Friday, May 20, 2016

Campus Paradise Lost: The Fall of Burlington College

Just before classes began at Burlington College in September 2011, President Jane O’Meara Sanders offered local media a tour of the school’s new campus and her vision of the future. A few days later, she followed up with the Board of Trustees, cheerily pleased with the press coverage and the school’s mention in a Newsweek-Daily Beast poll as the number one college for “free-spirited students.” 

Finally, she wrote, “we are getting the creative message through nationally.”

One of the country’s smallest post-secondary institutions, originally launched in 1972 as a “school without walls” for non-traditional students, Burlington College was about to turn 40. In addition to a large new campus, it was adding academic majors and had ambitious plans to more than double its enrollment by the end of the decade.

Sanders, wife of Vermont's famous junior US Senator, presented a range of optimistic enrollment goals, sometimes reaching as high as 500 students within five years, double the highest figure in the school’s history.

Two weeks later, however, she unexpectedly resigned after reaching a private settlement with the Board of Trustees. A press release from the college, which had purchased buildings and property previously owned by the Catholic Diocese for $10 million less than a year before at her urging, said that Sanders would step down on Oct. 14 but gave no reason for the change.

So began a four year slide that ultimately led to the sudden announcement that Burlington College would close by the end of May 2016. 

In January, Catholic parishioners in Vermont asked the US attorney in Vermont and the inspector general of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation to investigate if Ms. Sanders committed federal bank fraud by misrepresenting the college’s fundraising commitments to secure loans for the land purchase. As faculty and staff emptied the school building prior to a May 27 takeover by the People's United Bank, locks were changed, students held a public funeral, and one witness close to the administration claimed that computer hard drives had been seized by unnamed officials.

Staying Small

Had it survived, even with a 34-acre campus offering views of Lake Champlain and five times as much space for classes and offices, Burlington College would have remained one of the five smallest colleges in the country. In Vermont only two schools had fewer students. For four decades, BC's annual enrollment had fluctuated between 100 and 250.

To double that number by 2020, enrollment would have to increase by at least 12 percent a year, a goal well beyond the national average and a radical departure from the school’s track record. The $10 million purchase of the Catholic Diocese property, as well as committing to more than $3 million in renovations, had put the school under serious financial, management and academic pressure. 

During the previous decade Burlington College’s annual income had grown by about half a million, from $2.744 million in 2001 to $3.372 as of 2008, based on federal 990 tax filings. But until recently enrollment had been on the decline. Between 2001 and 2008, the number of students dropped by about 40 percent, from 250 to 156. Enrollment had risen since, reaching somewhere between 180 and 200 students attending part or full-time at the time Sanders resigned.

While the number of students had decreased during the last decade, income from tuition had increased from $1.998 to $2.912 million. The school kept pace financially through a series of tuition increases that accelerated after Sanders became president. Tuition rose over 60 percent from $13,120 in 2003, the year before she arrived, to $22,407 in 2011.

During the same period the school’s assets also increased, from under a million in 2004 to $1.454 million by 2008, or around 50 percent. Sanders’ salary went from $103,500 to more than $150,000.

Of Vermont’s 30 colleges and universities, only seven cost more – Green Mountain, Landmark, Bennington, St. Mike’s, Marlboro, Norwich and Champlain. The University of Vermont’s in-state tuition was about $6,000 a year less. Despite its attractive new campus, Burlington College was at a competitive disadvantage, especially for in-state students, and lacked sufficient discretionary funds to embark on the kind of sustained marketing it needed, especially with increased overhead.

Sanders Takes Charge 

Prior to becoming Burlington College president in 2004, Jane Sanders worked as campaign manager for her husband Bernie Sanders, then a US congressman. Her credentials also included a stint running Goddard College and almost a decade as head of youth services for Burlington, mainly during the Sanders administration.

