It’s easy to stand up for your principles when you’re in the company of likeminded folks; but the man or woman who does so in open opposition to his or her friends is a courageous rarity.
If that man also happens to be a U.S. Senator and his “friends” are the Republican party establishment who feel entitled to his loyalty, his courage becomes positively heroic.
Fiscally conservative as befit an old-time Republican but an authentic progressive when it counted to be one, Senator James Jeffords was that kind of hero; and for some of us, his example provided a seminal influence in shaping our own personal activism.
Nanuq shares her memory of the moment when tiny Vermont moved the entire U.S. Senate:
I have a clear memory of the week Jim Jeffords announced he was leaving the Republican Party, but not much else.
There was a lot of buzz; he was coming home to Vermont to make an announcement. My civilly united partner and I were in Madison, WI, staying with friends before attending a feminist science fiction convention over Memorial Day weekend. I kept checking the friends’ computer to see what was happening back in Vermont, and guessing that he was going to stay in the GOP. Then the announcement came. I tore up the stairs from the basement computer room yelling, “He did it! He did it! He’s left the Republican Party! The Senate goes to the Democrats!”
And at the convention, when I stood up and said, “I’m from Vermont …” the rest of the speculative fiction aficionados (the convention attendance closed at 1,000) applauded at length. Between Civil Unions the previous year, and Jim Jeffords’ actions, the politics of Vermont were warmly appreciated by the overwhelmingly liberal and open-minded science fiction authors, essayists, critics, and fans who came to Madison from all across the U.S., Canada, Europe, and beyond.
And Jim Jeffords’ willingness to stand up for his principles in the face of extreme pressure from members of his party got my respect.
That was also the year I became active in local party politics, having for many years disdained mainstream political parties as hopelessly corrupt and well beyond any attempt to fix. Between the stolen presidential election of 2000 and Jim Jeffords’ courageous stand, it just seemed like we needed to start somewhere to make things different.
Our Publisher Emeritus, John Odum was on hand for the press conference, and generously shared this video clip with us:
My son was in eighth grade when Jeffords made his historic move to independence, in so doing, briefly shifting the axis of power. The timing was significant because Jesse was at an age of political awakening and we were headed to Washington DC for the school band’s big trip.
Among the highlights of the trip was a visit to the Capital building arranged for us by Senator Jefford’s office. The public could still enjoy the full experience of accessing the building from the towering front stairway, but most had to wait in long lines for admission. One of Senator Jeffords’ aides met us on the staircase and whisk us quickly into the building for a guided tour. He was positively merry, apologizing with a twinkle in his eye for the Senator’s unavailability to meet us personally. “As you can imagine,” he quipped, “we have been very busy lately!”
The Senator continued to be “very busy” doing the work of the people for the remainder of his Senate career; and when he retired due to failing health, his seat most appropriately passed to another great Vermont independent, Bernie Sanders.
Rest in peace, Senator Jeffords; you did Vermont proud.