Balint: Meaningful conversations can bring positive change

BRATTLEBORO — From my porch on South Main Street, I have a great view of the diversity we have here in Windham County: longtime Vermonters whose families have lived here for generations; young families building new lives here; industry's rumbling trucks; and boisterous conversations among diverse groups of teenagers as they walk downtown from our neighborhood.

I love this place, although I didn't always feel this way.

My spouse, Elizabeth, and I bought our house in this bustling, but rough-around-the-edges, neighborhood because she wanted to be able to walk to her law office and I wanted to take our children into town without getting in the car.

But our friends thought we were crazy. There was an abandoned house on our block that had become a sort of flophouse and another that housed a pair of drug dealers.

Many neighbors felt weary and beaten down after so many years of keeping watch over the neighborhood. One even suggested that we not bother to plant tulips because, she said, “People will just steal them.”

I started to think our friends were right and that we shouldn't have moved to this side of town.

We are so glad we stayed - and planted tulips. We are very proud to have been part of the rebirth of this neighborhood. So much positive change has happened because of meaningful conversations among our neighbors.

The flophouse and the drug dealers' lair have both been sold and rehabbed; wonderful neighbors live in those houses now. We've organized our neighborhood to protect the historic entrance to our cemetery from being developed, met with police representatives to improve relations and communication, advocated for better lane striping to calm traffic, and successfully requested crosswalks for our street. It's a much safer part of town now, and our lively neighborhood potlucks are now teeming with new families and young children.

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I intend to bring this same sensibility with me to my work in the Vermont Senate. I will foster the connections that make us a strong, vibrant region of Vermont.

As an elected town meeting representative, a member of the town's Development Review Board, and a board member at a local preschool, I have learned the importance of listening deeply to someone else's story. Having sincere respect for another's position allows room for collaboration and partnership even amidst strong disagreements.

No matter what happens in politics elsewhere, Vermonters still believe in collaboration across the aisles. Our town meeting tradition endures because we listen when our neighbors talk and work together to craft solutions to our problems.

This is a state that sent both Republican Jim Jeffords and Progressive Bernie Sanders to the U.S. Congress; we value hard work and fighting for Vermonters, regardless of political persuasion.

In this tradition, I am a proud Democrat, but not a smug one. I am a woman of strong ideals - fairness, kindness, and opportunity among them. But I am not an ideologue. I love a great conversation, and I enjoy finding the critical connections between ideas that get the job done; that's how coalitions are forged.

We have so much talent here in the best corner of Vermont. We can work together to address our many urgent needs. Let's get going!

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