Woman power is the future

A lot of people predicted that women were going to change America’s political history in January of 2017. But pretty much no one anticipated that they’d be doing it as leaders of the resistance. On Saturday, millions of women and men — organized largely by young women of color — staged the largest one-day demonstration in political history, a show of international solidarity that let the world know that women will be heading up the opposition to Donald Trump and the white patriarchal order he represents. Women — and again, especially women of color, always progressivism’s most reliable and least recognized warriors, the women who did the most to stop the rise of Trump — were the ones taking progressive politics into the future.

So begins the best article I’ve seen yet on the Women’s March:  The Future of the Left is Female.   Written by Rebecca Traister for NYMag.com it is a shrewd analysis of the march, the organizers, and, of the future.  It is fairly long, but I encourage people to read the entire thing because my quotations and comments can’t come close to doing it justice.

23-future-of-left-3-w710-h473

National co-chairs of the march Carmen Perez, Linda Sarsour, and Tamika D. Mallory at the Women’s March in Washington, D.C.

Plenty of factors made this effort so successful, but perhaps the biggest was the shock and horror that jolted portions of a long-complacent population awake after the election of Donald Trump. As it turns out, sometimes, It Takes a Villain. We’ve got one now; he lives in the White House, has the nuclear codes, and spent Saturday defending the size of his, er, inauguration crowds. In his first weeks in office, he might very well nominate an anti-choice Supreme Court nominee, begin deportations, repeal health-care reform, start the process of withdrawing from the Paris climate accord, and defund Planned Parenthood. He has already reinstated the Global Gag Rule.

I’ve been asked many times “But why didn’t you vote?”  Traister’s response

Clearly, the vast majority of Saturday’s crowd had been Hillary Clinton supporters, at the very least in the general election if not in the primary. But it is also true that some of the apathy, some of the complacency, that many critics took as a reflection of Clinton’s “flawed” candidacy stemmed instead from the sense that Americans didn’t really need to panic or take to the streets on her behalf because she was going to win. She was going to win, the assumption went, because of course we are evolved enough that this guy could never get elected president and thus we were free to focus on the imperfections of the woman who was going to be the president.

I admit that I was not an enthusiastic Clinton supporter and spent my energy on local races including Sue Minter who ran for, and lost, the race for Vermont governor.  But I voted and voted for Clinton and was among the many who were stunned at the outcome of the Presidential election.  The question now becomes where to go from here.

But there was a new metaphysical approach at work on Saturday, largely thanks to the organizing and leadership of nonwhite women: the revolutionary sense that the new women’s movement will be about pulling in issues of criminal justice, environmental activism, immigration reform, and systemic racism. Women, with women of color at front and center, can be the engines of new progressive activism in all arenas. It’s a rebuke to the theory floated by some on the left that there is a disjunction between “identity politics” and politics, a rebuke to those who suggested in the wake of Trump’s electoral win that the future lies in moving away from divisive “social issues” and identity-framed movements and back to economic policies.

What this event did, on the most massive scale we have seen in this country, is reaffirm what has always been true: The impact of identity bias has always been economic, and economic issues have always most powerfully disadvantaged those who experience identity bias. Or to put it another way: Women’s rights are human rights.

That sentence: “The impact of identity bias has always been economic, and economic issues have always most powerfully disadvantaged those who experience identity bias” was at the heart, I think, of Bernie Sanders campaign.  Bernie, however, was – let’s be honest – an old white man – and while he began to frame the issue, he could not organize people of color and women who wanted desperately to elect a woman President.

The oil pipelines, the Flint water crisis, pay inequity, low minimum wages, the lack of adequate child care, etc., etc. are in the end economic issues and, they impact women disproportionately.

We can take hope from who marched.

If there was an over-representation of “nice white ladies” marching, it’s important to note that those white women were showing up for a march led by nonwhite women, in support of a radical and intersectional set of policy principles laid out by nonwhite women, carrying signs and marching in solidarity with plenty of women’s issues that do not center on white women. No, we shouldn’t give them too much credit for showing up where they should have been for years. And yes, the next steps must include white women (and men) showing up for women of color in other ways, at other demonstrations and with other actions (including not voting with an eye to their own privilege).

Perhaps most surprising of all, men showed up alongside the women to fight for those rights. Many reports had the New York march at about half men, though some of that could perhaps be explained by the number of New York women who went to Washington alone, leaving kids behind with male partners. But those men — including my husband, including my male friends — brought those kids, girls and boys, to the march for women’s rights in New York. Men were at all the demonstrations in great numbers.

