Jessica Gelter: Empathy, compassion, and patience

BRATTLEBORO — I love Brattleboro and have always thought of it as a big-hearted community. I'm sure many of you have as well. We've thought it, we've said it, but we have more work to do on it.

When I first joined the Selectboard, a previous member told me, “it takes too long to get anything done. I didn't have the patience.”

But I'm patient. Before my time on the Selectboard, I served on the Brattleboro Planning Commission, where we worked on a 10-year master plan, a downtown plan, began the housing study, and where we developed a set of guidelines to help us make decisions based in equity. That town committee is a place where long-term vision and patience thrive.

I then had the honor of being elected to the Selectboard, with the goal of putting that long-term visioning into policy and action. This work also takes tremendous patience - not only because there are always issues that require research, thought, and deliberation, but because there is the risk of these issues being put on the back burner by the unpredictable.

In the last two years, Brattleboro has dealt with vacancies in town management, unforeseen changes to our vital services, and deepening challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and our local housing crisis. The path forward on these issues is clearing, and we have work to do on those items that were pushed aside.

Our country and our world face big challenges, but I believe in the power of local. No one up for election to the Selectboard is affiliated with a party - they won't be tipping some greater power balance. No one who gets elected locally will be able to singlehandedly change the country's systems of oppression. No one who serves here will be able to address our country's disastrously stratified income inequality.

So why does a local election matter?

Because we are a town of only 12,000 people. There are very real problems we can fix locally because they are small scale. There are actions we can take to change our small impact on the climate, to give shelter to people with none in our community, to take a stand against systemic oppression by requesting acknowledgement of harm, transparency, and communication on the local level, to help people feel more safe in spaces that feel unsafe.

We can build the solutions we need - together. And we can care for each other.

Some of my fellow candidates have talked about the importance of listening. I am learning that leadership is not just about listening, but about doing so with compassion and integrity. That's why I prioritize empathy and compassion in all of my interactions, whether it's with fellow board members, town staff, or community members who approach me or the board with their needs and their ideas.

The best way to wield any kind of power in our community is to open doors for others to share their voices, their stories, and their brilliance. That sharing helps us as leaders deploy town resources in the right direction.

One job of the Selectboard is to use taxpayer money, grants, buildings, equipment, and the time of town staff to address needs in our community. Another is to set policies and ordinances that support the functioning of the community as a whole - setting a joint understanding of what our values are and what our agreements are with each other. The last is to model the behavior that represents the town well - to our neighbors, to our residents, and to our children.

Your vote for me says:

“I trust Jess to hold space for me, my voice, my ideas.

“I trust Jess to navigate and balance the complexity of the stories she hears and to act with integrity.

“I trust Jess to care about our town.”

I'm asking for your trust and your support as someone with a big heart who would like to continue to lead by example in this big-hearted community.

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