In 2005 she said that increasing student numbers was vital because tuition dollars would help pay for the overall plan she was developing. As it turned out, tuition dollars rose but the number of students didn’t. The college was also mindful of its mission to stay small, she added. In 2006, however, she announced a $6 million expansion plan. The initial idea was to build a three-story structure next to the current building on North Avenue.

Hired at about the same salary as her predecessor, President Sanders received salary bumps for the next five years, ultimately topping $150,000 in 2009. During the same period tuition rose by more than $5,000 while enrollment dipped to 156 students.

By 2008, students and faculty were expressing frustration, especially after the dismissal of popular literature professor Genese Grill. Students, faculty and staff said that the environment at the school had become toxic and disruptive. In interviews, many blamed Sanders and decried what was described as a “crisis of leadership.”

More than two dozen faculty and staff left the school during Sanders’ tenure, according to then-Student Government President Joshua Lambert. Grill claimed she was fired for criticizing Sanders, particularly for a letter to Academic Affairs Committee Chair Bill Kelly blaming Sanders for an “atmosphere of fear and censorship” on campus. Sanders called Grill’s critique unfair but declined to discuss the details. 

The American Association of University Professors, which became aware of the dispute, noted that Burlington College lacked a grievance policy for faculty, an omission considered “quite unusual.” Robert Kreiser, program officer in AAUP’s department of academic freedom, tenure and governance, told the weekly, Seven Days, “A faculty member should have the right to speak out about actions and policies at his or her own college.” He offered to help Sanders draft a new policy but she declined.

We are leaving a 16,000 square foot building on 2 acres to a 77,000 square foot building on 34 acres. Instead of a lake view, we have lakefront.”
                                                                               – Jane O’Meara Sanders

Despite faculty resignations and student objections, the trustees continued to  back their CEO. “The board is quite confident in Jane’s leadership, and we stand by her,” said Patrick Gallivan, who was board chair In 2008.

By 2011, the Board was being chaired by Adam Dantzscher, a credit and debt consultant, and Gallivan, a vice president at St. Michael’s College, had become vice chair. Members included two local orthopedic surgeons, a psychologist and a workplace consultant, the development director of Fletcher Allen Hospital and an emeritus faculty member from UVM.

The business community was represented by David Dunn, an advisor at the Vermont Small Business Development Center; Rob Michalak, Director of Social Mission for Ben & Jerry’s; and David Grunvald, vice president of Preci Manufacturing, a leading Vermont military contractor. The Board was rounded out by peace activist Robin Lloyd, student representative Brendan Donaghey, and Jonathan Leopold, former Chief Financial Officer for the City of Burlington.

Originally appointed as city treasurer by Bernie Sanders decades earlier, Leopold had become treasurer of the Burlington College board, and chaired the crucial Finance an d Facilities Committee. He'd left city employment the previous June, as controversy erupted over his handling of Burlington Telecom financing, but continued consulting for the city under a short-term contract. His wife Roxanne was part of Burlington College’s core staff; she headed the school’s psychology and human services programs.

Buying a Campus 

When the school community gathered to honor the 34 members of its 2011 graduating class at its new campus, Sanders acknowledged that the only man who could have brokered such a deal with the Roman Catholic Diocese was real estate mogul Antonio Pomerleau. A prominent local Catholic, Pomerleau had been a prime target of Bernie Sanders’ political attacks when he first became Burlington mayor. But since then they had become family friends. 

“He understands relationships,” Jane Sanders explained at 2011 graduation ceremonies. “Not just ‘who you know,’ but an understanding that leads to a reputation, and to trust.”

As a result of more than two dozen sexual abuse lawsuits, the Catholic Diocese was on the hook for $17.65 million in settlements. The property initially went on the market for $12.5 million. Although $10 million looked like a bargain, not everyone was impressed. According to Erick Hoekstra, a developer for a local commercial development firm, City officials may have overvalued the property. Even if hundreds of housing units were eventually built on the land, a more realistic price was $5 million to $7 million, he claimed.