I’ve been in the women’s movement for a long time, so long that I was a delegate from Virginia to the First Women’s Conference in Houston in 1977.  I look at the poster hanging in my study every day.  I have watched the movement come together, fracture over what issues are important, fracture over race, and come together again.  The January 21 marches are the beginning of another start.  This time WILL be different, I can feel it.

But even if the necessary power realignment within feminism takes time, this historic event will have been a tremendous step toward the reimagining of a women’s movement as a web of varied but interconnected interests and missions.

And as it happens, when it happens, women will be leading the way into the progressive future.  Women will lead the revolution.

Photograph: Noam Galai/WireImage

A bit of Vermont women’s history

Clarina Howard Nichols’ voice cracked in nervousness. Her heart pounded. She felt faint, and she briefly rested her head on her hand. But she kept speaking, and her words — indeed her very presence — changed Vermont.

The year was 1852, and Nichols was standing behind the speaker’s podium in the Vermont House. Though the state had been founded 61 years earlier, she was the first woman to address the Legislature.

These are the opening paragraphs to Mark Bushnell’s column on Vermont history, Then Again published in VTDigger.

Nichols was speaking because a group of business men and others from Brattleboro had petitioned the Vermont Legislature.

Still, Nichols mustered the courage to stand before the lawmakers and argue for a sliver of equality for women: that they be allowed to vote in school meetings.

clarinahowardnichols-1-e1485140328438

Clarina Howard Nichols became the first woman to address the Vermont Legislature, in 1852.

The men in the Vermont Legislature did not grant women the right to vote on school matters after her speech.

Women wouldn’t get the right to vote in school elections until 1880, at town meetings until 1917 and in statewide elections until 1920.

Nichols was a divorced woman who supported herself and children writing for the Brattleboro newspaper, The Windham County Democrat.  She had left an abusive marriage with the support of her husband’s family at age 29.

Four years later, she married the paper’s editor, George Nichols, who was 28 years her senior.

It was a good match. George Nichols apparently encouraged his wife’s independent streak and relied on her to help produce the paper. Soon after they married, he grew sick and she gradually took over as editor, though she wouldn’t publicly acknowledge her position for years.

When she finally revealed that she was the editor, she started getting invited to speak at women’s rights conventions in the Northeast and as far west as Wisconsin.

Nichols spoke on the issues of her day:  The right of married women to own property and participate in civic affairs.  She later moved to Kansas and spoke on abolition of slavery, but she got her start in Vermont.

Photograph from the Vermont Historical Society.

Trump Day

It is very early morning here in Vermont and I have a busy day planned.  I don’t intend to watch the transfer of power from Barack Obama to Donald Trump, but will spend time dealing with local school budgets for the Town Finance Committee and having lunch with some women from my mystery book group, Malice on Main. 

I will be well represented by Vermont’s Senators, Sanders and Leahy and by Congressman Welsh, all Democrats, but our Republican Governor is not going.  VTDigger reported

Republican Governor Phil Scott, who distanced himself from President Donald J. Trump early in his gubernatorial bid, will not be attending the president’s inauguration on Friday.

Jason Gibbs, Scott’s chief of staff, says the governor “is focused on Vermont’s priorities, putting the finishing touches on his budget, his legislative agenda and making additional appointments.”

I think Congressman Welsh articulated the reason Vermont’s Congressional delegation is attending very nicely.  His statement, which I also heard on the local news, explains

“I believe the inaugural ceremony is about more than any individual,” Welch said in a statement. “It is about the peaceful transition of power enshrined in our Constitution. I believe it is my job to participate in, and be a witness to, this touchstone of our democracy and powerful symbol to the world. So, while I respect the decision of some of my colleagues to stay home, I will attend, but not celebrate, Friday’s ceremony.”

Trump hasn’t even taken the oath yet and I’m already overloaded on news about how unprepared his cabinet appointees mostly are:  all the potential conflicts of interest, past shady financial dealings, and lack of knowledge.  It seems that no one really vetted them before they were nominated.  And we haven’t even gotten to the policy stuff!

Tomorrow, I will attend the Sister Vigil in a local downtown park, but today is a day for thinking about and doing other things.  And for being sad.

toles01202017

Improvising.

Cartoon from Tom Toles

Democracy at the local level

Last year I attended the reunion of the Class of 1970 at St. John’s College in Annapolis, MD.  (That was the class I actually graduated with even though I am technically 1969.)  Our seminar reading was Democracy in America by de Tocqueville.  A lively discussion ensued one topic being whether the de Tocqueville vision of what we in the 1960s called participatory democracy still survives.  I argued that I thought it did survive at least in New England and particularly in Vermont.  For example, Brattleboro where I live, has citizen committees for everything from planning to finance to trees.  And, yes, while there are sometimes problems in finding sufficient people to serve, I believe committees eventually find volunteers.  Some committees are appointed by the elected Selectboard, while others are appointed at Town Meeting.

