BRATTLEBORO — Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman was co-hosting live Vermont PBS coverage of the annual Strolling of the Heifers parade on June 8 when, 20 minutes in, things veered severely off script.
“We have something unplanned-looking here,” Zuckerman told the statewide television audience.
That's when nearly a dozen screaming “die-in” demonstrators blocked the march for 15 minutes as they unfurled a nearly 25-foot-long “Declare Climate Emergency” banner across Main Street.
“Activism is a good thing,” Zuckerman ad-libbed.
But after five minutes of watching protesters writhe on the pavement while a lineup of more than 40 community groups and a crowd of several thousand spectators stood by, stymied in the hot sun, the Progressive Party politician turned his microphone into a negotiating tool.
Zuckerman said to those lying in the street: “Sometimes you start to lose support from people that would otherwise support you if you stay a bit too long.”
And to everyone else waiting and wilting: “Hopefully, we can encourage them with large rounds of applause for the effort they've made, and then maybe if they could move on and let the parade continue, we'd really appreciate it.”
The demonstrators, however, didn't move, spurring the part-time lieutenant governor and full-time Hinesburg organic farmer to refine his argument on both the loudspeaker and live television.
“A lot of the floats also have vehicles, and those vehicles are now idling, which is a little counterproductive to the climate crisis,” he told protesters. “And actually some of those animals now have been standing out on the hot pavement as well, which isn't very good for their health.”
The crowd applauded Zuckerman's efforts, but local police eventually had to carry off two holdouts, 17-year-old Rio Daims, and 13-year-old Django Grace, both of Brattleboro, to end the 15-minute disturbance without further incident or injury.
Daims is an organizer of an effort now before the state Legislature to give local 16- and 17-year-olds the right to serve as town meeting representatives.
She also is the daughter of activist Kurt Daims, who sparked national news a decade ago when he spearheaded a successful 2008 town meeting article that would make then-President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney subject to arrest and indictment for “crimes against our Constitution” if they ever visited the community.
As police removed the younger Daims on Saturday, several of her peers distributed petitions asking the town to declare a “climate emergency” and demanding undefined “considerable changes with haste.”
'Short and nonviolent'
Several of the students expressed willingness to be arrested.
“It shows how dedicated we are to the cause,” Rio Daims said.
But Brattleboro Police Chief Michael Fitzgerald chose not to charge anyone, citing the town's recent work with the international Charter for Compassion and Project CARE (Community Approach to Recovery and Engagement), a collaborative of area health and human service providers.
“What they did could have gotten them arrested,” Fitzgerald said, “but it was short and nonviolent.”
The protest wasn't the only one at Saturday's parade. Up the street, several dozen animal rights activists stood on the sidewalk with “Dairy Is Not Humane” signs.
“We're not anti-farming,” Jacqueline Carr said. “We support grain, soybean, fruit, and vegetable farmers.”
Saturday's climate change protest came a month after three young people were arrested at the State House in Montpelier upon throwing 3,000 slips of paper saying “Climate Justice Now” and “Planet Over Profit” onto the lawmakers, who, they charged, hadn't acted with enough speed or resolve on the issue.
In Brattleboro, many people questioned why demonstrators targeted an event that promoted family farms, local food, sustainable living, and resilient communities through such programs as its annual Slow Living Summit, Locavore Index, and Windham Grows business hatchery.
“I'm totally for their cause,” event founder Orly Munzing said, “but I disagree with their approach. Stopping the parade is very disrespectful.”