The college’s vision for its new land base was ambitious but expensive. The main building was already being renovated for classrooms, administration offices and labs. Eventually, the former bishop’s residence, with a view of Lake Champlain,  would provide space for public events, study rooms and visiting faculty.  For the first year $1.2 million was budgeted for renovations. But it would cost at least $2 million more to complete the transformation, including work on an enormous building previously rented by the Howard Center to provide housing for about 16 students.

“It’s fabulous,” said Sanders. “We are leaving a 16,000 square foot building on 2 acres to a 77,000 square foot building on 34 acres. Instead of a lake view, we have lakefront.”

According to Dantzscher, the strategic plan developed five years before had basically been achieved. “Now we can decide and dictate our own destiny,” he predicted.

To make this dramatic expansion work financially, the college tried to lower some of its expenses by refinancing debt and improving energy efficiency. However, Sanders acknowledged that completing the move would require still more borrowing. In addition, a $6 million capital campaign (increased from an initial $4 million) had been launched. But progress was slower than hoped.

Subsequent investigations have suggested that Sanders overstated donation amounts in a bank application for the $6.7 million loan used by the college to purchase the land. She apparently told People’s United Bank that the college had $2.6 million in pledged donations to support the purchase. But the college received only $676,000 in actual donations from 2010 through 2014, according to figures provided by the college. That’s far less than the $5 million Sanders listed as likely pledges in the loan agreement, and less than a third of the $2.14 million she told People’s Bank the college would collect in cash during the four-year period.

Two people whose pledges are listed as confirmed in the loan agreement told VTDigger that their personal financial records show their pledges were overstated. Neither were aware that the pledges were used to secure the loan. Burlington College also cited a $1 million bequest as a pledged donation that would be paid out over six years, even though the money would only be available after the donor’s death.

Evolving Academics

In its final years, the most popular academic programs at the school included film, photography, fine arts and integral psychology. As part of an expansion plan, new majors were proposed in media activism and hospitality/event management, as well as four new Bachelor of Fine Arts degree programs. It already offered study abroad opportunities, including one in Cuba with the University of Havana, and an Institute for Civic Engagement to promote an informed, active citizenry.

Most Burlington College students were under 25, a contrast with both the school’s early history and recent educational trends. Nationally, the number of older students was rising faster than enrollment for those under 25, a pattern expected to continue. The question confronting the Board of Trustees was whether a small school, even with a lovely new campus, could succeed in doubling its student body in the current academic and economic environment. 

Sanders' critics said the underlying problem was that she was more concerned with image and marketing than academic quality. As one former faculty member who asked to be kept anonymous put it, she preferred hiring “young inexperienced, but ‘hip’ people whom she hopes she can push around.”

Dynamics of Growth 

If there was a precedent for the school’s expansion hopes, it was less than a mile away at Champlain College. Founded as Burlington Collegiate Institute by G.W. Thompson in 1878, it was renamed Burlington Business College in 1884, moved to Bank Street in 1905, and relocated to Main Street in 1910.

The College took its current name in 1958 and moved to the Hill Section of Burlington. That year, it offered only associate’s degree programs, had about 60 students and no dorms. But it had grown enormously in the decades since then, launching new programs in the social services, adding a campus center in 1989, bachelor’s degree programs in 1991 and online education as early as 1993.  Today it has around 3,000 students and a sprawling campus.

In contrast, Burlington College, while expanding its core and adjunct faculty from 15 to almost 100 over the years, its staff from less than 10 to 61, and its budget from $200,000 to almost $4 million, never saw significant enrollment growth. In fact, while Champlain’s student body was exploding Burlington College’s declined.

One of the differences was that Champlain expanded its campus based on increased demand for business and technology education, while Burlington College hoped that better facilities, more majors and a larger land base would attract students. In other words, if you build them – programs and facilities, that is – they will come. However, this approach was at odds with the school’s original intent – academic freedom and self-designed studies in diverse community settings rather than on a traditional "bricks and mortar" campus. 

