Barbara's Emerge Experience

This post is by Barbara Turnbull of Burlington, Vermont. Barbara is a sophmore at Oberlin College in Ohio, and spent the month of January 2018 as an intern with Emerge Vermont.

The energy in a room full of intelligent, motivated women is infectious. The sense of community is immediate and unavoidable. Without a word, their broad range of shared experiences brings women together.

This January, I sat in many rooms just like this. Whether it was commiserating about the state of national politics with the Board of Emerge Vermont, or hearing Vermont House Speaker Mitzi Johnson and the Emerge Vermont Class of 2018 speak bluntly about what it takes to run for office, I was surrounded by incredible women and immersed in important, relevant conversations.

I’ve come to realize that one of the strongest forces connecting these women is a common understanding of the importance of small-scale impact. Seeing needs in their communities that have gone unmet and undiscussed, and with a growing urgency to resist national politics and political rhetoric, women all across the country are stepping up to become leaders in their communities.

I’m glad that women in Vermont are just as moved to lead. I think the Vermont women I’ve met this month are well situated to represent others -- from school boards and selectboards all the way to statewide office -- because of their deep compassion for everyone in their communities.

The propensity of women to support one another and to look out for the needs of everyone around them is perhaps one of the most pressing reasons to elect more women to office.

On our second day in Montpelier, when the Emerge training focused on earning endorsements and coordinating field operations, one woman in the class brought her newborn baby. Throughout the day, between asking nuanced questions and doing some mock-doorknocking, the group of women continually helped out with the baby so that the training was smooth and productive for everyone. This was just one small way that the women demonstrated their commitment to one another’s success and wellbeing.

Even more subtly, the issues they chose to discuss and focus on, like healthcare, education, and the environment, showed an unwavering commitment to the direct wellbeing of their future constituents -- especially women and families.

My work with Emerge culminated on a chilly Friday morning in Middlebury. Executive Director Ruth Hardy and I sat down and looked at some of the spreadsheets I’d been working on for the past few weeks, talking through the feasibility of reaching gender parity in the Vermont legislature by the end of 2018.

The magic number? Eighteen. If Vermont had 18 more women in the legislature, and 18 fewer men, we’d be the first state to ever achieve gender parity in our state legislature.

Keeping an eye on the legislative districts represented by Republicans and men, we went district by district to determine where Emerge alumnae could potentially flip seats. Visualizing the impact of small-scale politics like this was incredibly powerful for me.

However, in order for Vermont’s legislature to reach gender parity and better represent the diverse identities of all Vermonters, it is crucial that those who are currently in power reflect upon the political space they take up and consider using their privilege to mentor and support the next generation of leaders. Perhaps this means that at least a few male incumbents may better contribute to their communities by declining to seek re-election and instead helping bring women into their seats.

It’s become abundantly clear to me that Emerge Vermont makes a demonstrable impact on state and local politics because it changes not only who is doing the representing, but how people are represented. The women legislators, leaders, and future candidates whom I met and spoke with do not fit the traditional, self-interested mold of “politician.” They are feminists, they are compassionate, and they believe in a collaborative democracy.

And they remind me of an important effect that Emerge has on those of us who don’t plan on running for office anytime soon: if we want to see more women in government, we should help. We should make calls, knock on doors, and donate money. And it can never hurt to ask a woman to run for office.

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