Vermont Woman is a forum for news, issues, features, arts and entertainment from the perspective, experience, and voices of Vermont women. Vermont Woman is a bi-monthly newspaper published in South Hero, Vermont.
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“Moving from being in an abusive relationship to being out in the world is a dramatic life change. A change from both without and within. In the months before I left, I remember telling my counselor that I felt like I was going through a metamorphosis. I could feel a difference forming in my frame of mind, my understanding of myself and my perspective on my situation. I was the same person and yet I was different in what I could see, what I could understand, and what I could do. Much like changing from a caterpillar who cannot fly, into a butterfly... Circle created for me a safe place where I was supported and encouraged. I was the only one that could do the work and make the process happen. Circle was there to support me and keep me safe both physically and emotionally during that precarious time.”
That moving testimonial from a former shelter resident appeared in a 2016 newsletter of Circle, a community-based organization in Barre dedicated to ending domestic violence. It speaks volumes about the help Circle, and other organizations in Vermont, are providing for women who experience domestic and sexual violence. It also speaks poignantly to the myriad challenges women face as they find their way back to safety and self-directed lives.
Sandra Baird has been in the trenches of the women's movement and antiwar movement since she came to Vermont in the early '70s.
Baird has been a lawyer, a Vermont state representative, and a professor of history, politics, law, and international relations for over 30 years at many colleges in Vermont, including Johnson State College and the recently closed Burlington College, where she taught full-time. She also founded a nonprofit organization aimed at helping women after her daughter was murdered in 1998 in an incident of domestic violence. The Caroline Baird Crichfield Memorial Fund for Women in Need has been offering financial and legal support in emergencies to women and girls since 1998.
Baird, 76, has been at the center of major moments in the women’s movement. She was part of a committee of women and men who founded, in 1972, the first clinic in Vermont (and possibly the United States) to offer legal abortions—before Roe v. Wade, which was decided in 1973. She also helped pass legislation to provide civil remedies for the victims of domestic abuse.
An antiwar activist, Baird believes that war is the ultimate act of violence against men, women, and children. She feels that the best way to avoid war is to engage in people-to-people exchanges with other countries, especially those who have been defined by our government as adversaries. While a professor at Burlington College, she directed the colleges overseas studies program to Cuba and has established sister city programs in the Middle East and in Cuba.
The women and children living in fear in their own homes must be helped—helped to escape a dangerous situation, helped to find a safe place to live, helped to put their lives back together through legal and financial assistance, helped to heal psychological and emotional wounds. That’s obvious.
What is less talked about are the men who do the abusing—the perpetrators of pain and fear. But they need help too. If we are ever to have a society where everybody feels safe and respected, where no one lives in fear, we have to talk to the people doing the abusing, bring them into the social conversation.
Meg Kuhner, codirector of Circle, a nonprofit in Barre that provides services to domestic violence victims, did just that for 10 years. From 2004 to 2014, Kuhner worked closely with men who batter as a community facilitator in IDAP (Intensive Domestic Abuse Program), an intervention program for batterers. The program, which ended in 2014, was created and supervised by Spectrum Youth and Family Services in Burlington under VIP (Violence Intervention and Prevention). It ran, said Kuhner, for about 15 years, with programs in Barre, Burlington, St. Johnsbury, Bennington, and White River Junction to name a few.
Kuhner said she did this work “full of heart and passion,” her passion rooted in a conviction that all people can change, and she did witness big transformations. “I saw a tremendous amount of change,” she said.
Among many outrageous things uttered during the arduous preelection period, none stuck in my craw like the question posed about women who revealed Donald Trump’s sexual aggression: Why didn’t they say something when it happened?
Anyone who asks that infuriating query has no clue about the trauma that sexual assault involves. No one gets how long that trauma lingers. No one begins to understand the pain of that quiet, ongoing anguish. And no one thinks about the trauma that occurs when courageous victims do speak out. Women are routinely revictimized by police, defense lawyers, prosecutors, judges, and even some health providers. They are disbelieved, charged with inviting the assault, accused of being attention-seeking liars.
My friend Teresa, serving time in a California prison, is a perfect example. She’s served 27 years of a 25-years-to-life sentence for unintentionally killing her stepfather while he was raping her, a man who had been sexually abusing her from age 7. Recently, she sought a retrial because of egregious errors that had occurred in her initial trial.
Vermont’s richly varied natural environment, rooted in an agrarian past with an intense concern for a sustainable future, has spawned a wave of artistic expression that goes beyond mimicking nature to embedding the materials, as well as the spirit, of the natural world in the work. In particular, Vermont-based artists Gowri Savoor, Cami Davis, Riki Moss, and Brenda Garand are all actively producing genre-bending art that transcends borders and challenges how we think about the world we live in.
Each of these artists has had work featured in the annual Of Land and Local exhibition, a collaborative project curated by Burlington City Arts (BCA) and supported by Shelburne Farms and a number of other cultural institutions across the state. The primary goal of this multidisciplinary, statewide exhibition is to “initiate a dialog about issues surrounding art and the environment that relates to the Vermont landscape.” In some cases throughout the months preceding the exhibition, the participating artists spend time in residence doing work on location, responding in very direct and specific ways to their chosen site. The results of each artist’s investigations are exhibited both at the BCA and at Shelburne Farms, usually in the fall near the height of the harvest season when we can reap artistic rewards as well as the agricultural kind.
Editor's note: Cyndy Bittinger, a commentator on VPR, arranged for the speakers for this year's women's history month and gave the first commentary of the series on counterculture women in Vermont, which can be heard and read at VPR online at http://digital.vpr.net/#stream/0 along with the others.
"It was a turbulent era, in which we rejected the status quo of our childhoods, and searched for—or created—new definitions of community." So said Liz Blum in her Vermont Public Radio commentary about being a young woman in the 1970s. As part of women's history month, Blum, along with commentators Verandah Porche and Melinda Moulton, wrote and recorded their experiences as participants in the back-to-the-land movement.
Vermont, made more accessible by Interstates I-89 and I-91, was the beckoning country for these women, who were part of a wave of 100,000 young people, migrating to Vermont from 1967 to 1973. With cheap land and no formidable building codes, it was relatively easy to throw up a geodesic dome and move in.
Blum, now the county chair of the Vermont Progressive Party, was named for labor activist and feminist Elizabeth Gurley Flynn. She says, in her commentary, that she saw herself as a “revolutionary part of a global liberation struggle. We were interested in sexual liberation and changing our roles at home and in the world.” Porche, a poet, performer, and essayist from Guilford, remembers coming to Vermont, at age 23. She and her companions arrived “fresh from riots in Washington, DC, we could see a future in the open fields, woods, rickety house, barn, and outbuildings.” She and some 10 others formed the commune Total Loss Farm, named on a whim. Moulton, now the CEO of Main Street Landing in Burlington, arrived in 1973 with the father of her 1-year-old child, seeking to establish a self-sufficient homestead. Forty-four years later, they still live in the stone house they built by hand near Camel’s Hump.