A group of small business owners in Vermont has launched a campaign to counter bias against immigrants and other targets of prejudice.
The Main Street Alliance of Vermont has joined an effort launched last month in Minnesota, where a couple who own a cafe posted a sign in their window against hate. The Main Street Alliance, a national association of small business owners, asked the couple if they could copy their effort and Vermont small business owners are now doing the same thing. “I’m very annoyed with the politics of exclusion and hatred that are being broadcast around in the general election cycle. I don’t like it.”
Diana McLeod owns Tradewinds, an import company on the Church Street Marketplace in Burlington that buys products from around the world. She believes businesses should speak out and make a difference. “Just being able to say, you know, hate has no business here is a good reminder to people that they should second guess this rhetoric when they hear it. They should say ‘Wait a minute. This is just not correct.’ It’s all too easy to get sucked into the angry politics and not think about what it really means.”
McLeod is one of many Vermont businesses posting the multi-lingual placard reading “Hate has no business here. We stand with our Muslim community members. We stand with Refugees and Immigrants in our community. All are welcome here.”
Main Street Alliance Vermont is coordinating the campaign in the Green Mountain State. Executive Director Lindsay DesLauriers says it started in December and quickly caught on. “We’re seeing them in Burlington, Hinesburg, Underhill, Quechee, Montpelier, Vergennes, Johnson, Middlebury, Hardwick, Rutland, you know just what’s off the top of my head. The numbers are growing every day. Every day we’re seeing new businesses.”
Deslauriers believes the signs are popular because people are disturbed by and want to counter harsh rhetoric and violence aimed at Muslim and Arab community members, refugees fleeing violence, immigrants and people of color. “This swell of hate and fear is dangerous. Business owners I think many understand that they play a leading role in their community and many of them want to meet this rhetoric head on with a clear statement of principle.”
She hopes the effort has a multinational impact. “Part of this is about how we’re responding to what’s happening in national dialogs. But it’s also about sending a message outside of America. Businesses are in a unique position to send a message to the world to push back on this rhetoric that we’re open for business in America and we don’t discriminate.”
Rights and Democracy Vermont is among the groups that staged anti-hate rallies during Donald Trump’s visit to Burlington last week. Director James Haslam is glad small businesses are involved in trying to alter what they say is negative rhetoric. “We have to do everything that we can to unite across our communities and it’s great to have small businesses and the Main Street Alliance of Vermont being able to reach out and have this campaign. We’re very excited to continue to work with them and lots of other organizations to bring folks together and have inequality addressed in our communities.”