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Greg Guma: Decentralization—A Path to Self-Government

This commentary is by Greg Guma, author of “Restless Spirits & Popular Movements: A Vermont History”.

The centralization of our social, economic and political systems has engendered a deep sense of helplessness among the population, a growing alienation in society as a whole, the depersonalization of vital services, an excessive recourse to management techniques and control and a loss of great traditions. — Decentralist League, 1977

Forty-five years ago, a group bringing together the political left and right tried to create a “third way” called the Decentralist League of Vermont. He was summoned by Robert O’Brien, a state senator who had recently lost the Democratic gubernatorial primary, and John McClaughry, a Republican critic of his party’s leadership. Each invited a few allies for a series of meetings to question authority and forge a new political vision.

“We oppose political and economic systems that demand obedience to the dictates of elite groups, while ignoring the abuses of those who operate the controls,” its founding statement said.

Vermont had once been fertile ground for “outside the box” thinking. For starters, it didn’t immediately join the new United States after the Revolutionary War, remaining an independent republic until 1791. Almost half a century later, it was the first American state to be elected an anti-Mason governor, at a time when opposition to elites and secret societies was growing.

Early in its history, Vermont also experienced first-hand another type of challenge to centralized power: cancellation. The general idea is that since the states created the federal government, they also have the right to judge the constitutionality of federal laws — and potentially refuse to enforce them.

This happened when American settlers overturned laws imposed by the British. Since then, states have sometimes used nullification to limit federal actions, from the Fugitive Slave Act to tariffs. In November 1850, the Vermont legislature joined the club, approving a habeas corpus law that required officials to assist slaves arriving in the state.

In recent times, Vermont has become a testing ground for progressive political, economic and environmental thought. But the former urban professionals and members of the counterculture who arrived to help make it possible built on a solid foundation. The questioning of illegitimate and centralized power began before the American Revolution. This continued with the re-election to Congress from prison of Matthew Lyon in defiance of President Adams, the resistance to a British embargo and the War of 1812, and the defeat of the Green Mountain Parkway in the New Deal. .

The model reflects a libertarian streak that resisted the excesses of both liberal and conservative leaders.

In a similar spirit, the group of Vermonters who launched an alliance in 1976 aimed to decentralize political and economic power. Invited by Bob O’Brien, I acted as secretary and helped write his statement of principles. The Decentralist League was officially launched in Montpellier in March 1977. The plan was not to become another political party, according to the press, but rather to “defend the interests of people not protected by rigged agreements”.

Founding members included McClaughry and Senator O’Brien; Senator Melvin Mandigo, a Republican representing Essex-Orléans; Representative William Hunter, a Democrat from Weathersfield; John Welch, who sought the GOP nomination in 1976 in the US Senate; and Frank Bryan, professor at UVM.

I also made the list, identified as a magazine editor and activist, joining former Democratic Party Vice President Margaret Lucenti; James Perkins of Sheffield, co-chair of the Vermont Caucus for the Family; William Staats of Newfane, founder of the Green Mountain Boys; Martin Harris of Sudbury, head of the National Farmers Organization; and John Schnebley Jr., who ran in the 1976 Democratic primary for the U.S. House.

As I pointed out in a July 1976 essay published in response to the United States Bicentennial celebrations, decentralization involves participatory democracy and worker ownership, self-government and neighborhood assemblies, regional self-sufficiency in food and energy and voluntary inter-community alliances. Through efforts at both the industrial and local political levels, it can move us toward a libertarian social culture that respects the traditions of freedom and independence of the American past, and adds to that heritage a positive view of human nature, ethical and ecological tools, and an internationalist perspective.

The fundamental purpose of the League, McClaughry explained, was to “shift the political spectrum so that people begin to see the issues in terms of widely dispersed power (near them in communities) and centralized power (in large large institutions over which they have no influence).control).”

Although it only lasted a few years – a victim of Reagan-era polarization – the League has identified a core set of beliefs, priorities and policies that could unite those who find the current national and global order unsustainable and dangerous. In Burlington, a legacy has been the creation of neighborhood planning assemblies.

Aiming for the centralization of power and wealth, the League asserted that decentralizing both, where and whenever possible, is the best way to preserve diversity, increase self-sufficiency, and meet human needs.

Its basic principles, published in March 1977, resonate anew in today’s global atmosphere of resurgent authoritarianism. Some specifics of the policy may seem outdated; others are more relevant than ever.

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Tags: Decentralist League, Greg Guma, outside the box, third way

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