By Nancy Olson in the Brattleboro Reformer
BRATTLEBORO >> Emerge Vermont wants to change the face of politics. The organization identifies, trains, and supports Democratic women in running for office at the local, state, and national levels.
On Sept. 19, at the Catherine Dianich Gallery, 139 Main St., Emerge Vermont will hold a "Discussion on Women in Politics." In attendance will be former Gov. Madeleine Kunin, the first and, so far, the only, woman governor of Vermont (1985-1991), who was U.S. Ambassador to Switzerland (1996-1999), and founder in 2013 of Emerge Vermont, and Sen. Becca Balint, D-Windham, Emerge Vermont class of 2014.
"The Dianich Gallery hosted the first Emerge Vermont event in Windham County three years ago," said Catherine Dianich Gruver, gallery curator and co-host. "Since (the beginning) I have been involved on the advisory board. In this important campaign season, we want to continue to put Emerge Vermont on the statewide map. It is critical to have bright Democratic women step up and run for office and get elected."
Former Brattleboro Select Board member Donna Macomber, Emerge Vermont board chairwoman and a 2008 alumna of the Emerge program in Massachusetts, is co-host of the event.
"Emerge Vermont provides a service to humankind on all levels," said Macomber in a press release. "By expanding opportunity for women to inhabit leadership positions, we all benefit. I am thrilled to be able to co-host an event here in Brattleboro that highlights the important work of Emerge Vermont. I look forward to seeing many friends and neighbors on Sept. 19."
According to Representation 2020, a non-partisan organization that works to raise awareness of the under-representation of women in elected office, Vermont ranks 41st among the 50 states in gender parity among elected officials. Only 21 percent of local select board members in Vermont are women, and Vermont is one of only three states never to have sent a woman to the U. S. Congress.
Since its founding, Emerge Vermont has trained nearly 50 women to run for elected office. Currently nine alumnae are running for state legislative seats. Nationally, Emerge affiliates have trained 2,000 Democratic women to run for office.
As someone who loves politics, Sen. Balint learned about the Emerge program at the non-partisan Women's Campaign School at Yale University. She became involved in planning the Windham County 2013 initial Emerge Vermont event and subsequently attended Emerge Vermont training.
"I'm so glad I did," she said in an email. "It not only gave me the specifics I need to do effective fundraising, and the frameworks I could use to help plan my campaign and its messaging, it also put me in touch with a great network of men and women who were very supportive of my decision to run."
Emerge Vermont is one of 17 states which are affiliates of the national organization, Emerge America, founded in 2005 by Andrea Dew Steele.
"(Steele) created Emerge America because she saw there was a great need nationally for a political training program and support system — our network — for Democratic women," said Allison Abney, communications director for Emerge America. "Women were underrepresented in government everywhere she looked, and to effect change it would mean we would need to go into every state and have a 365-day a year presence."
According to Ruth Hardy, executive director of Emerge Vermont, it's important to have women in elected office because having more diverse people at the table leads to better policy-making.
"Women tend to be better listeners and more collaborative decision-makers than men, willing to work across the table or aisle to find solutions to tough problems," she said in a phone interview."Furthermore, in our society, women are, for the most part, still the primary caretakers for families, children and elders. They bring that life experience to a broad spectrum of issues including the economy, health care, workforce issues, public safety, childcare, and reproductive rights."
Balint had this advice for women who might want to run for office but feel intimidated.
"No matter how much you study or prepare, you will never assure yourself that you know enough to run," she said. "So, live with that tension and jump in anyway. Voters do not want a perfect candidate. They want one who is genuine, works hard, and is willing to learn."
The Emerge Vermont event, which is free and open to the public, includes a silent auction and a reception with light refreshments. Registration is suggested. Contributions are appreciated. For more information contact Executive Director Ruth Hardy at [email protected] or visit www.emergevt.org.
Featured in the gallery is an exhibit of Kennedy Family photos from the Mark Shaw Photographic Archive (official opening Oct. 6 during Gallery Walk). As a photographer for LIFE magazine in the 1950s and 60s, Mark Shaw took photos of John F. and Jacqueline Kennedy. According to the archive's web site, the friendship he developed with them resulted in his being their "unofficial" family photographer. The archive is the work of Shaw's only son David and David's wife Juliet Cuming.