I suspect that if someone suggested at any time in the past that the Strolling of the Heifers Expo would be better if it were all squeezed onto the Town Common, such a notion would have been instantly and summarily dismissed with a great guffaw. It would have been considered next to impossible and not worth the effort to even think about.
Then the Brattleboro Retreat decided that it could no longer tolerate an entire day of tumult on its front lawn. The Stroll was booted. Like it or not, it was going to be packed onto the Common. This produced one of the best fairs ever!
The compactness created more excitement. The density was creating community as people rubbed shoulders at booths and tables and couldn’t get from one place to another without making eye contact to avoid collisions and bumps.
With 10,000 people cheerfully accommodating one another in vibrant confines, more courtesies were required, and waves and nods of forgiveness extended with ease. Every place seemed busier. Vendors got cross-eyed trying to hold three conversations at once. The ambience was a relentless low but joyful roar.
The joint was jumping with kinetic energy. A great occasion indeed. If there were problems, and I know there were, they weren’t apparent to the crowd.
A sure sign of a well-run event.
Hats off to the Strolling staff.
* * *
And, of course, the parade was excellent in every respect. It was not sensational — Main Street is not Fifth Avenue, and it shouldn’t be. But in its natural simplicity and jiggly fun it evoked pure Vermont hometown/small-town delight. It had pizzazz and relevance.
The sun was warm, the leaves green and gently rustling. It was a storybook summer day. The paraders waved and smiled and danced; they threw candy and played music. One felt bathed in sweetness and light.
And then the disruption!
As a very engaged oldster from the 1960s, I have to admit that the climate die-in was superbly well-placed, well-designed, and well-executed.
After all, the Stroll is all about sustainability. The die-in, which held up the parade for 13 minutes, was intended to loudly and clearly focus our attention on the reality that sustainability hinges on whether or not we can change our way of life radically and do so quickly enough to dodge the fatal consequences of growing climatic chaos.
The protestors’ choice of venue could not have been better conceived. They even thoughtfully timed their action to avoid agitating the animals or keeping the elderly in the hot sun.
Besides appropriately underscoring the values claimed by the Stroll itself, the act trumpeted its message to a huge crowd. The media was all over it.
Even Lieutenant Governor David Zuckerman — who had accepted an invitation to serve as co-announcer and did a remarkably lovely job of getting into the swing of things — was sympathetic to a large degree and, though straining a little bit, did a pretty good job of being supportive of every side at once.
* * *
Once the disruption was overcome and the marching bands back in step, we were reassured that life can still be good.
A slight regret is that Zuckerman didn’t use the unscheduled block of time to speak more about Vermont’s environmental issues, such as unclean water and our increasing levels of air pollution.
He missed one small opportunity that nobody noticed. Twice, he exhorted the protesters to get up, with the admonition that all the vehicles were waiting with their engines running.
Zuckerman might have better asked the parade participants to turn off their engines, particularly in light of state law that prohibits idling for more than five minutes.
My only other recommendation is that future actions include accomplices to quickly run up and down the parade route delivering a printed and descriptive message.
The lieutenant governor also astutely pointed out that some signs naming specific demands would have made it a more effective action.
However, these were all very young people just learning how to effectively expose our challenged Legislature.
These were our own high-school students and graduates loudly telling us that if we as a community and those we have chosen to lead do not immediately take responsibility and action in very few years, mass death will not be a staged demonstration. It will be the real thing.
A second hats off to very concerned, aware, and courageous young activists risking their own welfare for all of us.