Catamount Room Opens For Political Conversations

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(Host) The conservative revolt sweeping the country hasn’t reached Vermont, so far.

But half a dozen groups come up when you Google "Tea Party" and "Vermont:" The Green Mountain Patriots, Mountain Rangers Tea Party, Vermont Campaign for Liberty.

In Manchester, several such groups have opened a storefront salon for political debate.

VPR’s Susan Keese has more.

(Keese) The sign on the door says Liberty Now! But the space is called the Catamount Room, in reference to the Catamount Tavern – a center of political ferment in Bennington in the 1700s.

Audrey Pietrucha says the old Catamount was Bennington’s political and social hub during the run up to the Revolutionary War.

(Pietrucha) "Catamount Tavern was the meeting place of Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys in Bennington.  It’s where they used to plan some of their raids on New York and just talked about the issues of the day. So we thought it was a perfect name for this place. "

(Keese) Pietrucha hopes the Catamount Room in downtown Manchester will also be a place where political ideas are exchanged.

Pietrucha is the founder of the Bennington-based Southern Vermont Liberty Council, a conservative/libertarian group that believes in limited government, low taxes and individual rights.

She opened this space with the Manchester Tea Party and a coalition of conservative groups.

But she hopes it will attract people of all political stripes. She says party labels tend to stifle personal interaction.

(Pietrucha) "Left, right, center, whatever. They close relationships off before they’ve even started sometimes."

(Keese) Especially in Vermont, Pietrucha says, the left and right are finding common ground on issues of local control, school choice, food self sufficiency.

Social welfare programs are a different story. Pietrucha says she believes in charity, but not as a government function.

(Pietrucha) "What if you’re a heathen who has absolutely no interest in helping his or her neighbor? Why should you be forced to through taxation?"


(Keese) A well wisher pops in. He says he can’t stay this time.

(Man)" I just wanted to say it’s refreshing to see this place open up. It’s good to see, all right?

(Keese) The Catamount Room hasn’t had its formal grand opening yet — that’s on Saturday. But the space is ready, with a sofa, some comfy chairs, a table with a pot of coffee and a plate of cookies. 

Another patron, William Henkel of Sunderland, studies the shelves of books and DVDs. Hinkel once worked in the White House for President Ronald Reagan.

He says he’s not a Tea party-er.

(Henkel) "But again philosophically there are a lot of things that they’re doing that is very refreshing to the country, their passion for freedom. Their passion for free economics."

(Keese) Organizers see the Catamount Room as a sort of free market for ideas, where those passions can be examined and debated.

For VPR News, I’m Susan Keese in Manchester.

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