Letters to the Editor: Dec. 14

Banned books are books worth reading

To the Editor
In high school, I recall reading a profoundly moving book about a formerly enslaved family who is haunted by what they believe to be the ghost of their dead child. It was a Pulitzer Prize-winning book that engaged in many difficult topics — slavery and race relations, sexual assault, violence — but for me, it put into perspective the brutal realities of the lives that enslaved and emancipated people lived. This book, “Beloved” by Toni Morrison, has also been the subject of dozens of challenges and bans around the country.

Over the past few years in the U.S., we’ve seen a massive proliferation in the number of challenges and bans on books. According to data from the American Library Association, a record 2,571 unique titles were targeted for censorship in 2022, a 38 percent increase from the previous year, and 2023 is already on track to beat that record. These bans and challenges overwhelmingly target books about race and racism, books that have LGBTQ+ characters, books about difficult topics such as grief and death, books that contain any violent or sexual themes, and books by BIPOC and LGBTQ+ authors.

Last winter, I spoke with a friend about how disturbing it was to watch this rise in censorship and book bans around the country. I believe in free speech and democracy. Controlling what people can and cannot read or learn about by removing their access to certain materials is contrary to these beliefs. What’s even more disturbing to me is that this national trend seems to be the result of a relatively small group of people, with an agenda, who do not represent the opinion of the majority of Americans or Vermonters. In the 2021-2022 school year, just 11 adults were responsible for approximately 60 percent of all challenges nationwide. Meanwhile, a large majority of voters oppose efforts to have books removed from their public schools and libraries.

Because of this, I decided to host the Banned Books are Books Worth Reading tour this summer and fall. Over the past few months, I have been to over a dozen communities and spoken with hundreds of Vermonters about their thoughts on book bans. Many impassioned people came to share their support for free speech and to tell stories about the important things they learned from challenged and banned books.

Of course, not everyone who has come to these events has been on the same page. I welcomed people with differing views in civil discussion. Of course, we are not a free society if people are not allowed to have differing opinions. I would like to express appreciation that we were able to have public conversations regarding difficult topics without the yelling and intimidation (from any side) that we have sometimes seen in other settings across the country. However, it was clear that a vast majority of Vermonters agree that we should continue to allow public libraries and schools, with their trained professionals, to maintain their collection free from governmental restrictions. It was also clear that parents should (and do) have the right to ask for different books for their children if they wish.

Thankfully, while this trend of a few parents censoring what other families have access to in public schools and libraries has taken off around the country, we haven’t yet seen it succeed in Vermont. Although public schools and libraries in our state have not seen well-organized efforts to ban books, I have heard from dozens of librarians, teachers and bookstore workers that there has been increasing pressure from some groups and individuals to restrict access to, or remove, certain books from their shelves. In pockets of Vermont, we’ve also seen some school board candidates run on platforms that include censorship of certain books and materials from classrooms and school libraries. We are not immune from these national trends that are developing due to misinformation that is repeated on some news sources.

It’s been extraordinary to see Vermonters’ passion for free speech, and against the path towards authoritarianism, these past few months. If you agree that access to history and diversity in our libraries and schools is important, I hope that you will go out and support your local bookstores and libraries and consider serving on local boards. If you have any questions or would like any more information on banned books, you can always feel free to contact my office.

Lt. Governor David Zuckerman

Encourage Vermont legislators to end sale of flavored tobacco

To the Editor:
I don’t want to feel a crackle run up my chest when I breathe anymore. I noticed it a few years back when I got sick. Every time I took a breath, I felt my windpipes quake. I hated it then. I hate it now. I’m 21 years old, and I’m addicted to tobacco products.

Flavored tobacco has a grip on my generation more than we ever thought it would. Big tobacco companies roped in kids, made millions, and got a whole new generation addicted to nicotine and tobacco through the appeal of 1,000s of flavors. The same generation that clearly understood the harmful effects of cigarettes became addicted to its flavorful twin, vapes.

It isn’t enough to offer children nicotine gum, anti-vaping campaigns and advice on how to quit. We need to destroy the source. In January, the Vermont Legislature will vote on S.18, a bill seeking to end the sale of flavored tobacco. I am writing so that people tell their legislators that we must pass S.18.

I sometimes wonder how I ended up here. I grew up with a hatred for cigarettes. My whole life, I was told how disgusting they were, the terrible health effects they had, and how addictive the substance tobacco can be. I wanted nothing to do with it.

