Books

'Radio Free Vermont' Showcases the Political Power of Ordinary People

Bill McKibben's novel asks readers to value resistance movements that embrace humor, creativity, and civility while inspiring activism as part of our everyday lives.

Radio Free Vermont
Bill McKibben

Blue Rider

Nov 2017

Other

"I wanted to do something," says the protagonist in Bill McKibben's Radio Free Vermont. (28) The desire, nay, the need to create change is inarguably the ethos of McKibben's novel. In this fable of resistance, McKibben balances humor, civility, and social change to demonstrate the power of small acts of activism. McKibben, an environmental activist, has been calling for social, economic, and political change since the late '80s. Yet he is still fighting to reduce the consequences of CO2 emissions, the politicians heralding coal, and the EPA dismantling protective policies in order to convenience corporations. McKibben is an adroit writer who is able to influence discourses in both nonfiction and fiction formats. Thus, Radio Free Vermont reflects McKibben's ability to showcase social and political problems while emphasizing tangible solutions we can all undertake to enact social change.

The characters in Radio Free Vermont represent a wide swath of society. The primary group is comprised of Vern Barclay, a septuagenarian and reluctant secession movement leader. He's invested in maintaining conversation as a facet of everyday life and in so doing, sparks a resistance movement throughout the state of Vermont. He's supported by Perry, a young computer genius who claims he's "not really a politics person, and I haven't followed all the back-and-forth" (22). Despite Perry's identification as apolitical, he becomes an active participant in the movement. Finally, there's Trance Harper, an Olympic gold-medalist and Veteran. Harper becomes the embodiment of a timorous yet irrepressible celebrity who's appropriated by the antagonists to propel their anti-resistance ideologies. There are several other characters that provide unique and heartfelt contributions to the plot, as well. This is part of McKibben's message. Whether you are a staunch activist, apolitical, or just want to support your local brewery, your activism is worthwhile and valuable. These characters demonstrate the importance of acknowledging an individual's standpoint as a meaningful contribution.

The novel is funny and McKibben includes humorous quips throughout. The comedy, however, might threaten to undermine the larger message for some readers. Indeed, the concluding exposition becomes farcical. However, throughout the majority of the novel the author succeeds in striking a balance between the serious and satirical.

Radio Free Vermont encourages readers to include civility as part of their activism. For example in the opening scene, readers are introduced to Vern's type of resistance when he hijacks a Starbuck's radio station. This is a clear call to reclaim control from our corporate overlords while remembering that "small is kind of nice" (2). Frequently these days, it seems that kindness is considered a weakness and civility is dismissed as ineffective. However, McKibben demonstrates that activism doesn't always need to be militant. Instead, comity is also a viable political tactic. Some readers might find that as a political satire, Radio Free Vermont is not sawtoothed enough except for the occasional jab at Donald Trump. However, this is McKibben committing to the belief that civility and resistance are analogous.

It's always necessary to consider your community when organizing. Vern's reluctance stems from his belief that secession might not positively impact everyone. Without a doubt this is a critique of the widespread homogenization running amok in our society. McKibben makes it clear that unless you include the needs and standpoints of your community, your movement will not succeed. For example, Vern reflects that for many years he wasn't aware that his fellow "Vermonters weren't as happy as I was... people thought things were changing for the worse around here" (24). McKibben is also tapping into social history to remind readers of past mistakes. Indeed, consciousness, or lack thereof, is a central critique of the second wave feminist movement. Without a doubt social movements need to be inclusive and represent the voices of all community members.

Radio Free Vermont is not a secession manifesto. McKibben's novel clearly articulates that separating from political or social turmoil is not the answer. The resistance movement that rises in the novel demonstrates the power of ordinary people creating pathways for systematic change. McKibben firmly believes in the power of an individual's ability to veer society away from acerbic Trumpian discourses and the influence of giant military-industrial-complexes. It's up to us to remember the viability of being "underground, underfoot, and underpowered" (2).

* * *

Enjoy Woronzoff's interview with McKibben here.