A larger campus created opportunities but also challenges. In the former category was space to create dorms for up to 100 students, an attractive campus for mid-career professionals in master’s programs, plus labs and a student lounge. But it made rapid growth essential. If student enrollment didn't rise consistently, it was clear that the new campus would become a burden, one that required either dramatically increased fundraising, even higher tuition costs, or somehow leveraging the school’s land base to compensate.

About four years after the purchase, faced with bankruptcy, Burlington College was forced to sell most of the property to developer Eric Farrell. At first the idea was that the school might remain, retaining some programs in a small portion of the former Catholic Diocese headquarters, with Farrell building 600 housing units on the rest of the land. For the City of Burlington, this would represent tax revenue. Like the Catholic Diocese the College was tax exempt. 

Now Burlington College is completely out of the picture, and any housing built on the land will bring in property taxes. Some of the units will even be affordable. But the questions surrounding the untimely demise of Burlington's most progressive college will haunt the community for years to come.

Much of this material was first published in 2011 by VTDigger.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Merger Madness and the Reagan Revolution's Big Fail

"Over the last 30 years there has been a transfer of trillions of dollars from the middle class to the top one-tenth of one percent." 
- Bernie Sanders on Twitter, Dec. 26, 2015

The conservative economics of the Reagan era deeply affected the lives of millions. What George H.W. Bush once called "voodoo economics" -- before he forgot and signed on as vice president -- became the biggest redistribution of wealth since the New Deal. As Bernie Sanders has pointed out, the gap between the rich and poor widened dramatically during those years, big corporations got bigger, and politicians backed away from social welfare programs.

The central article of faith at the time was that money rerouted to the rich would produce a burst of productivity and industrial growth. Give to corporations and the already wealthy, advised "supply side" economists, and "job creators" will invest the money in new factories, research, technology and jobs. The country will be restored to greatness.

We've been hearing this gospel for years. And we're hearing it again today from Reagan impersonator Donald Trump. But did it work the first time?

Even before Saint Ronald took office, he let corporate interests know they could have virtually whatever they wanted. Once in the White House, he immediately began to undermine or suspend government regulations of business, adamant in the belief that when business was given freedom and cash it would invest in new productive capability.

It didn't work out that way. The nation's biggest businesses did not put their money into jobs, research or equipment. Instead, they went on the largest merger binge in history, buying up smaller companies in a trend that meant less competition, less productivity, and more control of the economy by fewer people.

Multi-million dollar war chests were assembled to finance takeovers of large oil and coal companies, communication giants, and financial institutions. In just the first half of 1981, mergers involving $35.7 billion were arranged, a 60 percent rise over the previous year. Yet this was just a prelude to the largest merger in US history. On July 6, 1981, DuPont, the country's top-ranked chemical company, offered $6.8 billion to acquire Conoco, a major oil company that owned the second-largest US coal company, Consolidated.

DuPont was playing what merger watchers called the "white knight," so named because its offer was invited by Conoco's board to stave off yet another bid by Seagram, a Canadian corporation and the world's largest whiskey business. Within two weeks Mobil, then the second-ranked US oil company, weighed in with an "unfriendly" attempt to outbid both DuPont and Seagram. It hoped to gain Conoco's large oil and coal reserves, but was also testing Reagan's more lenient anti-trust policies by trying to buy a company in the same business.

The price reached $7.7 billion before DuPont won the bidding. By this time more than $16 billion in credit had been extended to the three competitors. Most of the money was still available afterward, plus another $20 billion in credit to other corporations either planning takeovers or trying to prevent them. Five major oil companies alone had $24 billion in credit lines; Texaco, Gulf, Marathon and Mobil were actively seeking mergers with "second tier" companies.

