Madeleine M. 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.

One of my day dreams is to open a restaurant. It would be called “The Quiet Restaurant,” a place with good food where customers could talk without getting sore throats and actually hear one another.

It was not unexpected. Still, when President Trump announced that the United States “was getting out” of the Paris Accord, it felt like he was describing an alternate universe, not the world I live in - or one I wish for our children and grandchildren to live in. The United States has become a global outlier, turning up its nose at some one hundred and ninety five other countries who stand by the agreement.

My first outfit on election night was a white jacket, in honor of the white clad suffragists who marched to give women the right to vote. The morning after the election, I wore black. Like many others, I’m still in mourning.

The wording was simple but the meaning was not. It read: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.” For Phyllis Schlafly, the ERA was a call to battle. For women like myself, the ERA seemed the last and most important step to full equality.

The explosive sound of the glass ceiling shattering was music to my ears. I’d hoped it would happen in my lifetime. And then it did. Wow!
 

We waited a long time.

It took one hundred years of protest for women to gain the right to vote with the passage of the nineteenth amendment in 1920. It took another ninety-six years for the nomination of the first woman to become a major party candidate for President of the United States.

I walk into a greenhouse to buy flowers and I swoon. The scents, the colors, the hanging plants, the trailing plants overwhelm me. So beautiful, I say to myself. So beautiful.
 

Toby Talbot / AP

It was a different time – June 10, 1940 – when my widowed mother and I, and my brother, walked down the plank of the S.S. Manhattan onto the New York City pier, lined with suitcases and trunks that held the worldly possessions of families fleeing Nazi Europe. 

We had just crossed the border from Canada into the United States when we saw a long line of cars heading the other way.

Sally wakes up at 7 am crying. She has a 102 fever and a sore throat. Her Mom is supposed to be at work at 8:30. There is no earned sick day policy in Mom’s workplace. If she misses a day of work, she misses a day’s pay and may not be able to pay that month’s fuel bill.

The right to vote is the core of democracy.
 

The word is out. Voter turnout will be low in this mid-term election. Vermont will not be an exception. But we can defy this dire expectation by proving the pundits wrong.

I’m a fierce believer that the right to vote is at the core of democracy. Without it, we would become a dictatorship. The streets of Hong Kong are filled with couragous demonstrators for one reason - the right to elect their leaders.

It’s time to accept the fact that there is little stigma to single parenthood. “Born out of wedlock” is a phrase seldom heard today. More than 40 percent of new mothers are unmarried. Seventy-two percent of African Amercan children live in single parent families.
 

Poetry isn’t dead. It’s kept alive by the 45 state poet laureates - and who knows how many city and county laureates. Vermont claimed Robert Frost in 1961. He held the title long after his death in 1963. No one seemed to notice until 1988 when a poetry society decided Vermont needed a living poet laureate.
 

As Governor, I was asked to make the choice. A wonderful idea, I thought. I loved poetry and thereby, loved poets.

It doesn’t seem to make sense that the small state of Vermont should have 255 school districts, each with their own school boards and superintendents. But efficiency isn’t all that counts in the minds of many Vermonters. I found that out when I was Governor and appointed a high level commission of business people to tour the state and hold hearings on school district consolidation. When a hearing was held in St. Johnsbury, the chairman later told me that the mood was so hostile that he wanted to stay in the Men’s Room or crawl out the window.
 

“Why did Chris die?” Richard Martinez asked all of us after the shooting death of his son and five other students on the University of California, Santa Barbara campus.
 

I cannot get his anguished voice out of my head. It was a mixture of anger, grief and despair. What if it had been my son? What if it had been your son or daughter?

I’m sick of winter. I hear that refrain in the locker room, on the sidewalk, and in the grocery store. Except of course, for the skiers. They couldn’t be happier. But the rest of us mortals are tired of shoveling snow, walking ever so carefully on the ice, and putting on layers and more layers of clothing. My boots now have a hole in them, my gloves are mismatched, and I still can’t find the right hat when I rush out the door in the morning only to get hit by a cold blast.

The American Dream has been the back bone of my life story. In June of 1940, my mother, brother and I took the train from Zurich, Switzerland to Genoa , Italy to board the SS Manhattan, bound for America. A little more than a week later, we waved to our first greeter — the Statue of Liberty. It was war time. My widowed mother took this brave step because she wanted what all immigrant families have wanted for their children — a better life in America. We found it. This country has been generous to us, far beyond our dreams.

We know how to prevent the 900,000 maternal deaths that occur every year in the world. And one million babies could be saved each year if they had better nutrition and health care.
 

I learned this and much more while participating in a recent symposium on maternal and child health and nutrition in Emerging Markets at Oxford University. The focus was on Brazil, Russia, India and China.

Nelson Mandela had been released from prison only recently, and here he was, standing under a white tent on the banks of the Charles River in Boston, greeting guests who had been invited for a celebratory lunch by Senator Ted Kennedy.

There are only twenty women in the 100 member United States Senate, but by gosh, they are showing political courage, not to mention, common sense. Republican Susan Collins of Maine led the charge to forge a Senate compromise to end the government shut down and raise the debt ceiling. It finally worked.

The first thousand days of a baby’s life are likely to determine of the rest of her life - whether she grows up to be healthy or not both physically and emotionally. Early childhood education begins early - even before birth.

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