April, 2008

A Race to Remember

It's been widely commented on in some circles how suddenly, suddenly (!) the issue of race and gender has factored into a presidential election. As though, with 219 years of only white, male chief executives, the issue of race and gender was not an integral factor. Whiteness is very much a racial category, and to be male - though the boys may like to think otherwise - is not necessarily the norm!

In discussions with people over the last month, I've encountered the reaction to Vermont Woman's endorsement of Sen. Hillary Clinton as "of course" we would endorse her, that we are merely sheep dutifully marching along typical gender lines. I admit I have to laugh when I think, "Yes. Vermont Woman, The New York Times, The Denver Post, Congressman Jack Murtha, Robert Kennedy, Jr., economist Paul Krugman, 30 admirals and generals, Jack Nicholson… yep, all of us voting right down that gender line!" And, I'm sure Major General Martha Rainville would have to question the charge: in 2006 this paper endorsed her male opponent for Congress, Peter Welch. But it comes back to this: if you're white and male, you get to make informed statements, while the choices of women and African-Americans, for example, are scrutinized on every level, and suspect for not being made on a "legitimate," reasoned basis.

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Margaret Michniewicz

Green Business: A Sustainable Enterprise for Vermont's Economic Future

Vermont is the green state - we don't have billboards, our land is unspoiled (for the most part), and we are home to the Green Mountains. Heck, we even have green license plates. But green doesn't just represent a color anymore. For many in the state, green also signifies "the green economy," and growing that economy is on the minds of many business owners who call Vermont home.

For those businesses aspiring to be "green," the first challenge is defining the term. Are companies green because they're sustainable? Socially responsible? Producers of eco-products? Consumers of them? In the face of this uncertainty, Vermont businesses are forging ahead with their own definitions, guided by both strong ethics and good business sense.

Melinda Moulton, CEO and developer of Main Street Landing, a sustainable redevelopment company in Burlington, is one business leader who has charted her own way. According to Moulton, she and her business partner, Lisa Steele, never aspired to create a green business. "We started to think this way in the '80s. It was something that was really deep inside of us. It's not like we thought, 'Oh, let's be green, let's be environmental,'" she said.

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Picture of Vermont

Mapping a Path for a Woman President

Of the 219 years since 1789 that the United States has functioned under the Constitution as a republic, white male Protestants have held the White House for 216 of them - 98.6 percent of the time. It took two Constitutional amendments - the Fifteenth in 1870 enfranchising African-Americans, and the Nineteenth in 1920 enfranchising women - to broaden the base of the electorate… but the post of Chief Executive has yet to be broadened.

That the Democratic Party - created in the South by one slaveholder, Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, and reshaped by another, Tennessee's Andrew Jackson - should be the political party with the most diverse presidential and vice presidential nominees is one of the great American ironies. It was the political devastation of the Civil War that obliged the Democrats to reach beyond the South and to rebuild itself with the votes of European immigrants - Catholics and Jews - who found economic hope and political freedom in the cities of the North. No surprise that it is the Democrats who have over the years chosen three Catholics - Al Smith, John F. Kennedy, and John Kerry - and the Greek Orthodox Michael Dukakis - to head their ticket and to include as vice-presidential running-mates the Catholics Edmund Muskie, Thomas Eagleton, Sargent Shriver, and Geraldine Ferraro - and Joe Lieberman, an Orthodox Jew.

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Map of Women Governors & Senators

The Wind Beneath Her Wings: Jan Blittersdorf of NRG Systems

Wanted: women looking for work in the renewable energy industry. The time is now to bring what you've got to the table. The industry needs you. And Jan Blittersdorf, CEO of NRG Systems in Hinesburg, is leading the way.

NRG makes wind measuring systems to assess if a site has enough wind to generate electrical energy. Their customers are worldwide, and include businesses, utility companies, wind farms, universities, research institutes, and homeowners.

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NRG Systems CEO Jan Blittersdorf

Iran - Not So Far Away: Women's Rights Activists Won't Be Silenced

In a north Tehran restaurant early last December, I sat in the traditional Persian style - shoeless, legs folded, atop a carpeted dais. Plates of lamb and chicken kabobs on enormous beds of saffron rice were placed on a low-set table, along with two glasses of dugh, the national yogurt drink. Across from me sat Fariba Pajooh, a 27-year-old Iranian journalist with a round, soft face, dark but ebullient eyes and an engaging, wishful smile. Pajooh rolled her shoulder to demonstrate the cracking sound it still makes, a souvenir from her participation in the student demonstrations of July 1999.

The demonstration started out peacefully at Tehran University, where Pajooh was attending as an undergraduate. It began as a show of support for the reform movement led by then-President Mohammad Khatami, and spread to other cities as students made known their desire to see social and political restrictions loosened. It wasn't long before the police force, controlled by hardliners, cracked down and arrested over a thousand protesters, including Pajooh. She spent nearly two months in prison where police beatings produced her shoulder injury, as well as a broken nose. "I was young and stupid," she mused.

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Schoolgirls in Tehran