Every town in Vermont has town meeting on the first Tuesday of March.  Most towns have an open meeting with all town residents.  Budgets are approved and important issues are discussed and voted on.  These are de Tocqueville’s farmers conducting business.  Here is the link to a nice explanation done for middle school students.  Brattleboro is a little different.  On the first Tuesday, which is a holiday, we vote for people who will represent us at town meeting as well as for other local offices like Select Board, School Board, Lister, and Constable.  All the elected representatives meet several weeks later at Brattleboro’s Town meeting.

I decided to run for Town Meeting Representative, got 14 people (you need 10) to sign my nominating petition and got elected with a respectable number of votes.  Town Meeting this year was divided into two meetings.  The first was on a single question of authorizing the Selectboard to take money allocated for renovations at the current police station and, instead, purchase a building in a new location and move the police station.  I voted “no” because I was opposed to moving an essential government service out of downtown, and we lost big.  There is some move to do a town wide referendum on the question, but I don’t know if that will succeed.  My feeling is that my side lost and we just need to get on with it for the sake of the police officers.

The second meeting was yesterday and was a more traditional town meeting.  We arrived at 8:30 and adjourned about 4:30 with an hour for lunch.  (Unlike smaller towns, we have no pot luck, but a high school club sold us stuff for breakfast and lunch to raise money for a trip to Costa Rico.)  There were 30 articles on the agenda beginning with appointment of the Town Clerk (no controversy there) and accepting the audit reports for the Town and for the Town Schools.  We elected people to the Capital Grant Review, Library, and Finance Committees (I got on that one.)  And then a motion was made to raise the compensation of the Selectboard members. They currently get $3,000 a year with the Chair getting $5,000.  Interesting questions were asked during the discussion including whether increasing the compensation would attract people to run who could not afford to volunteer and whether paying the Selectboard more would change the character of the government from volunteer to professional.  The motion that finally passed was to have the Finance Committee study the matter.  I can see what I will be doing this year!  Interestingly we did decide to raise the Town School Board member pay from $2,000 to $3,000 and the chair from $3,000 to $5,000 to make them the same as the Selectboard.

We voted for modest sums to support a variety of local human service non profits and for tax relief for others.  I don’t think any of those votes were unanimous.  And we approved after much discussion, the town budget and school budgets for the next year.  I am more familiar with general government budgets than with school ones, but the town budget is very lean.

Finally we passed two non-binding resolutions:  First, to eliminate fees for activities at the Senior Center and second, to designate the second Monday in October, Indigenous People’s Day.

20160319__p_REF-L-TownMeeting-0319~5_500

All in all a very interesting day.  I heard a lot of concern about poverty in Brattleboro.  I think the number of children who qualify for free lunch – 62% – shocked a lot of people.  (According to the 2010 Census, the median income for a household in the town was $31,997, and the median income for a family was $44,267.)  I can see this becoming more of a topic for discussion at future town meetings.

We heard a plea for civility at the start and other than some mutterings and calls for points of order when one representative in particular spoke, that request was answered.  I think that if he attended any of the town meetings I’ve read about in the local paper for have friends who attended, de Tocqueville would have no trouble recognizing his democracy in America.

Photograph:  Chris Mayes, Brattleboro Reformer.

Scandal in the Vermont legislature, Part 2

Senator Norman McAllister has been suspended from the Vermont Senate.  The vote, which was not on party lines, was 20 to 10. My Senators split, one for and one against.

Vermont Public Radio reported

For the first time in its history, the Vermont Senate has suspended one of its own members.

Senate Majority Leader Philip Baruth introduced the resolution.

“The situation we face today is an ugly one. No other word for it,” Baruth said. “It’s hard to imagine a more uncomfortable discussion and yet today’s debate is crucial to our future as a Senate,” adding that the “number and nature of felony charges against [McAllister] require us to suspend him.”

Baruth said that suspension was a step short of outright expulsion, and that it preserves the presumption of innocence McAllister should be afforded.

But Baruth said the Senate can’t allow McAllister to retain legislative powers he’s alleged to have abused so grossly. McAllister’s alleged victims include a 21-year-old Statehouse intern he paid to assist him in Montpelier.

At any place of business in Vermont, Baruth said, “no one would dream of allowing a manager who has been criminally accused of assaulting his assistant to remain in place.”

