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I am often asked if I have a #MeToo story. Actually, I have several, and for some I blame myself. Wrong place, wrong job, wrong time, wrong person. But most never should have happened, and I could do nothing. There was no one to report to. Not human resources (who writes their paycheck?), not the police (all men and no power anyway), and not parents or friends (helpless). It’s the way it was. The system was stacked against women. Women were powerless, and men knew it. Women lost every time. No more.
The #MeToo movement has nearly two million work-related sexual harassment and sexual assault postings. The mobilization of social media and the dizzying speed and success of the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements are having immediate results, as evidenced by the hundreds of firings of famous men from Matt Lauer to Charlie Rose, Garrison Keeler, Senator Al Franken, Harvey Weinstein, and Met conductor James Levin. The same is happening in businesses of all kinds, both big and small, all over the world. Abusers have nowhere to hide. Arguably, due process and measured punishment is lacking. But as testimonies of abuse continue to be shared, what is clear is that the women have no reason to lie; it takes courage to relive their trauma and tell their stories publicly for the first time. Not so long ago, women were never believed and had no recourse for justice. Businesses, government, the military, and employers can no longer continue a patriarchal systemic culture (male entitlement and boys will be boys) of believing the accuser and blaming the victim.
In 2016, when people urged Sarah George to run for Chittenden County state’s attorney because T.J. Donovan was running for attorney general, her first reaction was “I can’t do that. I don’t know enough about politics!” Nevertheless, she threw her hat in the ring and won, filling a two-year vacancy created when Donovan won his election. In November, she will run again for a second term of office, and this time, she knows a lot about politics.
George, who grew up in Quechee—where she still works part-time as a waitress at the Simon Pearce Restaurant—studied psychology and criminal justice as an undergraduate at the University of Connecticut with the goal of becoming a behavioral analyst, possibly for the FBI. She went on to earn a master’s degree in forensic psychology at Castleton State College. By then she realized that what she enjoyed most was the legal aspects of the work she wanted to do. Wanting to make a difference in the criminal justice system, George decided to become a prosecutor.
She attended Vermont Law School from 2007, graduating in 2010. During the summer of 2008, she interned at the Chittenden County State’s Attorney’s Office, and a year later she interned at the Chittenden County Public Defender Office. During her third year of law school, she interned again, this time in the US Attorney’s Office.
After graduating from law school, Donovan, then Chittenden County state’s attorney, hired George to investigate domestic violence cases and later to prosecute them. Once she passed the bar examination in 2010, she became the deputy state’s attorney, a position she held for six years, before becoming the county state’s attorney.
Photo: Jan Doerler
State senator and majority leader Becca Balint (D, Windham) knew she wanted to be in politics by age 18. She also knew, as a gay woman, that it wouldn’t be easy. As she puts it, “I didn’t know of any gay politicians except for [San Francisco city supervisor] Harvey Milk [who was assassinated in 1978], so I put it on the shelf.”
Earning a BA at Smith College, a master’s degree in education at Harvard, and another master’s in history at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Balint began her career as a history and social studies teacher, but she always knew that she wasn’t doing the work she felt called to. Encouraged by several mentors and her wife, Elizabeth Wohl, to enter public service, she forged ahead, never believing she would win. But well known for her teaching and her columns in the Brattleboro Reformer, she was victorious, launching a political career in which she has championed a range of issues, including paid leave, consumer protections, affordable health care, and voter access.
Now in her second term, in addition to serving on the Economic Development and Housing Committee as well as being vice chair of the Education Committee, Balint serves as Democratic majority leader in the senate and chair of the senate’s five-member sexual harassment panel.
As majority leader it is her job to bring legislation to the floor that reflects the values of the Democratic caucus, which represents 23 of the senate’s 30 members, ranging from Democrats and Progressives to some Libertarians. “We all have different opinions on any given issue,” Balint notes, “and the challenge is to find common ground so that a bill is crafted in a way that it can make it on the full floor of the senate and then the house.” She set a goal of “opening up conversation so that regardless of topic, discussion can be framed so that everyone has a part in the conversation.” She is proud of the fact that “we do have a culture within the caucus where everyone coming into the room is able to contribute.”
