Op-Ed: Our Common Humanity: Remembering Vermont’s Values and Core Principles

Vermonters have always brought our values to the nation and the world. Today, as we figure out how to navigate through this pandemic, these Vermont values will help our communities endure the challenges we face.

We heed the advice of experts. We look out for one another. We stay connected to our communities and each other. We support those who need help – be it looking in on a neighbor or supporting a local business. We stand together.

This is also a time to take pride in Vermont’s history of leadership when it comes to humanitarian response. The late Senator George Aiken who served as a ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and helped shape U.S. foreign policy from 1969 to 1975 once stated, “I have always felt that we could do more with food than bullets.”

As a member of the Appropriations Committee, Senator Patrick Leahy has, for decades, fought to address human suffering at home and abroad. Like so many, I am grateful for his leadership on the Appropriations committee that provided emergency funding to fight the spread of the Coronavirus.

Congressman Peter Welch has served as a member of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform where he has worked to investigate and prevent waste, fraud, and abuse so that assistance reaches the most vulnerable. Just days ago, he was leading the effort to get emergency relief funding through the House to help mitigate the economic impact of the virus.

Aiken, Leahy, and Welch join countless men and women from Vermont who have worked – at one time or another – to address human suffering here in Vermont and around the globe.

Inspired by Vermont’s leadership and humanitarian tradition, years ago I went to work for the International Committee of the Red Cross where I led delegations of U.S. policymakers into conflict and post-conflict zones to help them understand humanitarian needs and response. I led missions into Haiti where the healthcare system was fragile, to Uganda where Red Cross clinics provided emergency maternal care, to the Republic of Georgia where economic security projects ensured displaced persons could provide for their families, to the Democratic Republic of the Congo where victims of sexual violence received support, and to the Western Balkans where families of the missing were supported in obtaining and burying the remains of loved ones.

Years later, while working to obtain a specialized degree in the protection of vulnerable groups, I led teams into Iraq, Nigeria, and East Africa as part of an effort to launch a global initiative to oversee the compliance of security forces with human rights and humanitarian law.

What I know from work in humanitarian situations is that we must put our differences aside and focus on our greatest needs. Our response should be guided by the core principle of humanitarian action – humanity, impartiality, independence and neutrality. We should provide assistance on the basis of need alone, giving priority to the most urgent cases and making no distinction on the basis of nationality, race, gender, religious belief, class, or political opinion.

We must protect our most vulnerable by following recommendations on social distancing and on coming together in service.

Already, in communities across Vermont, we are mobilizing aid and support. We must keep it up. While respecting the physical distance, we must make every effort to stay connected by phone, email, or text. We must not only check in on each other but also maintain the social connections that are essential for our personal and community health.

In these unprecedented times and growing humanitarian crisis, Vermont can continue to lead by example. We can show the nation and the world that Vermont is resilient because we commit to helping our most vulnerable while staying connected through the belief that we are all in this together

  This commentary is by Molly Gray who worked for the International Committee of the Red Cross and who has worked on human rights and humanitarian action for over a decade. Molly now serves as an assistant attorney general for the state of Vermont and as an adjunct professor of International Human Rights Law at Vermont Law School. Molly is a Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor.

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