The Governor walked in, interrupted us, and said, “I need you.” What’s a woman to say? This man is handsome. I followed him.
First thing that same morning, day two of flood relief volunteering in Vermont, I’d said: “I’m ready for a meeting with the Governor.”
“I’m ready for a meeting with the Governor. I have things to tell him. I want to help him fine-tune his message. Along with going on and on about how resilient Vermonters are, he should be begging all the young Vermonters out of state living up their creative careers in the cities to get their butts home to help out because this state is in crisis. Because they owe it to this state that took care of them and nurtured them on maple creamies, pastoral landscapes, bread and puppets. Of course he has to say it in a way that doesn’t scare away tourists. But enough of this, ‘We are strong and can pull together alone business.’ Our own need to come home.”
Okay, so I was ranting.
We piled into the car that now smelled of dead fish and day old Dunkin’ Donuts and headed back to muck. So much muck. Muck as far as the eye could see. Trees stripped and bent bare along the river edges, silt sitting on the lawn chairs of ladies whose houses were no longer there.
Around mid-day I left disaster central where dozens of volunteers were hard at work turning muck into miracles and went up to the town hall. A poster had been tacked to a board by the street reading: “Community Meeting at the Town Hall with Governor Shumlim at 2pm.”
“We’ll I’ll be. He’s coming to me.”
So I took my dirt crusted, crisis counseling, street organizing, muck boot wearing, rather smelly, gorgeous drop dead tired self to the town hall to meet Peter Shumlin, Governor of the state of Vermont.
Standing there in the packed hall with mountains of used clothes along the side tables and folks piled in the chairs, their clothes looking more used than usual, I said to my friends, “I’m going to introduce myself to him and not let him forget me and not let him leave my side until I’m certain I’ve accomplished this.”
When he entered the room he came to me and stood there like he had all the time in creation—like there was no one else in the room, like it was our room—no crisis on his hands, no hands on a crisis.
“Mr. Governor, it is an honor to meet you. Can you do me a favor and remember my face? I’m going to be in touch in the coming weeks with ideas for how to lift Vermont out of this mud.” He didn’t move on to the next person in line. He didn’t walk straight to the podium. He just stood their gazing at me. And gazing at me. I don’t remember what else I said.
“Jasmine, you have ovaries,” my friend responded as the Governor walked away.
I was standing behind the town hall with the Governor, his bodyguard, his chief-of-staff, and the state senator for the county.
What had come to light in the meeting was that this particular town was not only in the midst of a natural disaster, but also a political crisis. The town officers were not only proving ineffective they were wreaking havoc. They were turning volunteers away, insisting the community didn’t need help and blocking relief efforts.
“What is going on in this town? Where are the town leaders? Who is in a position to talk to the town officers? This town is way behind other towns in their relief efforts.” The governor only had a couple minutes and he needed to know how this political crisis was being addressed. “What can the Governor’s Office do to help?”
When parts of your town are floating down the river you are in trouble. When the local officials in your town are obstructing relief efforts, won’t work with residents to get help digging out from the damage, to get basic needs met, to listen to peoples stories, fears, and concerns, you are in a serious disaster.
This wasn’t my town the day before but standing behind the town hall with the Governor it was starting to feel like my opportunity.
This town needed some opportunity right about now.
Maybe it wasn’t the Governor’s job to get the young out-of-state Vermonters to come home and help, maybe it was mine.
I wanted a meeting with the Governor and I got one. Ask and it is given. If I’d known how easy this would be (and if I’d been less caught up in mud and politics) I would have asked for chocolates. and flowers. and a date.
Stay tuned for part 3 of My Vermont Irene Story.
My Vermont Irene Story, Part 1: Lead Me, Baby. The World Needs You. On Claiming Your Wisdom, Power, and Purpose in Each Moment.
Vermont still needs leaders! Go to: www.vtresponse.com.
To offer your financial assistance to recovery efforts please consider making a donation to the Farmer Emergency Fund.
To find out more about how Vermont is recovering from Tropical Storm Irene go to VT DIGGER.