Those opposed to suspension argued that there were no rules in the Senate to cover the situation and that the Senate should let the criminal justice system work.

Rutland Sen. Peg Flory, however, said the Senate was overstepping its authority by preventing an elected official from carrying out his official duties. So long as McAllister is suspended, Flory said, Franklin County voters will lack representation in the Senate.

“We make the law. We don’t interpret it; we don’t enforce it,” Flory said.

Flory opposed the resolution because she said it violated the legal principle that a person is innocent until proven guilty.

“To step on that and say because somebody has been charged we are going to remove them just goes against every grain in my body,” Flory said.

Flory, a Republican, wasn’t alone in her opposition to the resolution. Windsor County Democrat Richard McCormack said the Senate ought not involve itself in matters of criminal law.

In the end, the arguments for suspension won out.

Back in December, after the rules committee had voted to recommend suspension, one of McAllister’s constituents, Sue Prent, wrote:

Mr. McAllister says he thinks his constituents will sue the Senate on his behalf, for being deprived of representation.

Is he kidding us? Any and all of his constituents with whom I am familiar (of every political stripe) wanted him gone as soon as the content of his confessional conversations with the victims became known.

A more likely scenario is that some of those same constituents, fed up with Mr. McAllister’s refusal to accept responsibility for his appetites and voluntarily step down from the Senate, will be motivated to sue Mr. McAllister for depriving them of legitimate representation in the face of conclusive evidence that he, at the very least, has grossly violated community standards.

After putting his colleagues and voters though the ordeal of deciding to suspend him (even the other Senator from Franklin County voted yes), McAllister has said he is thinking of resigning so a replacement can be appointed.

Unfortunately, the sad story of Vermont State Senator Norman McAllister is far from over.

 

 

 

Scandal in the Vermont legislature

The Vermont legislature opened yesterday.  There are many pressing issues:  school reform, how to pay for expanded Medicaid, the drug epidemic, and legalizing marijuana.  But overriding everything is what to do about Senator Norman McAllister.

McAllister is accused of raping an intern last session and of a long duration “rent for sex” scheme.  It is alleged that he let women maintain housing and jobs on his farm in Franklin County in exchange for sex.  All of this came to light as the session was ending last year.  The Burlington Free Press reported the story last May.

Prosecutors allege Sen. Norman H. McAllister, R-Franklin, over a period of several years sexually assaulted two women who were his tenants and employees, and that he attempted to solicit a third woman. That woman called police this week, launching a fast-moving investigation that by Friday was reverberating throughout the state capital of Montpelier.

The allegations, explained in sometimes graphic detail in court papers, shocked the governor and McAllister’s Statehouse colleagues, several of whom witnessed his arrest outside the Capitol on Thursday evening.

At that point, I think everyone was prepared for him to resign.  The Governor, a Democrat, would appoint his replacement.  I should say here that relations between the Democrats, Republicans, and Progressives here are not as divided and acrimonious as they are nationally probably because we are a small state and civility is important if any governing is to happen.  The Governor might even have appointed a Republican.

Sen. Norman McAllister, R-Franklin, returns to his seat in the Senate on the opening day of the Legislature.

Sen. Norman McAllister, R-Franklin, returns to his seat in the Senate on the opening day of the Legislature.

But Senator McAllister has not resigned.  The Legislative rules have nothing to cover this kind of situation.  Over the summer, there was some talk of expulsion, but the rules committee recommended suspension instead.  McAllister, denying the allegations, is fighting the suspension.  He says he is innocent and the criminal trial will prove it.  The trial is scheduled to begin in February.  That means he is going to miss part of the session in any case.

This is where I am of two minds.  He has been duly elected and I’ve read and heard nothing about any move from his constituents to recall him.  A suspension would leave them short one Senator to represent Franklin County.  (There are only 30 senators, statewide.)  On the other hand, if any other public employee were accused of these crimes, they would have been suspended back last May.  No police officer, firefighter, social worker, or RMV worker would be on the job today.  I think a lot of his fellow legislators are facing the same quandary.  The eight of the nine Senate Republicans caucused yesterday.  McAllister defended himself and they came to no conclusion except to urge him to resign.

Is an elected legislator a public employee?  In some sense, yes.  They are paid with taxpayer money.  On the other hand, they are “hired” by election.  Neither of my state senators have commented on the situation nor has my representative.  If I had to vote this afternoon, I’m not sure what I would do so I haven’t talked to any of them.  All three are women and I wonder if they, like me, have difficulty separating the alleged crime from what action to take.  Would it be easier if McAllister had embezzled money or falsified his tax returns?

