Madeleine Kunin

Commentator

Madeleine May Kunin is a former governor of Vermont, and author of "The New Feminist Agenda, Defining the Next Revolution for Women, Work and Family," published by Chelsea Green.

Twenty-three percent of deaths world-wide are directly or indirectly caused by outdoor and indoor air pollution, according to the World Health Organization. This sobering statistic is mobilizing much of the world to take action against the dire effects of climate change.

Bill O’Reilly was pulled off his pedestal at Fox News by the Rupert Murdoch family, but only after so many women exercised their outrage against sexual harassment. The tall statue of “the iconic most powerful name in news” was given a shove by women whose spontaneous anger gave corporate America the jitters.

When my daughter and I visited the Jewish cemetery in Gross Gerau, Germany, where my father’s family is buried, we were shown where to look for my grandfather’s stone by the German cemetery keeper. He proudly told us that most of the gravestones had been repaired by his Christian community - an act of redemption.

We’re becoming a nation of activists.

The first sign was the historic Women’s March which brought millions of women and many men into the streets the day after Donald Trump’s inauguration. “I’ve never been political before,” was the common refrain, heard widely from sign carriers.

“I wish I could have saved more lives,” Marion Pritchard told me when we spoke in her Vershire, Vermont home.

Kunin: Kindness

Dec 5, 2016

I’ve learned something new about human kindness, since my husband has been confined to a wheelchair for the last year. I carefully maneuver him from wheel chair to dining room chair. He prefers to sit in a regular chair at the table - and at a concert or in a movie theatre. It makes him feel like he always did.

After the horrifying massacre in Orlando - we search for answers. “Why? Why?” We listen to the radio, turn to social media, and watch TV and see the backs of two men, two women, and a man and woman with their arms around each other. We catch sight of a middle aged woman standing alone, stupefied. Perhaps she is somebody’s mother. What happened in Orlando make us want to embrace one another, to stand together, to march together, each of us attempting to give comfort and to receive comfort as we share our grief.

Kevin Smart / iStock

Lower the voting age to sixteen was the surprising proposal of a symposium I participated in at Oxford University — with no dissent among the representatives of Emerging Market nations.

Congratulations Vermont.

We’ve become the fifth state to guarantee three earned sick days per year after a two-year phase in. Here’s what that means for working families.

Summer is so short, and winter is so long. I didn’t want August to hurry by. The hot months were an excuse for laziness. For leisurely lunches holding slippery glasses of ice tea, for sitting in an Adirondack chair and reading on a summer afternoon, for walking in the evening after dinner, and watching the sun go down, first slowly, and then suddenly, to see it drop. And then the encore when the spreading afterglow paints the whole sky pink, rose and red, each sunset paints its own canvas, different from all the others.

The world is getting older. Imagine a graph that looks like a steep mountain trail. We’re climbing at a rapid rate to an unprecedented increase in the aging population. The world will contain one billion people over 60 by the year 2020.

Whenever I’m invited to come back to the Vermont State House I experience both the familiar and the new. The golden dome still sparkles in the sun against the blue sky like it did the day I was sworn into office as the governor of Vermont thirty years ago. I have affection for the state house, almost as if it were a person. For sixteen years I walked through its doors, as a legislator, Lt. Governor and Governor.

“I can’t breathe,” were the last words we heard from 43 year old Eric Garner who died from a policeman’s chokehold on a Staten Island sidewalk.
 

None of us can breathe freely after watching the video of that struggle as it was replayed again and again on TV.

The grand jury’s job, we must remember, was not to decide whether the 29 year old policeman, Daniel Pantaleo, was guilty or innocent of killing Eric Garner. Their job was simply to decide whether there was enough evidence to take the first step that would lead to a trial.

Let’s talk about it. Let’s stop whispering about mental illness and suicide. Two suicides - one close to home, Cheryl Hanna who many of us had known and loved - and another - Robin Williams - somebody we had known as an actor, who made us laugh and sometimes cry - have forced us to ask, “Why?”

Each was at the prime of life, why would they have wanted to kill themselves? We never knew, we didn’t have a clue, or so it seemed.

It sounds like a Grimm’s fairy tale, only it is grimly true. The abduction of some 276 Nigerian girls in the middle of the night, by a terrorist organization, Boko Haram, is a nightmare scene that few of us ever dream of. The leader is not just like a monster, he is a monster breathing fire that boasts, “I abducted your girls. There is a market for selling them and Allah says I should sell. He commands me to sell.”

I rummaged through the Lost and Found box in the gym. It smells of old sneakers, unwashed socks, faded shorts. Could I find my bathing suit here? Perhaps, if I dig deep enough.

But no amount of searching through other people’s losses will give me what I am looking for - a box that would hold the people, places, names and dates that I have lost from year to year.

The first time I visited the Vermont State House way back in 1962, I had a three month old baby who was sleeping in the car bed - this was before super safe car seats - she was tucked in with my friend Betsy’s baby, who was about the same size. We were off on an adventure. We were going to testify in Montpelier on a bill, dealing, as I recall, with fair housing. Governor Phil Hoff’s right hand man, Ben Collins, who happened to be Betsy’s husband, had asked us to appear. They needed bodies.

Kunin: Flying South

Oct 28, 2013

The Canada Geese settle down in the shallow waters of Lake Champlain in front of our house. They hold their conversations early in the morning and late into the night. At first, they would keep me awake longer than I had intended, and their chatter would bring me back into this world too early in the morning.

Kunin: Open Doors

Sep 25, 2013

I think the world could be divided into two groups: those who hold the door for the next person and those who don’t. I don’t understand why some people walk through a doorway without looking behind them, letting the door slam or slide into whoever is behind them - while others pause, hold the door and often elicit a “thank you,” or a smile. I’m not talking about male to female chivalry. Women hold doors for men and for other women. Men hold doors for men. This is about gender neutral manners.

War is hell, no doubt about it. But as in Dante’s Inferno, there are separate circles of hell. Those who kill their own people with chemical weapons should surely be relegated to the ninth circle where Satan awaits them.

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