Around my eighth grade year at Georgia Elementary and Middle School, some friends started throwing around the term “vape.” It was described to me as a harmless smoke alternative that might have some health benefits. Fast forward to what we know now, and it just seems silly. I never indulged while at GEMS, but that’s where the seed was planted in eighth grade.

I was in high school at South Burlington when I first used a vape. It was fruit-flavored and filled my lungs with toxic chemicals that I had no idea about because, after all, vapes were “safe.” It made me vibrate from head to toe. The best way I can describe the feeling is that your whole body feels like TV static. I wouldn’t say I liked it at first. Yet, I have an addictive personality, and much like most things that give me any sort of sensation, I’d find my way to it again.

The one thing that kept me coming back more than anything is that it tastes like candy. This was not the disgusting, makes-you-smell-bad substance that I was warned about.

I was so naive to claim that I wasn’t an “addict.” I could stop at any time, so I was okay.

Let me tell you something: if you’ve ever left your work to go to the bathroom (as so many people around me did) and use a substance to settle down, you are addicted to that substance. I was far from okay.

As part of my senior capstone, I was involved in a tobacco prevention campaign for Burlington High School Students, partnering with Burlington Partnership for a Healthy Community. The campaign BHS Elevate, hopes to prevent kids from using tobacco. Chantal Finley and I conducted interviews with University of Vermont students to create a sense of understanding between the younger audience and the students right up the road.

What we found was astonishing. Students understood how bad these tobacco products are for you. Yet, when questioned further, almost everyone we interviewed had some level of experience with vapes. At the bare minimum, they had seen the use of one from their friends.

When asked how long they had been vaping, one UVM student had this to say: “I have vaped every day since I first started going into freshman year of high school; I started with a Mango Juul Pod before cross country practice.”

Another student put it into simple terms: “Every time I do it, I can feel it in my lungs, and I’m like, ‘Oh, I need to not do this.’ Now and then, I’ll still hit a vape. But I can tell it’s not good for you.”

Other states have already ended the sale of flavored tobacco products. Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and California all have some sort of restriction on selling flavored tobacco products. The research is out, folks, and we need to act now. In the wake of a global pandemic, young people seek new ways to cope with a forever-changing world. Let’s make sure those mechanisms to cope are healthy ones.

Join me and many others and tell the Vermont legislature to pass S.18 and prevent a generation of Vermont kids from becoming addicted to nicotine.

Marcus Aloisi

It’s time for the wealthiest to pay their fair share in taxes

To the Editor:
We can build a Vermont that works for everyone who lives here. 

We can have thriving downtowns, safe roads and bridges, and housing that people can afford. Our children can learn in vibrant and supportive schools. We can protect our environment. We can care for Vermont families at every stage of life. 

But first, we need to look at our tax code. That’s right—our tax code.

In recent decades, wages for many Vermont residents have not kept up with the costs of living. Meanwhile, elected officials tell us that Vermont doesn’t have the money to make crucial public investments to take care of families, infrastructure and the environment.

Yet the data show that this scarcity narrative is rhetoric, not reality. Income inequality is growing in Vermont. Our wealthiest residents are getting wealthier. Our highest income earners are earning more and getting a larger and larger share of overall income. And our current tax structure protects the wealth of a small number of residents, instead of focusing on the needs of all people in Vermont. 

The solution is clear: We need to raise revenue to build a better Vermont by increasing taxes on the wealthiest Vermont residents. 

It’s time to build a Vermont that’s affordable for all Vermonters, because we can’t afford a Vermont that only the wealthy can afford. 

By increasing taxes on the wealthiest, we can raise substantial state revenue to ensure that our downtowns are clean and safe, our families are supported, our environment is healthy, and our economy is flourishing. 

By raising revenue in a way that is fair and equitable, we can make crucial investments today, instead of deferring expenses that will multiply and cost more in the long run. 

By increasing taxes on those with more than enough, we can build a better Vermont for everyone, including our wealthiest residents. This, not austerity, is the fiscally responsible strategy for our present and future.

A fair tax code is critical to building a Vermont that works for everyone who lives here.

Anika Heilweil
(Anika Heilweil works for the Public Assets Institute. She is the campaign manager for the Fund Vermont’s Future Coalition and the Fair Share for Vermont Campaign.)