What was Michelle’s experience with Emerge Vermont?
Michelle joined the Emerge at a very interesting time: March of 2020. Her weekend-long boot camp in the beginning of March was the last Emerge session to be held in person. At the time of her training, serious awareness of the coronavirus pandemic was just starting. She and her classmates knew that the campaign trail would look different for them that year, but they still learned the traditional skills for running a campaign. They learned how to engage in conversations with voters, how to recruit volunteers and other skill based activities needed for a strong campaign. While those lessons were a valuable base for a campaign strategy, Michelle admits that due to the unprecedented nature of the beginning of the national shutdown, there was a bit of trial and error. “We were making things up as we went along because the rules had changed so much,” Michelle said. “The weekend of our training we role-played knocking on doors. The next week we were told to stay home and not do any in-person meetings with voters.”
Despite the uncertainty of the pandemic at the time of her Emerge training, Michelle was grateful for the experience and being able to meet in-person with other women who had the same goal of running for office (something that has mostly not been possible in 2020). Follow-up conversations and Zoom meetings with Jill Krowinski and other women from Emerge kept her network strong, and she’s starting the session in the State House knowing that a number of her Emerge sisters are with her as both new and experienced Representatives.
What was the campaign trail like for Michelle?
Due to the safety guidelines prohibiting connecting with voters in-person, Michelle relied heavily on the internet and social media to communicate with voters. She participated in panel discussions, did online presentations, and connected with voters via Facebook. In the panel presentations, Michelle worked in conjunction with other legislatures who were running for office. One session focused on mental health during COVID, another on transformative justice in Vermont—something Michelle is very passionate about, having recently worked at a Community Justice Center. Michelle did another candidate forum with Emerge alum, and new Representative, Leslie Goldman from Windham-3. This “Emerging Women of Windham” forum was moderated by another Emerge Vermont alum and state representative, Emilie Kornhesier. Michelle and Leslie talked about their vision for their community and what inspired them to run for office.
While the virtual format of Michelle’s campaign was quite effective, she used some from traditional outreach techniques as well. Many community members and Michelle herself wrote letters to the editor of local newspapers, Michelle and volunteers sent out 1500 hand-written postcards, and made hundreds of phone calls to voters in her community. Michelle won one of two seats in her district in the primary for the Democratic nomination, from a field of five candidates in August. She was elected as state representative for Windham-4 in the general election, November of 2020.
Michelle did attend one in person political event during the summer, where women candidates and legislators gathered on the State House lawn to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Women’s Suffrage. While socially distant and masked, Michelle was able to meet a number of Emerge alums in the midst of their campaigns. At that event, she met women she would be joining the State House. She enjoyed meeting with future colleagues. “I appreciated the opportunity to see and connect with women who were running for office and had been through the Emerge program. It feels like there’s an instant connection, and it is a valuable connection. It is nice to see a familiar face, it gives you a certain understanding that there are probably some shared values,” she said.
Which committee will Michelle be serving on?
Michelle will be serving on the Corrections and Institutions committee. She worked at the Brattleboro Community Justice Center (CJC) as reentry coordinator for a year prior to her election in 2020. The CJC leads restorative justice programs that support individuals who have become involved in the criminal justice system. Michelle worked with individuals who had spent long periods incarcerated and were returning to the community. While at the CJC Michelle also did one-on-one work with individuals, and facilitated COSAs—Circles of Support and Accountability. The COSAs gave those who had been incarcerated a space to share their goals and discuss the challenges faced when re-entering the community after a long period of incarceration with supportive community volunteers. As a member of the Corrections and Institutions committee, Michelle is looking forward to supporting programs that will help individuals who have had trouble with the law, and leave prison with the skills to re-engage successfully in their community.
What does she hope to achieve this year as a member of the Vermont House?
Michelle is hitting the ground running. She is attending the Climate Solutions Caucus, Social Equity Caucus, Rural Economic Development Caucus, Workers Caucus and Women’s Caucus to learn and potentially support legislation in areas she is passionate about. She hopes that a bill she is proposing to eliminate cash bail will be considered this term. Having individuals incarcerated for very long periods of time when they are not a flight risk and have not been convicted of a crime happens disproportionately to people of color and people living in poverty and Michelle would like to work toward a system that is more just for all.
What advice would Michelle give to women who want to get involved in their state/community but don’t know where to start?
“Whatever your interest area is, try and find a place where you can apply that in your community,” she said. Whether it be volunteering at an organization that resonates with a personal interest, or serving as a community leader to others, Michelle is a strong believer in being an involved member. In terms of the political sphere, she says that the first move could be something like joining a town or County Democratic committee—many of which need more citizen participation.
Learn more about Michelle here.
Emerge has one goal: To increase the number of Democratic women in office who are reflective of the incredible diversity of the Democratic party by recruiting, training and providing a powerful network.