Becca Balint, state senator and majority leader (D,Windham) chairs the Senate Sexual Harassment Prevention Panel. photos: Jan Doerler
The bright but still cold March sun spilled across an impressive array of African art and artifacts, calling attention to the majestic settee and matching chairs fit for African royalty. Sitting in the middle of this eclectically designed living room, in a building called the Bog House, one of several structures at the Clemmons Family Farm, was 94-year-old Lydia Clemmons.
Lydia and her husband, Dr. Jackson Clemmons, have owned the 148-acre farm in Charlotte, Vermont, since 1962. The Clemmons Family Farm is one of only 19 African American–owned farms of the nearly 7,000 farms in Vermont, according to the 2012 agricultural census.
The Clemmons originally came from Cleveland, Ohio. Jackson was offered a job as a pathologist at the University of Vermont Medical Center. He accepted the position, making him only the second African American doctor to work at the center. Lydia was a registered nurse and trained anesthesiologist. At that time the Clemmons had two young children and needed a place to live.
Although Dr. Clemmons spent his youth on a farm, he decided early on that farming would not be his chosen career, and he pursued medicine. In 1961, while preparing for the family’s move to Vermont, he was told about a farm that had been for sale for sometime in a town called Charlotte. The name of the town intrigued him. He was impressed by the history of the property and the beautiful location, so in spite of the rundown condition of the farm, the family cobbled together all the resources they could to purchase the property. Over the course of five decades, the Clemmons gradually restored the farm into a landmark historic estate.
The legislature has rolled past “cross over” into the home stretch of year two of this biennium; bills that are no longer in play will have to be reintroduced next session or dropped. It’s too soon to tell how environmental issues will fare after last year’s disappointing lack of leadership on what were thought to be a few easy wins.
Some chalk up 2017’s lackluster achievements as the result of a wait-and-see grace period as new leadership in both legislative chambers and a new governor scoped out each other’s positions. Where did the governor really stand on climate change issues and Vermont’s renewable energy goals? Who would step up to become climate change champions in the house and senate? While Gov. Scott proved himself to be firmly aligned with business interests and disinterested or opposed to any progressive energy agenda, no clear climate agenda leaders emerged from the legislature.
After the 2017 session ended, Scott appointed a 21-member Vermont Climate Action Commission (VCAC) in what has turned out to be a token gesture to address strong public support for Vermont’s renewable energy goals. The commission was charged to hold public meetings and come up with recommendations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and combat climate change.
The first red flag that this might not be a well balanced representation of interests came when Peter Walke, Scott’s deputy secretary at the Agency of Natural Resources, named Annette Smith, an influential opponent of large renewable energy projects especially wind, to head up a Technical Advisory Group to provide input and expertise to the commission. Of the 21 commission members, only one represented a statewide environmental organization.
Hallelujah! High time! Long overdue! These were some of the reactions from warriors of the 1970’s struggle for abortion rights in Vermont when news broke that UVM Medical Center (UVMMC) had reversed its long-standing policy against providing elective abortions.
Three days after the 45th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, pro-choice Vermonters were happily surprised to learn that the board of directors of the medical center had voted to lift the ban on elective abortions that had been on the books for decades.
Many Vermonters may be surprised to learn that Vermont’s flagship teaching hospital has not been providing elective abortions right along, given that abortion has been legal in this state since 1972.
In fact, veterans of the abortion rights movement, although they welcomed the news, were surprised by the seemingly sudden policy reversal and wondered what was different now, after all these years, and what prompted the change.
Indeed, it is ironic that although Vermont was the second state to legalize abortion, its major hospital in its largest city is only now opening its doors for elective abortions; it has always provided medically necessary abortions for women whose pregnancies have gone wrong.
Lucy Leriche, vice president of Public Policy, Vermont, for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, summed up the general reaction, on the phone recently from the state house: “We’re delighted with the decision. We’re all about increasing access to the full range of reproductive health services. … It’s one more step in helping to remove the stigma in the mind of the public, which is a good thing.”
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by Rickey Gard Diamond
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Whole Worlds Could Pass Away by Rickey Gard Diamond
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