Home Commentary Letters to the Editor, Aug. 23, 2023

Letters to the Editor, Aug. 23, 2023

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Mud-Slinging in Local Paper?

To the Editor:

Please accept this letter in response to your recent article, “Post-Flood Montpelier Table Set with Good Intentions, Concerns About Racism Had a Seat Too.” 

I saw the article in the middle of the night and it kept me awake for some time. I was disgusted and appalled by the characterization of Cameron O’Connor, as well as what felt like nothing short of mud-slinging in our local newspaper. I found the article to be divisive and reckless, and while I agree it is important to talk about our experiences and not simply sweep grievances and concerns under the rug, this story did none of that. 

The Bridge has served as a vehicle for contempt with a knee-jerk article without fully vetting a story. This letter is in no way meant to conceal any injustices in Montpelier or its surrounding towns, but calling out Ms. O’Connor as a racist seems over the top and inaccurate at best. Ms. O’Connor has frequently and quietly served all populations of Montpelier and surrounding areas. In the days following the disaster, it was clear that every business in Montpelier was impacted by the flood. It was also clear that every person wanted to do the right thing for all. Artisan’s Hand closed in solidarity with their local businesses, establishments able to serve food did so in the spirit of keeping our LOCAL downtown going as they were able.

There was shock, confusion, and despair and there was also an outpouring of support in every way possible. Let us honor the strides we have made and let us also acknowledge there is work to be done, but please, let us not engage in name-calling and misrepresenting our citizens. 

Rhonda Prensky, East Montpelier

Editor’s note: There was no name-calling in the story referenced in this letter.

Thank You for Thoughtful Reporting

To the Editor:

Thank you for covering the story about how a citizen of color, Lalitha Mailwaganam, set up a food distribution tent with her own money and her own considerable efforts. She organized others to volunteer with her and also solicited cash and food donations from other caring members of society. It’s wonderful to know about the many ways that people showed up for each other in the aftermath of the floods. 

I am also appreciative of the sensitive way that you handled the explanation of how a white volunteer showed up repeatedly to tell Ms. Mailwaganam not to serve paid workers and to tell paid workers not to eat. During my time as a resident of central Vermont since 2015, I have sometimes witnessed this kind of lack of consideration of the historical backdrop of racism in our community. It’s very offensive to have any interference whatsoever in telling her to feed certain people but not others.

The racism comes in using a standard of judging who is paid and who is volunteering by looking at them. The volunteer knew that the group she was trying to exclude was different from the majority because she even asked Spanish interpreters to assist her in spreading her exclusionary message. I was very sad to know that this happened. What must it feel like to have someone telling you that you can’t even eat, that you are a human but less deserving than others?

So often, people of color are portrayed as needing help instead of as offering help. We all benefit from this kind of local journalism which makes everyone aware of our neighbors’ helpful contributions. We also benefit from the thoughtful reporting that you did about the racist interference of another neighbor. 

Therisa Rogers, Marshfield 

A Generous Volunteer 

To the Editor:

I’m writing in response to the article that was published in The Bridge, “Post-Flood Montpelier Table Set With Good Intentions, Concerns About Racism Had a Seat Too.” In contrast to the article, I think we all need to THANK Cameron O’Connor for all the work she did, including raising funds, donating, coordinating meals, and making meals. I volunteered in the basements for the first two weeks and was always welcomed with food, quite often either prepared or purchased by Cameron. 

The morning the volunteer efforts began, Cameron was making sandwiches to serve 100 people. She received donations from Shaw’s and the Co-op. She bought food from Skinny Pancake and gave it to the paid workers and volunteers. She bought food from Buddy’s multiple days to provide to the food tent. I saw her hand deliver food daily to everyone. She pulled popsicles out of her freezer to bring to the food tent. She’d run over to Shaw’s when we ran out of food. She stayed up late cooking food. She made pasta salad, soup, sandwiches, pies, and the list goes on. 

One day, it was recommended (from local businesses) that we only feed the volunteers since the hub was running out of food. It made some sense to ask the paid workers to support local businesses. After realizing that wasn’t going to work, food was given to everyone. This accusation of racism seems to stem from a lack of communication and clarity. 

Cameron is a generous Montpelier resident who deserves better. Not only did she provide food for the hub daily, she has made substantial donations to the Food Bank, the Food Shelf, Montpelier Alive, and many other local businesses. Cameron is a stand-out citizen who supports local businesses and is an active community member.

Cameron stepped up and acted when our town was devastated.

Wendy Elles, Montpelier 

Cameron is a Great Person

To the Editor:

I am writing regarding the article, “Post-Flood Montpelier Table Set With Good Intentions, Concerns About Racism Had a Seat Too.”

During the days after the flooding, I saw Cameron O’Connor (my friend and neighbor) working very hard to raise funds, coordinate meals, purchase, and even cook meals herself to support the entire Montpelier community. We left town for a bit and what a frustrating surprise to come back and find that Cameron’s name has been tarnished in your paper. Cameron definitely did not deserve this, and I request a public apology on her behalf. Cameron is a great person, she supports many of our local organizations, and Montpelier is lucky to have her as a community member. 

As a Panamanian and Latina myself, I am proud to call her a good friend. 

It is clear that the Hub was/is amazing, and the work done by volunteers was incredible. Regardless, in a crisis situation there will unavoidably be some confusion and miscommunication. In one of my volunteer roles, as I delivered chips and Gatorade with my son, I wondered whether I should be delivering to contractors as well, since I suspected the funds/items were donated for those impacted and volunteers. We went ahead and distributed them because how could we not, but I did ask later who they were actually meant for and did not get a clear answer. The accusation of racism is being dug out of a lack of communication and clarity. It is too bad you felt the need to run with it and drag someone through the mud.

I am a big fan of The Bridge and I am very disappointed to see it succumb to this type of “gossip rag” journalism and “telenovela” reporting. Montpelier has a lot of work ahead of us, let’s put personal agendas aside and work to unite and not divide.

Edisa Gonzalez Revilla Muller, Montpelier

A Learning Lesson for Our Community

To the Editor: 

I appreciate Jenny Blair’s article, “Post-Flood Montpelier Table Set with Good Intentions, Concerns About Racism Had a Seat Too.” While I was not party directly to what went on, I know most of the people who were and respect their points of view. Even to this aging white guy, the presence of racism in our city is very obvious. I can only imagine, as I often try to do, the impact it has on others in our community.

What I also know is that the recent struggles with the flood have people’s emotions running sharply, and many of us, myself included, have often spoken before we measured the impact of our words. This incident is a good one from which we can all learn.

Also clear to me is that everyone involved cares deeply about our community. That Lalitha Mailwaganam was sharing food she had donated and prepared, and that she and Phayvanh  Luekhamhan, once again, have shown the courage to speak up and challenge what might have slipped by unspoken, are both vital assets of a living, dynamic community. 

In the chaos of the weeks I find it understandable that communications within the city and between others at the Hub were less than perfect. I have known Bill Fraser and Alec Ellsworth both for a long time and appreciate their willingness, more than once, to take time to clear up misunderstandings that inevitably occur in any working relationship. 

One thing I do not want to have gone unspoken is the fact that, like others in our city, Cameron O’Connor and her family have been and continue to be extremely generous supporters of this community, both with their time and especially with their finances. I also know that she is a person who is always willing to hear the respectful thoughts and opinions of others, as, I believe, was the case in this incident.

Now it is time to take what we have learned and move ahead, stronger and more inclusive than we were, and appreciate these sorts of important and courageous conversations that make our growing possible.

John Snell, Montpelier