8


Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Music

JOBS Make Bizarre and Exhilarating Noise with 'endless birthdays'

Brooklyn experimental quartet JOBS don't have a conventional musical bone in their body, resulting in a thrilling, typically off-kilter new album, endless birthdays.

Music

How Hawkwind's First Voyage Helped Spearhead Space Rock 50 Years Ago

Hawkwind's 1970 debut opened the door to rock's collective sonic possibilities, something that connected them tenuously to punk, dance, metal, and noise.

Books

Graphic Novel 'Cuisine Chinoise' Is a Feast for the Eyes and the Mind

Lush art and dark, cryptic fables permeate Zao Dao's stunning graphic novel, Cuisine Chinoise.

Music

Alanis Morissette's 'Such Pretty Forks in the Road' Is a Quest for Validation

Alanis Morissette's Such Pretty Forks in the Road is an exposition of dolorous truths, revelatory in its unmasking of imperfection.

Music

Hip-Hop's Raashan Ahmad Talks About His Place in 'The Sun'

On his latest work,The Sun, rapper Raashan Ahmad brings his irrepressible charisma to this set of Afrobeat-influenced hip-hop.

Music

Between the Buried and Me's Baby Pictures Star in 'The Silent Circus'

The Silent Circus shows Between the Buried and Me developing towards the progressive metal titans they would eventually become.

Music

The Chad Taylor Trio Get Funky and Fiery on 'The Daily Biological'

A nimble jazz power trio of drums, tenor sax, and piano, the Chad Taylor Trio is free and fun, funky and fiery on The Daily Biological.

Music

Vistas' 'Everything Changes in the End' Is Catchy and Fun Guitar Rock

Vistas' debut, Everything Changes in the End, features bright rock music that pulls influences from power-pop and indie rock.

Film

In Amy Seimetz's 'She Dies Tomorrow', Death Is Neither Delusion Nor Denial

Amy Seimetz's She Dies Tomorrow makes one wonder, is it possible for cinema to authentically convey a dream, or like death, is it something beyond our control?

Music

Maestro Gamin and Aeks' Latest EP Delivers LA Hip-Hop Cool (premiere + interview)

MaestroAeks' Sapodigo is a collection of blunted hip-hop tunes, sometimes nudging a fulsome boom-bap and other times trading on laid-back, mellow grooves.

Music

Soul Blues' Sugaray Rayford Delivers a "Homemade Disaster" (premiere + Q&A)

What was going to be a year of touring and building Sugaray Rayford's fanbase has turned into a year of staying home and reaching out to fans from his Arizona home.

Music

Titan to Tachyons' Experimental Heaviness on Full Display via "Earth, And Squidless" (premiere)

Featuring current members of Imperial Triumphant, Titan to Tachyons break incredible new ground in the realm of heavy music.

Music

Jerry Leger Teams with Moby Grape's Don Stevenson for "Halfway 'Til Gone" (premiere)

Reminiscent of Lee Hazlewood and the Everly Brothers, Jerry Leger's "Halfway 'Til Gone" is available on all streaming platforms on 6 August.

Music

The 10 Best Experimental Albums of 2015

Music of all kinds are tending toward a consciously experimental direction. Maybe we’re finally getting through to them.

Books

John Lewis, C.T. Vivian, and Their Fellow Freedom Riders Are Celebrated in 'Breach of Peace'

John Lewis and C.T. Vivian were titans of the Civil Rights struggle, but they are far from alone in fighting for change. Eric Etheridge's masterful then-and-now project, Breach of Peace, tells the stories of many of the Freedom Riders.

Music

Unwed Sailor's Johnathon Ford Discusses Their New Album and 20 Years of Music

Johnathon Ford has overseen Unwed Sailor for more than 20 years. The veteran musician shows no sign of letting up with the latest opus, Look Alive.

Jedd Beaudoin
Music

Jazz Trombonist Nick Finzer Creates a 'Cast of Characters'

Jazz trombonist Nick Finzer shines with his compositions on this mainstream jazz sextet release, Cast of Characters.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.