It wasn't a Left-wing think tank that labeled this phenomenon "merger madness." The name was coined by The Wall Street Journal. At first corporate leaders tried to sell it as simply a competitive necessity. But the truth is that the merger wars of the 1980s actually undermined the "economic recovery" so often touted by Republicans. In agreeing to let corporations run free, Reagan's administration brought on the rapid, public failure of supply-side economics.

There were warnings, of course. The Independent Bankers Association, for example, predicted that financial industry mergers would limit the availability of credit to agriculture, small business and individuals in thousands of small communities. The effect will be like a "giant vacuum cleaner" sucking up money, their spokesman predicted. 

Merger mania also slowed economic growth. Investments in production of new capital equipment, research and exploration took a back seat to acquisitions that strengthened a corporation's competitive position. The trend even fouled up the Federal Reserve's "tight money" policy. Both raiders and white knights were able to get credit through infusions from the European market. Even if the Reagan administration had wanted to halt the spree, little could have been done quickly, except maybe to impose limits on credit allocation. But far from fearing the madness, most Reaganites considered mergers perfectly acceptable.

"The Government of Business"

Two days after DuPont announced its historic merger, Reagan's assistant attorney general for anti-trust previewed the new administration philosophy -- by dropping two antitrust lawsuits. One of these charged that Mack Truck and its distributor had conspired to fix pricing discounts of Mack Truck parts. The Carter administration's antitrust division considered such vertical deals anti-competitive. The other case involved a government attempt to block the acquisition of the Northeast's leading outdoor brick seller by a British company. The issue here was market concentration: the merged business would command about 20 percent of brick sales in 13 states.

On this and other matters, the Reagan team did little to make its stand on mergers clear. It did, however, also decide to drop a long-standing anti-trust suit against American Telephone and Telegraph. Filed in 1974, the lawsuit claimed that AT&T had tried to obstruct potential competitors by refusing to let them hook into the Bell system. The proposed remedy was to break up the company. But the Reagan administration suggested that new FCC regulations would be an appropriate substitute. Top officials claimed they were more concerned about international competition from the Germans and Japanese than domestic monopoly practices.

Overseeing the merger boom, the administration was quiet and often encouraging. As Treasury Secretary Donald Regan put it, "Our economy is growing, our nation is growing, and the world is growing. So why shouldn't companies grow?"

Yet this wave of consolidation was only one in a series of attempts by major corporations and financial institutions to reshape the US economy. They started more than a century ago, but the initial public response was weak and half-hearted. Before some limitations were placed on the emerging monopolies, the Standard Oil Trust already included 40 companies representing 90 percent of the oil refineries and pipelines in the country. Trusts -- groups of corporations entrusting their stocks to small boards of directors -- also controlled the sugar, beef, whiskey and several other industries. 

A big slogan of that era was pure laissez-faire: "The government of business is not part of the business of government."

Nevertheless, a populist campaign to halt monopolization and protect the public interest gained steam in the 1880s. It grew out of resentment by small business over strong-arm corporate tactics, consumer complaints about price-fixing, and attacks by muckraking writers and alternative political parties. By 1888, both major parties were attacking the trusts, at least rhetorically.

When the Sherman Antitrust Act passed in 1890, only one dissenting vote was cast in Congress. The law declared illegal "every contract, combination in the form of trust or otherwise, or conspiracy, in restraint of trade or commerce." It authorized prosecutions and lawsuits for damages. But enforcement was far from aggressive at first and the number of trusts grew from 18 to 157 over the next decade. 

As president Theodore Roosevelt did attempt to put some teeth into the law; his Department of Justice pressed lawsuits calling for dissolution of the Standard Oil and American Tobacco Company trusts. Roosevelt also urged more indictments for anti-competitive practices. Merger activity boomed anyway. Two subsequent booms occurred in the 1920s and 1950s.

Antitrust enforcement was highly selective from the start. Take sugar refining, which the US Supreme Court defined as a "manufacturing monopoly" in 1895 and therefore exempt from regulation. A year earlier the same Court ruled that the Sherman Act could be used against striking workers because they were in restraint of trade. Eventually the Court decided that the law barred only "unreasonable" combinations.

