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By Nancy A. Olson

Special to the Reformer

BRATTLEBORO — Compassion means treating others as you would want to be treated. The Charter for Compassion is an international movement founded in November 2009 by religious scholar/writer Karen Armstrong.

As defined by Armstrong on the Compassionate Cities website (, "A compassionate city is an uncomfortable city! A city that is uncomfortable when anyone is homeless or hungry. Uncomfortable if every child isn't loved and given rich opportunities to grow and thrive. Uncomfortable when as a community we don't treat our neighbors as we would wish to be treated."

The website continues, "The Charter invites communities of all sizes to bring compassion to life in practical, specific ways through compassion-driven actions — in neighborhoods, businesses, schools and colleges, healthcare, the arts, local government, peace groups, environmental advocacy groups, and faith congregations."

Brattleboro Area Interfaith Initiative is sponsoring this effort locally. The group needs 700 signatures of Brattleboro residents to get the article on the agenda of Brattleboro's Representative Town Meeting in March 2017. BAII hosted a sign-up table at the Brattleboro Food Co-op from 3 to 7 p.m. on Dec. 15 and 19, and will do so again at the same time on Wednesday, Jan. 4.

According to a BAII press release, "the BAII has been carrying out similar efforts over the past dozen years. BAII believes that this symbolic act of membership in the Charter well exemplifies our common commitment to affirming the safety of everyone in our community and that such compassion-based social movements supporting immigrants and all persons, regardless of religion, race, or sexual identity, may be the very best way for us to respond to the national election results."     

Rupa Cousins, a member of BAII, said each Compassionate Community chooses its own focus, such as homelessness or healthy food.

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"Our focus is issues of social justice," Cousins said, "such as standing against racism or supporting immigrants' rights and LGBTQI rights. We don't want to start new groups. Instead, we want to encourage and support and highlight the amazing work already being done in these areas by local groups."

Becoming a member of the CC international group means getting wisdom for other cities, Cousins said, adding, "It's a great opportunity to network with other communities about important issues. In a time when there is so much division and pain, it's important to know there is such a thing as caring for each other."

The Charter for Compassion promotes an alternative narrative to reactionary violence, according to Edward Suprenant, a recent Marlboro College graduate and a member of BAII.

"I grew up in Nebraska around a lot of religious fundamentalism," he said. "I'm interested in changing those conversations and seeing what's possible."

Signing on to the Charter for Compassion provides a set of ideals elected officials can look at when making governance decisions, Suprenant said.

"It's an advisory article," he said, "but it's a way of articulating our ideals, of going beyond the personal to our identity as a town."

Jim Levinson, a leader in the local Jewish community and one of the founding members of BAII, said that to have Brattleboro formally signed on to the Charter as a Compassionate City means being able to reach out to kindred-spirit activist organizations in the area and saying, "Let's take appropriate initiatives," and, as the Charter proposes, "(treat) everybody, without exception, with absolute justice, equity and respect."

Nancy A. Olson can be reached at