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Deepening roots

Social justice finds a new home on the banks of the Whetstone Brook

The Root manages a public calendar of events at the center. To view upcoming events and learn how to rent the space, visit therootsjc.org. Community members can also learn how to support the center at its website, either with a tax-deductible donation or donating an item on the center’s wish list. To view the collective members’ individual websites, visit ACT For Social Justice (act4socialjustice.com), Open Bookkeeping (openbookkeeping.com), the Just Schools Project (justschoolsproject.org), and the Vermont Workers’ Center (workerscenter.org).

BRATTLEBORO—Social justice means many things to many people. For the four justice-oriented businesses of the Root Collective, social justice includes synthesizing justice and business while providing space for the community.

The Root Social Justice Center (informally called “the Root”) and Root Collective reside under the same roof on 28 Williams St. During the day, the space is home to the four businesses that “operate collectively to sustain a space that strives to be free of oppression, harm, and injustice,” according to the Root’s website.

After hours, the Root provides a “physically and financially accessible” community space “to support and bring together communities working for social justice” for individuals and organizations to hold events, forums, and meetings.

The space is available free — but donations help keep the lights on — and is open to people of all abilities, identities, and ages. In addition, the Root, operating under the fiscal sponsorship of Post Oil Solutions, recently received a Small and Inspiring Grant from the Vermont Community Foundation.

The center welcomed the community during a packed and celebratory open house last autumn.

A field organizer with the Vermont Workers’ Center, Shela Linton has held meetings across the town in coffee houses or other public spaces.

Many of these locations, however, proved inaccessible for some, and the center strives to overcome any obstacles by welcoming the community as a whole.

This lack of group meeting spaces that are accessible to as many people as possible means that members of the community are left out of important conversations, said Linton.

The center removes common challenges like inaccessibility (it’s accessible for anyone with mobility issues), expense (it’s available for use free or by donation), unacceptance (it’s welcoming to all expressions of sexuality, gender, and race), and chemical sensitivities (it’s chemical-free as much as possible), Linton added.

Since it opened last year, the center has hosted numerous events like a recent screening of The House I Live In, a documentary about the human-rights implications of U.S. drug-enforcement laws.

The center also hosts recurring events, such as the Vermont Workers’ Center’s Windham County Organizing Committee meeting.

Pathways Vermont, an organization focusing on eradicating homelessness for people with psychiatric difficulties, hosts a movie night. A peer-based mental health group also uses the center for gatherings.

Reel Queer Movie night takes place monthly. This month’s film is Foxfire, on Friday, Feb. 21, at 6:45 p.m.

Quarterly social justice forums are also held at the Root, most recently a screening of the documentary Crime After Crime by the Women’s Freedom Center. The next forum will take place March 29.

Working together

Those attending an event at the center will see workspaces lining the walls for the Workers’ Center, ACT For Social Justice, the Just Schools Project, and Open Bookkeeping, the four members of the Root Collective.

In an attempt to clarify some confusion since the center opened, Linton emphasized that the four businesses and the center operate separately.

As business owners, the collective holds the common goal of supporting one another along with providing an accessible space for the community, said Angela Berkfield, director and consultant with ACT, which in turn is a collective of advocates, consultants, and lawyers that assist people addressing issues of injustice like bullying, racial profiling, or eviction.

Alex Fischer of Open Bookkeeping said she doesn’t need to divorce herself from social justice in her daily life. Instead, she views her bookkeeping livelihood and social justice as one and the same.

Open Bookkeeping provides professional bookkeeping services to individuals, small businesses, and nonprofits in southern Vermont and western Massachusetts.

Making ends meet can also be based on social justice values, Fischer added. Members of the collective define social justice as a world were people’s needs are met so that they thrive, not merely survive.

Berkfield said her definition of social justice included a world free of oppression and where people’s needs around housing, food, health care, voting, and education were met.

Mel Motel of Just Schools added that social justice also means working toward a world where all people are valued. Creating such a world will require a fundamental change in how society is organized.

Just Schools addresses harm in schools. Motel works with students, teachers, parents, and administration drawing on the models of restorative justice, social justice, and transformative justice.

Linton seconded Motel and stressed the importance of meeting needs when the needs arise rather than “one day.”

“We’re trying to make that day now,” said Linton.

Fischer said she would add to the definition “respecting and understanding people as an entire human relationship, including their sense of self determination.”

People know what their needs are, said Fischer. As a society, she said, we need to allow people to be their own leaders on how best to meet those needs.

Motel said the Root Social Justice Center helps provide the first step in the process of self-determination by affording people a space to connect, plan, and organize.

The businesses are in operation between the hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. at The Root.

After 5 p.m., and on the weekends, the center is available for use for community events and meetings.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #242 (Wednesday, February 19, 2014). This story appeared on page A1.

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