Even when a firm was convicted for monopoly practices, an effective remedy was hard to devise. Roosevelt successfully prosecuted DuPont for monopolizing the explosives business, but the Court was at a loss to design a solution. The eventual decision was to set up two new powder companies. But DuPont shaped the plan and picked the executives for both new firms.

During the Carter years, the spotlight shifted to what were then called "shared monopolies," industries in which a few large companies shared control of the market. After identifying 50 such industries, the plan was to file a lawsuit against IBM on the basis of its "overtly predatory" practices. But that didn't go far, since Reagan's team saw federal regulations as the real problem and looked away as competitors gobbled one another at an accelerating pace.

Laffer's Folly

According to conservative legend, the basic outline for the "Reagan revolution" was originally sketched freehand on a napkin. The draftsman, UCLA economist Arthur Laffer, portrayed with a simple curve his idea that the health of the economy depends on the level of taxation. Laffer also argued that the US was taxing too high on the curve to keep business strong.

Armed with this specious doctrine, conservative "supply-siders" promised that tax reduction, combined with reduction of the "regulatory burden," would increase profit rates. And with this windfall corporate America would make new investments to decrease unemployment and increase productivity. More jobs and income would mean increased revenues for the government, even with lower tax rates. Increased productivity would mean more goods and, some day, lower prices. That was the gospel.

Meanwhile, antitrust "restrictions" were targeted as too "burdensome." Trust-busting kept companies from growing enough to compete against foreign rivals, the supply-siders warned. In fact, some consolidation should be encouraged. "Mergers are an important part of a healthy economic system," advised US Attorney General William French Smith, while economic theorist Robert Heilbroner declared antitriust laws "old-fashioned."

The bottom line: US corporations needed more money, supposedly to invest in new technology and development in order to stay competitive. But the theory was flawed; as it turns out, there is only the most tenuous connection between today's profits and tomorrow's investments. 

Looking back at the $100 billion that was passed around in ownership shuffles between 1975 and 1980, Harold Williams, former chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, noted that the same money "could have been devoted to new production and employment opportunities." But when used for mergers, it didn't "flow back as new capacity, improvements in productivity, innovation, new products or jobs."

Oil companies scouting for merger targets in the 1980s certainly didn't show much sensitivity to calls for expansion and investment in new technology. Others on the merger bandwagon were bidding up the prices of old facilities rather than investing in new ones. Even when bribed to make capital improvements with tax breaks, many corporations chose mergers as the shortest, easiest road to profit. 

During the Reagan era, income, wealth and control over economic life shifted dramatically into fewer hands. The trend toward economic consolidation seriously undermined the spirit of independent entrepreneurship that had once been the heart of the American economic system. Interest rates remained high as funds were drained for acquisitions. By 1983 the unemployment rate was over 10 percent, one more obvious sign that the supply-side gospel was a fraud.

Greg Guma is the author of The People's Republic: Vermont and the Sanders Revolution and other books, and former Executive Director of the Pacific Radio network.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Peaceful Revolutions and the Power of Disobedience

While most people want to reduce nuclear and environmental threats, many also believe that neither climate change nor arms proliferation can be reversed through traditional channels alone.

When we talk about the American Revolution, the stories are often about military clashes or personal acts of courage in dangerous circumstances. This concept of our early history may account for the widespread identification of radical change with violence in the United States.

In reality, America's revolution, like many political upheavals, was largely a nonviolent liberation movement that spanned more than a decade. Certainly there were armed struggles, but the real transformation came from the building of substitute governments and massive resistance that led to virtual economic self-sufficiency before bullets were fired.

The power of Britain over the colonies was undermined between 1765 and 1776 by nonviolent civilian campaigns such as tax resistance, boycotts, hunger strikes and nonimportation agreements. It was a powerful outpouring of conscience and direct action, similar in many ways to the abolitionist and civil rights movemebnts, and later Gandhi's crusade to free India.