Part 2 of this story, after the vote.

Photograph:  Roger Crowley/VTDigger

 

The Republican obsession with women’s bodies and sex

Haven’t posted for quite a while now.  Maybe it is the end of winter doldrums (I can almost say I survived my first Vermont winter which wasn’t nearly as bad as winter in the Boston I left behind.) or maybe I’m just discouraged by the general  state of politics.   I’m becoming increasingly fearful about what will happen if the Republicans take over the Presidency next year.  But I have been aroused from my lethargy by a story and editorial in today’s Brattleboro Reformer.

I’m not sure how it works in other parts of the country, but New England has a tradition of school children asking a legislator to introduce a bill for them.  I wrote a few weeks ago about the young woman who wanted Vermont to have a Latin motto.  Another group would like the Gilfeather turnip to become the Vermont state vegetable.  The children have to do their research and come and testify before the appropriate committee of the state legislature.  Their bills sometimes pass and sometimes get postponed for a year, but along the way they learn about politics and how bills become laws.  So a group in New Hampshire wants to make the red-tailed hawk the state raptor.  The Reformer editorial compares their reception to that given to the Gilfeather turnip lobbyists.

On March 17, a dozen students from Wardsboro Elementary School traveled to Montpelier to lobby for designating the Gilfeather turnip as the state vegetable. Wardsboro was home to John Gilfeather who is credited with developing the turnip that bears his name.

Rep. Emily Long, a Democrat from Newfane and a co-sponsor of the turnip bill, said she was “absolutely thrilled to see the kids here. I heard they were really good, I saw one of their teachers, and she was glowing!”

The students were told by Rep. Carolyn Partridge, a Democrat from Windham, that the bill would not pass this year, but she said many members of the committee supported it. In fact, Partridge said Gilfeather turnips had a celebrity status at her family’s Thanksgiving and Christmas tables growing up, and she said she would make a soup from them and bring it to the committee so they can taste the gnarly root vegetable for themselves.

Members of the committee were given wool-felted Gilfeather turnip pins, one of many items handcrafted and sold as part of fundraisers for the annual festival, which benefits the town’s library.

But what happened in New Hampshire?

Now let’s compare the reception the Wardsboro students received to the reception a handful of fourth-grade students received when they went to Concord to lobby to name the red-tailed hawk the state bird. What was the reaction they got? Incredibly, one legislator likened the bill to abortion.

State Rep. Warren Groen, from Rochester (need we really name his party?) said the red-tailed hawk “mostly likes field mice and small rodents. It grasps them with its talons and then uses its razor sharp beak to rip its victims to shreds and then basically tear it apart, limb from limb. And I guess the shame about making this the state bird is it would make a much better mascot for Planned Parenthood.”

Yes, Groen took the opportunity to push his anti-choice agenda at the expense of a group of 9 and 10-year-old students from Hampton Falls.

We’ve all seen video and read stories about male Republicans at all levels of government getting tangled up in trying to figure out birth control, rape, and abortion.  Remember back when Newt Gingrich said women can’t be soldiers because they get a “disease” every month?  Or Rush Limbaugh thinking one had to take a birth control pill with every act of intercourse?  Or the guy who said women could hold an aspirin (I think it was an aspirin.) between their knees to prevent rape.  And most recently the state legislator who thought maybe one could swallow a tiny camera so a doctor could see how old the fetus was before an abortion was performed.  The list is endless.  But NH Rep. Groen really shows the totality of their obsession by introducing the anti-choice agenda during a hearing about raptors.  When the inappropriateness of his comments was pointed out and he was asked by leadership to apologize, Groen made the whole thing into a free speech issue.

What was Groen’s reaction to criticism of his comment? “Every time we’re in session the gallery is open, and there are children in the gallery. So, I don’t know, should we limit free speech or should we limit who goes in the gallery?”

Maybe the answer, Rep. Groen, is that on a day when birth control, abortion rights, or Planned Parenthood are being debated it is up to parents to decide if their children should be in the gallery.  But not when we are talking about red-tailed hawks.

Red-Tailed Hawk

Red-Tailed Hawk

And while we are on the topic may I ask why Congressional Republican have to add an amendment about abortion to every single piece of legislation?  Today I’m talking about the bill concerning trafficking of women, the bill that is holding up the confirmation of Loretta Lynch to be Attorney General.  Can we drop that language and pass the bill and confirm Ms. Lynch, please?

 

 

 

 

 

Photograph:  Cornell Lab of Ornithology.  Taken by Betty Lemley, New Jersey, February 2008