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While at work on this issue, I learned that white was the signature color of the suffragettes, who wore long white dresses during their rallies and marches. When I heard that a call had gone out among women supporting Hillary Clinton to wear white on Election Day, I decided to pull out a flouncy white skirt and shirt from my closet. Wearing this hue of summer and hope and purity, I walked out on a soft autumn day under a radically blue sky to cast my vote on this historic occasion—voting for the first woman to be the nominee on a major party ballot.
I began Election Day going to the polls with my 15-year-old daughter to vote for Hillary Clinton to be our first woman president. I ended the day with that same daughter in my arms, sobbing with confusion and despair. That morning I was joyous and hopeful. I spent the day making calls to get out the vote, sending messages of encouragement to my friends running for office, and later anxiously awaiting results in a big room full of nervous Democrats.
This is not the letter I intended to write about the election of 2016. We hoped that Hillary Clinton would win and that this message would be one of hope, love, and possibility. That we could share our joy with you about the election of the first woman president of the United States, Hillary Clinton. But this was not to be. She lost.
She lost the electoral vote but won the popular vote: 59,238,524 to 59,088,024. The fifth time in history that this has happened.
Millions are shocked, stunned, angry and fearful.
And to us it is personal, and we feel it to our female core.
Seeing a woman elected to the presidency of the United States has been an extreme goal—akin to climbing Mt. Everest. Who could scale this outsized peak? Every woman who has tried has been vilified and discredited. It’s been a scary mission. As we sadly witnessed, the recent election was no exception.
The first woman to try to run for the presidency really did it as a lark in 1872. She was young, only 34, and not really qualified for office. She could not even vote, but that is why she tried for it—to focus attention on the fact that women did not have this basic right, the right to vote.
When the famous suffragist Susan B. Anthony stated in 1860 that “cautious, careful people always casting about to preserve their reputation and social standing, never can bring about a reform” she might have had Victoria Woodhull in mind—a bold figure who threw caution to the wind. Her life story is remarkable—a poor child who eventually rose to the highest ranks of New York society.
We are so saturated by visual media and the glut of information—the result of the hyperactive digital age that has swept over us like some horrific tsunami—one wonders how to make sense of it all. Four Vermont women—Deb Ellis, Nora Jacobson, Anne Macksoud, and Bess O’Brien—have spent the better part of their professional lives committed to making films that inform and inspire, bucking the tendency to be apathetic. Their curiosity and desire to understand, to create order, to tell authentic stories that touch on universal truths and enlighten us are some of the elements that unite this most diverse group of filmmakers, all of whom have deep ties to Vermont.
Perhaps Freedom and Unity: The Vermont Movie, a six-part documentary series many years in the making and released in 2013, epitomizes the tenacity and collaborative spirit it takes to be a documentary filmmaker today. While spearheaded and edited by Nora Jacobson, the film involved the work of dozens of filmmakers, including Ellis, Macksoud, and Jay Craven, the husband and filmmaking partner of O’Brien. The film provides a complex portrait of Vermont that is as much a state of mind as it is a physical place. It opened in Burlington to great fanfare, was broadcast locally, and is widely used as an educational tool in classrooms across the state.
Last issue (Sept./Oct. 2016) we looked at the current state of Vermont’s forests and the threats posed by climate change, development, and invasive species. In this column, we explore what Vermonters are doing now and need to do in the future to combat those threats. To quickly recap, we have critical challenges in Vermont including:
• Loss of forestland—about 75,000 acres since 2007
• Development growing twice as fast as our population, adding smaller and smaller lots in mostly rural areas
• Forest fragmentation: breaking up large, contiguous forested areas into smaller, disconnected “islands,” which are less resilient overall
• Loss of biodiversity, wildlife habitat, and connectivity, which allows animals to move about
• Rapid increase of invasive pests and plants
In her three decades in the museum world, in work that has taken her around the US and Europe, Janie Cohen, published Picasso scholar and director of the University of Vermont’s Fleming Museum of Art, has both effected, and been affected by, a shift in how museums serve their patrons.
“To see this, you just need to look at the mission statements of museums over the years,” says Cohen. “Where once the focus was exclusively ‘collect, conserve and interpret,’ now the conversation is, ‘Who are we doing this for, and why are we doing it?’”
When she was hired at the Fleming as curator in 1991, Cohen hit the ground running as she addressed these questions. The answers were in the then 19,000 art and artifacts of the permanent collection (now 25K strong), though she needed to do some digging.
“Once I got to know the collection,“ Cohen says, “I felt the way it was installed did not reflect its strengths.” Cohen thought it eurocentric and wanted to bring out more of the Native American and non-Western pieces. “I wanted a broader access that would serve the public, the university students, and grades K through 12 who were coming for education,” Cohen says.
Two events this past October highlighted the development of women’s networks and organizational alliances intended to benefit women leaders, the economy, and all Vermonters in the coming months, as well as in next year’s legislative session. Yet they also raised some questions about sustainable energy, namely women’s.
Emerge Vermont, an organization founded in 2013 to train women how to run for public office, is expanding its horizons this year beyond the Vermont State House to include local governing bodies such as school boards and town select boards. They celebrated this addition at a well-attended fundraiser in Burlington on October 13: Stand Up for Emerge. They have already graduated 42 women, 17 just this year; a crowd of about 50 alumnae, interested leaders, and elected state senators and representatives connected over cocktails, warming up for the comedy event attended by about a hundred people.