By Sarah Davin
On January 21, 2017, at Vermont’s first Women’s March, former Vermont Gov. Madeleine Kunin spoke to a crowd of more than 15,000 attendees: “We are not alone in our fear; we are not alone in our despair, and we are not alone in our grief for what might have been. We are together in our strength and in our determination. And why are we here? What are we marching for? We march for respect.”
The Women’s March returns to Montpelier for the third time on January 19 to continue its campaign for equality and dignity for all. This year, the organization is incorporating new tactics, starting with expanding beyond being a once-a-year event in favor of a year-round call to action. Unlike previous years, the Women’s March Vermont plans on taking the step of paying speakers for their time. Kristen Vrancken, one of the organizers of the Women’s March Vermont explained, “Our speakers are predominantly women of color who have been asked to pour their hearts out there and have received no financial compensation for doing so. Paying a small speaker fee is the least we feel we can do.”
This year marks a change of tactics for the Vermont chapter of the Women’s March. The Women’s March mission is to draw attention to a broad set of issues, from equal pay to immigration, LGBTQIA rights to climate change, and Black Lives Matter to sexual violence. The Women’s March in Vermont hopes to take this one step forward by embracing a Vermont-centered legislative agenda. “We would like to see the Equal Rights Amendment codified in Vermont law,” said Vrancken. In addition, Women’s March Vermont supports two different reproductive freedom initiatives that Planned Parenthood has been working on and would like to see a Vermont constitutional amendment to legalize abortion in the state.
While all of the issues represented by the Women’s March are important, one particular topic feels especially urgent. “Where we feel the focus really needs to be amplified is on the significant uptick in hate crimes, white supremacists, and neo-Nazi activity, nationally, but certainly in Vermont as well. We think that this is something folks need to be made aware of, and we need to come together as a community to support marginalized communities,” Vrancken elaborated. According to the FBI’s hate crime statistics, 34 hate crimes were reported in Vermont in 2017. That is more than four times more than in 2015, when only eight hate crimes were reported.
This is not the first time that Women’s March Vermont has taken a stand against prejudice, since events at the beginning of 2018 forced the national Women’s March and its sister marches to grapple with anti-Semitism within its own ranks.
In February 2018, national Women’s March leader Tamika Mallory attended, and received a shout-out in, an anti-Semitic speech given by Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan in Chicago. Since then, the national chapter has been struggling, losing support, and splintering into smaller organizations. In fact, there will be no march in New Orleans this year, with the Louisiana chapter announcing that unless the current leaders of the national chapter step down, they will not organize the march. Organizers in Chicago have also canceled that city’s march.
Despite this controversy, the 2019 Vermont Women’s March continues as planned.Vrancken affirmed the local organization’s independence, saying, “Women’s March Vermont is affiliated with the national chapter, but we are an independent chapter. We do not receive any funding from the national chapter. We work independently. We work collectively on mass actions and we are able to communicate with our sister chapters through the forums that the Women’s March provides, but we are an independent volunteer-led organization.”
Vrancken also indicated a Facebook post the Women’s March Vermont made on March 13, 2018, which reads, “Anti-Semitism, misogyny, homophobia, and transphobia are in no uncertain terms unacceptable and inexcusable. Silence in the face of Jewish hate is not an option. While we wish that the national response had specifically done so, Women’s March Vermont emphatically denounces Louis Farrakhan’s anti-Semitic and homophobic statements.”
The 2019 Vermont Women’s March will rally at the State House lawn on January 19. Gathering for the demonstration is expected to begin at 9:30 am. Speeches and performances will begin at 10 am and last until noon. The keynote speaker will be former Bennington state Rep. Kiah Morris, who had to withdraw from her most recent Vermont House race after receiving racially motivated harassment and threats. The rally will also include speakers Tabitha Pohl-Moore, president of the Rutland area NAACP; Amanda Garces, coordinator of the Vermont Coalition for Ethnic and Social Equity in Schools; Mariko Silver, president of Bennington College; Sarah Launderville, executive director for the Vermont Center of Independent Living; former Gov. Kunin; and more.
The best guess of Women’s March Vermont organizers for expected attendance is 1,500 to 2,000 people, but they hope for more.
If you would like to volunteer at the 2019 Vermont Women’s March, email the organizers at firstname.lastname@example.org.