Vermont Legislators are proposing and committees are reviewing bills with a focus on the budget and the impact of the pandemic. Numerous groups including the House Progressive Caucus are lobbying legislators in a virtual world to address their priorities.
The House Progressive Caucus recently outlined its priorities for the biennium, focused on equity in policy and response to the pandemic. Caucus chair Selene Colburn of Burlington says all their priorities have a common theme as the pandemic amplifies societal inequities. “While we as a caucus believe we need to be thoughtful we also believe now is not the time for holding back on addressing the roots of these inequities. The legislature must support bold transformative policies to make change rather than try to restore a status quo that left so many Vermonters behind. We can’t hesitate to do too much because of the pandemic. The pandemic asks us to step up and do more in this moment not less. The Vermont Progressive Party platform is grounded in the intersectional principles of social, racial, economic and environmental justice.”
Advocates want legislators to act in response to harassment and threats against women, BIPOC, or Black, indigenous and people of color, and LGBTQ leaders and candidates that are occurring across Vermont. Lisa Ryan says she’s leaving the Rutland Board of Aldermen due to harassment. “A racist meme was put out on Facebook by an alderman. It wasn’t until that point where things really started to get just gritty and scary. The harassment, the bullying. I fear sometimes leaving my home. Being a Black woman in Vermont is not easy especially in roles of leadership.”
Advocates want more minority voices in positions of leadership. Windham County NAACP Branch President Steffen Gillom says in conjunction with the Rutland branch the Bright Leadership Institute has been formed to get more women and BIPOC individuals in leadership positions. “Really what it is is to build solidarity and increase the overall impact of folks of color. And we do want to focus on BIPOC, fems and women, all folks of color. A lot of times we don’t seem to have a voice at the table and I think that what happens is a lot of folks feel othered and disenfranchised.”
Kesha Ram, the first woman of color to serve in the Vermont Senate, hopes the institute can ease the challenges women and BIPOC individuals face when they run for or try to remain in office in Vermont. “We are still developing for the Bright Leadership Institute a sense of what kind of platform items people will need to sign on to in order to be trained as a future candidate. We are not going to put a party label on that but we will ensure that those candidates for example believe in Black Lives Matter and are focused on racial disparities in their work.”
The Bright Leadership Institute is named after former Vermont House representative Louvenia Bright who in the 1990’s became the first Black woman elected to the Vermont Legislature.