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Thursday, November 11, 2004

From the Winooski Eagle

Last month, I took over as the editor of the Winooski Eagle, my community newspaper, circulation 4000. It's not yet available on-line, but here's my first editor's column. I see it as an extension of my mission, stated here, to bridge the partisan divide in this country and promote a culture of civility based on mutual respect and affection.

From the Editor
by Cathy Resmer

Ever heard that saying, “90 percent of life is showing up?” I thought of it often over the last month as I worked on this issue of the Winooski Eagle. It aptly describes how I ended up taking over as the paper’s new editor.

I’ve been an Eagle reader ever since my partner and I moved here from Burlington in January of 2003. Every month, we’d get the newspaper in our mailbox, and we’d flip through it eagerly, looking for the Papa Frank’s coupon and the latest “Thoughts From Grace.” Reading it made both of us feel connected to our new community.

But I was reluctant, at first, to get too connected. Like most people, I’m a busy person. I divide my time between family, friends, my work as a freelance writer and my volunteer commitment as the Chair of the Board of Directors of the R.U.1.2? Community Center. So each month, when I saw the announcement that the Eagle was looking for volunteers — to write stories, to take pictures — I thought, maybe I’ll do it next month. I naively assumed that, even without my help, there would always be a next month.

Then, in September, I realized at the last minute that I was free on the night of the Eagle’s community meeting. I grabbed a notebook, and walked over to the senior center, expecting to see a community-minded crowd gathered to brainstorm ideas for the upcoming issue.

You can imagine my surprise when I walked in and found the Eagle’s four board members about to shut down the paper for good. Two of them had already moved out of Winooski, and the other two weren’t far behind. They loved the paper, they told me, but they were burnt out. Board president Dick Galperin said later that just before I arrived at the meeting, he said, “Well, unless someone walks in that door, I guess we’re pretty much finished.” This was one of those times when showing up really counted for something.

As I walked home from the meeting that night, I decided that I couldn’t stand by and watch the Eagle crash and burn. If any community needs a newspaper, this one does.

Winooski, after all, is an amazing place. It’s a small city just over a square mile large, but per capita, it’s one of the most diverse communities in Vermont. Its residents are French Canadian, Italian, Somali, Congolese, Vietnamese, Bosnian, Irish, homeowners, renters, landlords, Catholic, Baptist, Jewish, Methodist, Muslim, gay, straight, transgender, white, black, Asian, Latino, and Abenaki.

Winooski is proud of its industrial heritage, and of the generation of men and women who built its civic infrastructure. But the city is changing. It now attracts a variety of bright, hard-working artists and professionals who want to live near Burlington but can’t afford to live in it. I suspect that many of these new residents would like to get involved in the community in some way, and secretly long to be asked.

It’s time we asked them. Winooski has plenty of problems in need of solutions. According to the 2003 Vermont Crime Report, last year in the Onion city, there were 230 reports of larceny, 88 burglaries, 11 cars stolen, and 241 incidents of vandalism. Our rate of Part II crimes — which include child abuse, drug offenses, vandalism, and the buying and selling of stolen property — was down slightly last year, but per capita, it’s still significantly higher than Burlington’s.

That needs to change. And the police department and city officials can’t do it alone — Winooski residents need to get to know each other and work together to make it happen.

There’s a saying that you need to be the change you want to see in the world. So I say, let’s get to it and start showing up. Introduce yourself to the new neighbors across the street. Stop by a zoning board meeting. Eat dinner in one of our downtown restaurants. Don’t wait for the city to put up all those new buildings — spend some time, and some money, to help keep our downtown alive.

And keep reading — and responding — to your community newspaper (yes, we’re still looking for writers, and photographers.) With your help, I hope to make it worth your while.

Finally, I’d like to thank the Eagle’s board of directors for all of their hard work. Thanks also to departing editor Rebecca Padula for all she did to keep the Eagle flying.

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