Today the world is again experiencing a powerful movement of conscience. Countless millions in North America, Europe and Asia have joined together in demonstrations, marches, sit-ins and other nonviolent activities to end the threats to global survival. While most people support initiatives to reduce nuclear and environmental threats, many also have a clear sense -- call it skepticism or realism -- that neither climate change nor arms proliferation can be reversed by the use of traditional channels alone.

If that's true, what will it take? Perhaps the same kind of active resistance that has been crucial in other movements for freedom and justice.
In the early 1980s, for example, Americans voted and spoke out overwhelmingly in favor of halting nuclear weapons production and deployment. During this period, Vermonters voted to freeze and reduce nuclear arms, cut military aid to repressive regimes like El Salvador, and transfer federal funds from military spending to programs that would create more jobs and meet social needs.

In the face of such sentiments across the country, as the government proceeded with the development of first strike weapons such as the Cruise, Pershing II, Trident II and MX missiles, many Americans moved from the halls of government to the streets. Churchgoers and religious activists were deeply concerned about what they viewed as idolatry of weapons. In the face of such militarism, the message of many religious traditions was similar: obedience to government cannot be absolute, and we must discriminate when human law conflicts with moral right.

When Jesus cleansed the temple during the week of his arrest and crucifixion, he was also conducting a campaign of civil disobedience aimed at the power centers of the established order. His law-breaking was a tool of rebirth and social change. The approach of Jesus is not unlike the modern democratic notion that a "loyal opposition" is obligated to resist unjust laws and policies to protect the integrity of the body politic. In the 20th Century Martin Luther King Jr. demonstrated this principle when he broke segregation laws to show that apartheid was incompatible with the Constitution.

Taking inspiration from Thoreau, Mahatma Gandhi demonstrated the power of nonviolent action to undo an unjust government. The "consent of the governed" was removed in India through a long revolt involving tax refusal, boycotts, raids, resignations, parades and seditious speeches. Gandhi's method confronted violence with civil defiance and love.

"Disobedience without civility, discipline, discrimination and nonviolence," Gandhi explained, "is certain destruction. Disobedience combined with love is the living water of life."

These days, with the threat of violence and nuclear escalation ever present, many determined people still turn to nonviolent resistance to prevent the outbreak of wars that could spark global catastrophe. In Burlington, this tradition goes back decades, to the June morning when dozens of protesters blocked the truck entrance to the local General Electric plant, producer of the Vulcan Gatling gun. 

For engaging in this sit-down action, the protesters were ready to be arrested. And they were. But they were prepared because they believed that Vermont's many votes, petitions and rallies hadn't been really heard. Development of new weapons continued, intervention in Central America intensified, and anti-personnel weapons produced in Burlington were a significant component of this deadly foreign policy.

By blocking the factory gate, those committed to peace were moving beyond lobbying to incorporate tactics of active resistance. For them, obedience in the face of militarism, war and nuclear terror was a denial of conscience. But nonviolent acts of resistance can instead spark a redemptive transformation of society, one that includes well-planned conversion of weapons plants that protects the jobs of workers.

Like the American colonists who developed a new economy before their revolution, we can start the process of peace conversion by establishing local groups that involve workers, management and the community in planning for alternative, socially useful non-military production. At the same time, we can work for a broader change in priorities by supporting national conversion legislation that includes retraining and income security for those displaced.

Combining such direct actions with practical goals, in this high tech violent world, would be revolutionary in the best sense of the word.

The original draft of this essay appeared in The Burlington Free Press in June 1983, days before a march and civil disobedience to protest local weapons production. Those who participated in the large sit-in at GE, a first in Burlington, were arrested on orders of Mayor Bernie Sanders. At the time, Greg Guma was on the board of the Burlington Peace Coalition and, with Murray Bookchin, co-chaired  the Vermont Council for Democracy.