a string of killings of unarmed Black Americans.
Saudia LaMont, a member of the REAL steering committee that hopes to bring the banner to different Lamoille County towns on a rotating basis, said she and other residents who identify as BIPOC (Black, Indigenous or People of Color), do indeed live in Lamoille County, although they might not always be seen or heard.
“It’s an invitation and a declaration of love for the invisible residents to feel valued, heard and considered,” LaMont said of the banner and its message.
Compared to other towns that have discussed displaying Black Lives Matter messages — Johnson’s village trustees spent a good portion of a 5-hour meeting in September debating whether to fly a flag from the fire department flagpole before acceding to find another public spot — Stowe officials’ quibbles came from how the Black Lives Matter banner meshes with town policy regarding events banners.
Selectboard members Billy Adams and Nick Donza said the town policy indicates that banners hanging from the power lines over Mountain Road and South Main Street need to be tied to events, and those events will again happen when the pandemic recedes. An uncomfortable reality is that, eventually, banners need to come down.
“I mean, I’m all for the energy around it and the message,” Adams said of the Black Lives Matter banner. “For me, it’s just really a policy question.”
Town Manager Charles Safford said the opportunities to display banners that are more in the realm of “messaging” or free speech might not happen post-pandemic, when there’s a special event most weekends in Stowe.
Selectboard chair Lisa Hagerty noted that Safford had even been proactive with the Stowe police in telling them about the banner and assuaging any concerns that a Black Lives Matter banner had anything to do with anti-police sentiment.
LaMont took the opportunity to turn the question of “when will it come down” on its head.
“I’m going to tell you right now, in the Stowe community, you have children, black children who have considered taking their lives because they don’t feel seen, they don’t feel valued, and they don’t feel like their lives matter,” Lamont said. “How does that make you feel? Because, let me tell you, they don't feel safe in your town, Stowe. And that's real. So, if it's going to hinder you to temporarily put up a banner that honors and acknowledges your community members who consider taking their lives, is one life worth it to you? How many lives are worth it?”
In 2018, Stowe was jolted by incidents of racism and bigotry.
First, 350 kids and their families in Stowe for a weeklong summer camp were reportedly subjected to people driving by, windows rolled down, making obscene gestures at kids of color playing mini golf, calling out racial slurs like “spic,” the N-word, and “monkeys.”
That same year, reports came out of swastikas being displayed on school property — one of them was carved into a desk at Stowe Middle School and another was painted onto athletic fields at Peoples Academy.
Those incidents, as well as the cumulative effect of history behind them, led to the creation of the Stowe-Morrisville Coalition, which eventually became REAL.
Jen Daniels said she and her family moved to Stowe from Washington, D.C., that same year, and were “really taken aback” by the racist and bigoted incidents, “and wondered, ‘Where did I move?’”
She also joined REAL, and said the things the group talks about are not easy topics.
“REAL is about a dialogue,” Daniels said. “Nobody ever gets it right, and we are all going through this together.”
Maria Davies said Monday when she moved to Stowe from the United Kingdom 10 years ago, “it was very blatant” that her skin color and culture were going to be problems.
“Yes, I've been racially profiled, absolutely. I've been mistreated,” Davies said. “However, it doesn't stop me from believing in what I believe in and caring about this community, and caring about pumping money back into this community so it flourishes.”