a story about why I am running for political office
This past May I participated in Emerge Vermont, a program that Gov. Madeleine Kunin brought to the state that trains women for Democratic political leadership. The national Emerge organization recently asked me for a story about why I am running…
I broke my leg downhill skiing at age 11. A bulky cast made climbing the school-bus steps tough, so I rode home in a taxicab. I’d wait for my ride on a bustling Main Street.
Men and women with serious mental illnesses residing nearby would stroll past as I waited in the downtown. It was the 1970s when state psychiatric hospitals were releasing long-term patients in droves.
“Radio Joe,” a man with a blaring boom box mounted on his shoulder, immersed in his current musical selection, would saunter by mumbling to himself.
Marge, an elderly woman who pushed a shopping cart filled with her “valuables,” would engage me in conversations I couldn’t always follow, though her energy was kind.
Initially, I was scared. But through months of standing on that busy corner, I began to create simple relationships with these folks. We’d chat about when my cast was coming off or what I was learning in my fourth-grade class. I became less afraid of their odd behaviors and more concerned about their well-being.
At nighttime as I folded into my comfy bed, I wondered why so many opportunities had been bestowed on me, and so few on others.
These direct encounters of people living in undignified ways with no one to advocate for them would affect my life trajectory.
I discovered in college that I was interested in walking alongside those without power, privilege and voice, providing some kind of service to the world.
I began my career as a journalist covering vulnerable populations: homeless families, drug addiction, single mothers escaping abusive partners, and increasing rates of childhood poverty. This training gave me a deep understanding of America’s most intractable social problems and their complex intersections.
I would go on to use my journalism skills as a college instructor, teaching undergraduates how to report on New American communities.
I would also work as a director at several nonprofit organizations serving the impoverished, the incarcerated, and the unemployed.
Today, I serve on the Vermont Commission on Women, seeking to fast-track the economic security of women and girls.
My first run for elective office in the Vermont House is the culmination of a lifetime of walking alongside people whose dignity is compromised – both by institutions and laws that have failed them.
It is time to join with my colleagues in the Vermont Legislature to continue the transformation of state systems to ensure opportunity and decency for all Vermonters.
I look back on my fourth-grade self and realize that I existed within a bubble of protective parental and educational environments.
That is why I remain grateful for the unvarnished encounters I navigated on that Main Street corner years back. Those experiences sparked my passion for the social justice work that informs my run for the State House today.